Over the weekend, someone told me that a Rabbi praised Joan Rivers for having a “6M” tattooed on the inside of her arm in the memory of the 6 million who died in the Holocaust. Although the Rabbi noted that Jews are, according to the Torah, forbidden to have tattoos, he noted that what she did was an exception. Apparently, she did this right near the end of her life and, according to this Rabbi, her public support for her fellow Jews in Israel was of great importance. She had, in his mind, become a saint-of-sorts and it didn’t matter if she had a “6M” tattoo.
Hearing this, I immediately went on line in search of the tattoo. But when I did a google search I found no such “Holocaust tattoo.” Rather what I found was an episode of “Joan and Melissa: Joan Knows Best?” (Season 2, Episode 9) where she goes to get a tattoo of a “bumble bee” on her derriere. This, apparently, was her “first tattoo.” But instead of going through it, she gives up in the process. Reflecting on the failed attempt to get a tattoo, she kvetches: “I wanted a bee and I got a freckle.”
Eventually, I found a few articles that mentioned her “6M” tattoo. The reflections they offered were meager. The most I found was a statement she made about it in an interview where she notes that:
“Being Jewish has always been important to me,” she reiterated and to prove it she got a tattoo last year. “I now have 6M tattooed on the inside of my left arm. It’s only a half-inch but every time anyone sees it they’re reminded of the six million who perished, and so am I.”
In pursuit of something more reflective, I was fortunate enough to find a “diary entry from her last book, published this year, in which she talks about the tattoo within the context of a two jokes.
In her Diary of a Mad Diva (2014) Joan Rivers writes, in her June 2nd entry, of her “6M” tattoo. But before she discusses her tattoo and its relation to the Holocaust, she writes of something she’s “always wanted to do: I went shoplifting with Lindsay Lohan.” But this is a joke. And this joke is the preface to her confession about something much more serious:
Today I did something I’ve always wanted to do: I went shoplifting with Lindsay Lohan. Ha, ha. No, that’s not a joke. In my own way I have been stealing for years. I have bath towels with big Ns on them from the Ark. However, I would never steal with Lindsay Lohan, as she is not smart. She keeps putting things down the front of her dresses even though she wears see through dresses. Once I was told she stuffed a sofa into the back of her Spanx but was caught when she waddled out of the store with a huge butt. They thought she was Jennifer Lopez.
What I did do today was I got t a tattoo! To honor the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust, on my left forearm I had them tattoo a little blue “6M.” Surprisingly it hardly hurt, so next week, I’m planning to get a “12M” to honor the twelve million Jews who refused to buy retail, and if that doesn’t hurt, I’ll get a “26 ½ M” for all the Jewish business men whose second wives are blond shiksa goddesses.
What I love about this reflection is that she couches her confession about her tattoo – the only one she really went through with – in a series of jokes about the other tattoos that she will get. Each of the numbers she rattles off hit on classic jokes about Jews in America and their love for a good deal and “blond shiksa goddesses.”
These jokes, so to speak, take the edge off of what she really did on June 2nd. The book was released one month later. Her death wasn’t far off.
And while one can see the pattern of her “bumble bee” tattoo on her but, which never came to be in reality, one can’t find the tattoo of the “6M” on her arm on google image search. It’s there, but we can’t see it. She also decided not to record her getting this tattoo as she did with the bumble bee (attempt-at-a-tattoo). And this is telling. It seems that she wanted to keep the image of this tattoo to herself. She could talk about it, as we have seen above, and she shared it with a few people here and there; but she didn’t want to make it into an icon. Her reminder was something…that would remind herself primarily….Or so it seems…..