The End of the Holocaust

Overview

In this provocative work, Alvin H. Rosenfeld contends that the proliferation of books, films, television programs, museums, and public commemorations related to the Holocaust has, perversely, brought about a diminution of its meaning and a denigration of its memory. Investigating a wide range of events and cultural phenomena, such as Ronald Reagan's 1985 visit to the German cemetery at Bitburg, the distortions of Anne Frank's story, and the ways in which the Holocaust has been depicted by such artists and ...

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The End of the Holocaust

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Overview

In this provocative work, Alvin H. Rosenfeld contends that the proliferation of books, films, television programs, museums, and public commemorations related to the Holocaust has, perversely, brought about a diminution of its meaning and a denigration of its memory. Investigating a wide range of events and cultural phenomena, such as Ronald Reagan's 1985 visit to the German cemetery at Bitburg, the distortions of Anne Frank's story, and the ways in which the Holocaust has been depicted by such artists and filmmakers as Judy Chicago and Steven Spielberg, Rosenfeld charts the cultural forces that have minimized the Holocaust in popular perceptions. He contrasts these with sobering representations by Holocaust witnesses such as Jean Améry, Primo Levi, Elie Wiesel, and Imre Kertész. The book concludes with a powerful warning about the possible consequences of "the end of the Holocaust" in public consciousness.

Indiana University Press

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"For the sake of transparency: Alvin Rosenfeld and I have been friends for some forty years. His work has always been present to my own. We have both written so much—too much?—on what we so poorly call the Holocaust, yet never in a situation of ideological or psychological conflict.
Forcefully written, as always, his new volume honors his entire life as teacher and writer attached to the principles of intellectual integrity and moral responsibility. Here, too, he demonstrates erudition and knowledge, a gift for analysis and astonishing insight. Teachers and students alike will find this book to be a great gift." —Elie Wiesel

"Alvin Rosenfeld's The End of the Holocaust is a uniquely important work by one of the founding figures in the field of Holocaust literary studies." —Journal of Literature and the History of Ideas

"Alvin Rosenfeld is a brave man, and his new work is courageous. [It] is not reluctant to take on the unexamined pieties that have grown up around the slaughter, and the sentimentalization that threatens to smother it in meretricious uplift." —Ron Rosenbaum, Tablet Magazine

"This work is an important and impassioned defense of the undeniable truth of the Holocaust and of its moral significance." —muse.jhu.edu

"Rosenfeld is never shrill and often eloquent. But his book, now the indispensable study of its subject, cannot be read with pleasure, even by people who believe that 'in the destruction of the wicked, there is joy.'" —Scholars for Peace in the Middle East

"The End of the Holocaust merits our hot attention: disturbing and distressing, it is a compelling warning, unafraid and overridingly brave. What may have been noted before in scattered and far weaker ways, Alvin Rosenfeld delivers in one long breath, with culminating power in this enormously important book." —Cynthia Ozick

"For showing us how to remember the Holocaust, and how to recognize many of the ways in which its memory is being killed, we owe Alvin Rosenfeld a debt of immense gratitude.
" —Wilson Quarterly

"The End of the Holocaust is a work of historical research and scholarship. It is certainly a major
contribution to our understanding of the relationship of history to society, which is after all the historian’s task. The End of the Holocaust is an intelligently structured argument against current tendencies to relativize or negate the significance of the Nazi project of Jewish extermination." —H-German

"Alvin Rosenfeld... has performed an invaluable service for the cause of memory and historical accuracy.... While simultaneously documenting the mutilation inflicted on the history of the Shoah by contemporary culture and politics, he eloquently argues for the specificity of the Holocaust and its continuing impact on survivor writers." —Modern Judaism

"Let us hope that, in the months and years to come, this important book finds a ready place on some important bedside tables." —Israel Affairs

"With book after book studying the subject, with tens of thousands of testimonies recorded, with grim discoveries still being made in the "bloodlands" of Eastern Europe, why should we foresee the end of Holocaust memory? Alvin Rosenfeld’s magisterial account of both the universalizing and negationist trends of Holocaust study provides a disturbing answer. Polemical, readable, fully informed, it is an important contribution by an eminent scholar." —Geoffrey Hartman, The Longest Shadow: In the Aftermath of the Holocaust

