Not My Grandmother's Nazi

Israelis haven’t cheapened the term; we’ve defeated it.

In the Harry Potter series, all the witches and wizards are afraid to utter the name Voldemort, who is the very embodiment of evil. But Harry, not having grown up in the world of magic, is not afraid to do so, nor does he fear Voldermort himself.

It’s funny how life sometimes imitates children’s literature. The Ministerial Committee for Legislation decided yesterday to support a bill that would prohibit the use of the word “Nazi” except “for purposes of study, documentation, scientific work or historical reporting.” Violators will be subject to up to a whopping six months in prison and a NIS 100,000 ($28,700) fine. “The intolerable ease with which daily use is made of these terms as part of the public and political discourse, with overt disregard for the feelings of Holocaust survivors and their descendants, is deplorable,” says the bill, which was submitted by MK Shimon Ohayon (Yisrael Beitenu).

No doubt about it: The ministers are afraid.

Generally speaking, I believe that issuing legal prohibitions is a step to be avoided. In this case, it’s simply unrealistic. Even if the Knesset should pass the bill, the MKs are not the rulers of the language. They do not have the power to erase a word from the lexicon.

Whether the ministerial committee members like it or not, spoken Hebrew has neutralized the fright bomb of the Nazi enemy after three generations, and this ought to be viewed as a positive development. As the citizens’ sense of security in their state has grown and as we’ve distanced ourselves further from the threat of a second Holocaust, Hebrew speakers have gained courage. Gradually and ever so cautiously, they have chosen to remove the stinger from the word, to disarm the killer of his weapon, to take control – to at last emerge from the slot that is reserved for the victim. We haven’t cheapened the term; we’ve defeated it. We’ve managed to dissolve the lump in the throat, and to arrive most proudly at a situation in which a person can tease his friend for being extra persnickety about something by saying, “Boy, you’re such a Nazi!”

I see this as a kind of social catharsis. The ministerial committee would rather preserve the trauma.

The collective Israeli version of Harry Potter is embodied by the third generation since the Holocaust – those who learned about the inferno but did not grow up with it. They carry it in their memory and they honor the memory of its victims, but they are not willing to surrender to it and to the syndromes it produces. These third-generation folks are no longer afraid of Nazis, or of Germany in general; they’re even willing to go live in Berlin for a few years.

What our ministers may not understand is that my Nazi is not the same as my grandmother’s Nazi. Just like “ball” and “bawl” they sound the same but they don’t mean the same thing. My Nazi is not hunting Jews on European soil and annihilating them by the millions. He does not come equipped with a pack of Dobermans, crematoria and Zyklon B.

My Nazi isn't coming out of my mouth every day, and I don't talk about him in the presence of those who would be hurt by it, but this Nazi is mine and I won’t give him up. Banning the use of his name is akin to admitting his triumph. And I won’t give that satisfaction to his linguistic grandfather: my grandmother’s Nazi.