Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The End of the Holocaust by Alvin Rosenfeld

There are some writers that clearly stand out beyond the pale because their clarity of thought is so vivid.  The organized flow of ideas make reading such writers easy.  Alvin Rosenfeld, Professor of English at Indiana University is such a writer.  His style, organization and clarity make this contribution to Holocaust studies a very worthwhile read.

Although Mr. Rosenfeld's style and clarity make the reading easy, its subject is very disturbing.  Mr. Rosenfeld shows that as time elapses, the Holocaust is reduced, dismissed and ultimately denied as a meaningful lesson from the past.  He shows through the analysis of each aspect of the Holocaust: perpetrator, victim, redeemer, and survivor that the most horrific crime against humanity has lost its truth, reduced to a mere metaphor.

Germany had always difficulty coming to terms with its crime against the Jewish people and the Reagan administration helped bury the past by visiting an S.S. cemetery seeking forgiveness and absolution for past sins.  To put the past behind and move on, Mr Reagan pleaded.  The president, however, did not seem to understand that he or anyone else does not have the authority to grant such absolution.  He enabled the blurring of the crime, a complete reduction of the horror.

Mr Rosenfeld shows how the famous victim Ann Frank is reduced by comparing her diary to a teenager's experience in the war of Kosovo.  He points out that the teen, although talented in writing, did not experience hiding nor even experience the immediate shelling but nevertheless, was heralded as the "next Ann Frank" as she was interviewed on CNN!  One loses perspective because the comparison is not fair: Ann was a victim that succumbed in Auschwitz, the other became famous on TV. Somehow a sectarian war is compared to the Holocaust.  One loses perspective: Ann Frank died needlessly, only because she was Jewish.  She never made it to CNN.

Mr. Rosenfeld notes that the crime is so heinous that there is a desire to search for those that saved Jews during the Holocaust.  People like Schindler, Sugihara and Wallenberg are sought out as heros, however, one never seems to understand that their contribution, however praiseworthy, is puny in comparison to what was perpetrated and as a result, one tends to lose sight of the actual losses created by the Nazis criminals.  Steven Spielberg's Schindler's list is a great example of the unintended distortion of really what happened during the Holocaust.  Even though all of the aspects of the Shoah may be included in this epic film, it is essentially a rescue film and as such distorts and hence reduces the fact of the Holocaust which had no rescue and no redeemer for millions of people.

Even being a survivor is not immune to criticism today, but rather the survivor is assaulted for exploiting the memory of the Holocaust.  Elie Wiesel, probably the most famous and most prolific survivor is constantly accused of exploiting the memory of the Holocaust.  The troubling fact is that there are those who hate Jews and those who are self-hating Jews that attempt to drown out the cry to remember; they can not come to terms with the truth of the Holocaust - it is too shameful to admit. Or alternatively, people are tired of hearing about the slaughter!

As the last survivors succumb to old age, the reality of the Holocaust will be retired to the dust accumulated to the history books and will never regain its rightful true meaning but rather will be reduced to any other heinous crime to be used as a literary metaphor.  For example, it is now acceptable for one going through a divorce to compare one's inconvenient discord with one's spouse to a "personal holocaust"!

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