"What Rosenfeld has written, with passion and precision and some notably unanswered questions, is less an acccount of the Shoah being forgotten or denied than of being wrongly remembered." —Moment

"Alvin Rosenfeld brings a wealth of information to this highly readable, intelligently argued account of how the Holocaust is being conveyed and distorted to modern day audiences." —Jewish Book World

"Alvin Rosenfeld has written an important book that deserves a wide audience, not only to help us maintain a clear picture of our troubled past, in order to come to terms with its historical reality—but indeed to help us avoid a future that will bring back the darkness and the fog." —new-compass.net

"Offers a clear, erudite, and disturbing exposition of some of the most prominent lines of thought and argument that have emerged from Holocaust literature and cultural debate over the last half century.... Effective and moving." —Eric J. Sundquist, author of Strangers in the Land: Blacks, Jews, Post-Holocaust America

"This book fills the reader with gloom and rage, in nearly equal measure. The heart sinks, the mind reels, in contemplating the variegated assaults on Holocaust memory that Alvin Rosenfeld describes, analyzes, and seeks to throw back." —The Weekly Standard

"This book has monumental importance in Holocaust studies because it demands answers to the question how our culture is inscribing the Holocaust in its history and memory." —Arcadia

"The time... is ripe for The End of the Holocaust, an important and deeply sobering book." —Human Rights Service

Arcadia

"This book has monumental importance in Holocaust studies because it demands answers to the question how our culture is inscribing the Holocaust in its history and memory." —Arcadia

www.new-compass.net
"Alvin Rosenfeld has written an important book that deserves a wide audience, not only to help us maintain a clear picture of our troubled past, in order to come to terms with its historical reality—but indeed to help us avoid a future that will bring back the darkness and the fog." —new-compass.net
Tablet Magazine
"Alvin Rosenfeld is a brave man, and his new work is courageous. [It] is not reluctant to take on the unexamined pieties that have grown up around the slaughter, and the sentimentalization that threatens to smother it in meretricious uplift." —Ron Rosenbaum, Tablet Magazine

— Ron Rosenbaum

Hadassah Magazine
"Although Holocaust denial threatens to undermine the record of Nazi Germany's criminal legacy, Rosenfeld persuasively argues that other forces are inadvertently as dangerous." —Jack Fischel, Hadassah Magazine

— Jack Fischel

The Longest Shadow: In the Aftermath of the Holocaust
"With book after book studying the subject, with tens of thousands of testimonies recorded, with grim discoveries still being made in the "bloodlands" of Eastern Europe, why should we foresee the end of Holocaust memory? Alvin Rosenfeld’s magisterial account of both the universalizing and negationist trends of Holocaust study provides a disturbing answer. Polemical, readable, fully informed, it is an important contribution by an eminent scholar." —Geoffrey Hartman, The Longest Shadow: In the Aftermath of the Holocaust

— Geoffrey Hartman

www.muse.jhu.edu
"This work is an important and impassioned defense of the undeniable truth of the Holocaust and of its moral significance." —muse.jhu.edu
Wilson Quarterly

"For showing us how to remember the Holocaust, and how to recognize many of the ways in which its memory is being killed, we owe Alvin Rosenfeld a debt of immense gratitude.
" —Wilson Quarterly

Journal of Literature and the History of Ideas

"Alvin Rosenfeld's The End of the Holocaust is a uniquely important work by one of the founding figures in the field of Holocaust literary studies." —Journal of Literature and the History of Ideas

Modern Judaism

"Alvin Rosenfeld... has performed an invaluable service for the cause of memory and historical accuracy.... While simultaneously documenting the mutilation inflicted on the history of the Shoah by contemporary culture and politics, he eloquently argues for the specificity of the Holocaust and its continuing impact on survivor writers." —Modern Judaism

Holocaust and Genocide Studies

"This work is an important and impassioned defense of the undeniable truth of the Holocaust and of its moral significance." —Holocaust and Genocide Studies

