tattoos

“When Eli Sagir showed her grandfather, Yosef Diamant, the new tattoo on her left forearm, he bent his head to kiss it.

Mr. Diamant had the same tattoo, the number 157622, permanently inked on his own arm by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Nearly 70 years later, Ms. Sagir got hers at a hip tattoo parlor downtown after a high school trip to Poland. The next week, her mother and brother also had the six digits inscribed onto their forearms. This month, her uncle followed suit.

“All my generation knows nothing about the Holocaust,” said Ms. Sagir, 21, who has had the tattoo for four years. “You talk with people and they think it’s like the Exodus from Egypt, ancient history. I decided to do it to remind my generation: I want to tell them my grandfather’s story and the Holocaust story.””

I’m really not quite sure what to make of this. My “bodies tell stories” mind is undeniably intrigued. But my “histories memories and politics” self is troubled. I understand the need to remember. Or, perhaps, I understand that we should never forget.

But how should such remembrance be enacted? What form should remembrance take? There are so many peoples who have systematically exterminated in different historical periods, so many people forcibly expelled from anything they knew as home, so many people stolen, bought, sold and treated worse than animals. Aboriginal peoples. Slaves. Jewish peoples. Rwandan Tutsis. The list is endless.

How do we remember? How do we ensure that we don’t forget? And how do we tell the stories of our lives? Our histories. Our memories. Our losses? Our dreams?

Words often aren’t enough. And it’s true that our bodies tell so very many stories already. What role does scarring – conscious, wilful marking of the self – play in those stories?

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