H-Holocaust

"The End of the Holocaust is an illuminating exploration that offers a worried look at Holocaust representation in contemporary culture and politics, reminding us that the great works focus on the distinctive tragedy of extermination, killing, radical dehumanization, and continuing trauma." —H-Holocaust

Jewish Book World

"Alvin Rosenfeld brings a wealth of information to this highly readable, intelligently argued account of how the Holocaust is being conveyed and distorted to modern day audiences." —Jewish Book World

Bill's 'Faith Matters' Weblog

"This remarkable new work of scholarship—written in accessible language and not in obscure academese—is exactly the Holocaust book the world needs now. Indeed, it could not have been written before now because it is about now and how the specificity of the Nazis' gruesome, unprecedented and nearly sucessful genocide against Europe's Jews is being lost today, turned into mushy metaphor, unplugged from its historical roots." —Bill's 'Faith Matters' Weblog

Moment

"What Rosenfeld has written, with passion and precision and some notably unanswered questions, is less an acccount of the Shoah being forgotten or denied than of being wrongly remembered." —Moment

The Weekly Standard

"This book fills the reader with gloom and rage, in nearly equal measure. The heart sinks, the mind reels, in contemplating the variegated assaults on Holocaust memory that Alvin Rosenfeld describes, analyzes, and seeks to throw back." —The Weekly Standard

Israel Affairs

"Let us hope that, in the months and years to come, this important book finds a ready place on some important bedside tables." —Israel Affairs

Forward

"The End of the Holocaust is a model of critical intelligence, restrained in its judgments, never shrill or accusatory in its disagreements, always illuminating in its insights into the motives and achievements of the major Holocaust writers Rosenfeld discusses." —Forward

Scholars for Peace in the Middle East

"Rosenfeld is never shrill and often eloquent. But his book, now the indispensable study of its subject, cannot be read with pleasure, even by people who believe that 'in the destruction of the wicked, there is joy.'" —Scholars for Peace in the Middle East

Human Rights Service

"The time... is ripe for The End of the Holocaust, an important and deeply sobering book." —Human Rights Service

Arcadia

"This book has monumental importance in Holocaust studies because it demands answers to the question how our culture is inscribing the Holocaust in its history and memory." —Arcadia

new-compass.net

"Alvin Rosenfeld has written an important book that deserves a wide audience, not only to help us maintain a clear picture of our troubled past, in order to come to terms with its historical reality—but indeed to help us avoid a future that will bring back the darkness and the fog." —new-compass.net

Tablet Magazine - Ron Rosenbaum

"Alvin Rosenfeld is a brave man, and his new work is courageous. [It] is not reluctant to take on the unexamined pieties that have grown up around the slaughter, and the sentimentalization that threatens to smother it in meretricious uplift." —Ron Rosenbaum, Tablet Magazine

Hadassah Magazine - Jack Fischel

"Although Holocaust denial threatens to undermine the record of Nazi Germany's criminal legacy, Rosenfeld persuasively argues that other forces are inadvertently as dangerous." —Jack Fischel, Hadassah Magazine

Elie Wiesel

"For the sake of transparency: Alvin Rosenfeld and I have been friends for some forty years. His work has always been present to my own. We have both written so much—too much?—on what we so poorly call the Holocaust, yet never in a situation of ideological or psychological conflict.
Forcefully written, as always, his new volume honors his entire life as teacher and writer attached to the principles of intellectual integrity and moral responsibility. Here, too, he demonstrates erudition and knowledge, a gift for analysis and astonishing insight. Teachers and students alike will find this book to be a great gift." —Elie Wiesel

The Longest Shadow: In the Aftermath of the Holocaust - Geoffrey Hartman

"With book after book studying the subject, with tens of thousands of testimonies recorded, with grim discoveries still being made in the "bloodlands" of Eastern Europe, why should we foresee the end of Holocaust memory? Alvin Rosenfeld’s magisterial account of both the universalizing and negationist trends of Holocaust study provides a disturbing answer. Polemical, readable, fully informed, it is an important contribution by an eminent scholar." —Geoffrey Hartman, The Longest Shadow: In the Aftermath of the Holocaust

Eric J. Sundquist

"Offers a clear, erudite, and disturbing exposition of some of the most prominent lines of thought and argument that have emerged from Holocaust literature and cultural debate over the last half century.... Effective and moving." —Eric J. Sundquist, author of Strangers in the Land: Blacks, Jews, Post-Holocaust America

Cynthia Ozick

"The End of the Holocaust merits our hot attention: disturbing and distressing, it is a compelling warning, unafraid and overridingly brave. What may have been noted before in scattered and far weaker ways, Alvin Rosenfeld delivers in one long breath, with culminating power in this enormously important book." —Cynthia Ozick

muse.jhu.edu

"This work is an important and impassioned defense of the undeniable truth of the Holocaust and of its moral significance." —muse.jhu.edu

H-German

"The End of the Holocaust is a work of historical research and scholarship. It is certainly a major
contribution to our understanding of the relationship of history to society, which is after all the historian’s task. The End of the Holocaust is an intelligently structured argument against current tendencies to relativize or negate the significance of the Nazi project of Jewish extermination." —H-German

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780253356437
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press
  • Publication date: 4/14/2011
  • Pages: 328
  • Sales rank: 1,290,561
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Alvin H. Rosenfeld holds the Irving M. Glazer Chair in Jewish Studies and is Professor of English at Indiana University Bloomington. He is author of A Double Dying: Reflections on Holocaust Literature (1980) and Imagining Hitler (1985), and editor of Thinking about the Holocaust: After Half a Century (1997) and Resurgent Antisemitism: Global Perspectives (2013), all published by Indiana University Press.

Indiana University Press

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Read an Excerpt

The End of the Holocaust


By Alvin H. Rosenfeld

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2011 Alvin H. Rosenfeld
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-35643-7



CHAPTER 1

Popular Culture and the Politics of Memory


Most people willingly deceive themselves with a doubly false faith: they believe in eternal memory (of men, things, deeds, peoples) and in rectification (of deeds, errors, sins, injustice). Both are sham. The truth lies at the opposite end of the scale: everything will be forgotten and nothing will be rectified. All rectification (both vengeance and forgiveness) will be taken over by oblivion. No one will rectify wrongs; all wrongs will be forgotten.

—MILAN KUNDERA


We say "Holocaust" as if there were an established consensus on the full range of historical meanings and associations that this term is meant to designate. In fact, no such consensus exists. The image of the Holocaust is a changing one, and just how it is changing, who is changing it, and what the consequences of such change may be are matters that need to be carefully and continually pondered. Such reflection will be undertaken here on the basis of the following assumptions:

1. It is not primarily from the work of historians that most people gain whatever knowledge they may acquire of the Third Reich and the Nazi crimes against the Jews but rather from that of novelists, filmmakers, playwrights, poets, television program writers and producers, museum exhibits, popular newspapers and magazines, internet web sites, the speeches and ritual performances of political figures and other public personalities, and the like.

2. Thus the "history" of the Holocaust that is made available to most people most of the time is largely a product of popular culture and does not always derive from or necessarily conform to the history of the Jews under Nazism that professional historians strive to establish. Indeed, in some ways the two might be seen as rival enterprises, and the contest between them regarded as a struggle between antithetical drives or ambitions.

3. The public at large remains readily drawn by the specter of the Holocaust and is, consequently, a receptive audience for stories and images of the Third Reich, yet one cannot assume that this popular fascination with extreme suffering and mass death is tantamount to a serious interest in Jewish fate during the Nazi period. Indeed, far from being an effective means of educating the public about the evils of Nazism and the catastrophe visited upon the Jews, a prolonged exposure to popular representations of the Holocaust may work in the opposite way. It can dull rather than sharpen moral sensibility and thereby inhibit a sober understanding of or sympathetic feeling for the victims of gross historical pain. Images of personal and collective suffering may awaken conscience, but they also have the power to perversely excite the imagination; and, depending on how they are presented and to whom, such images may evoke a broad range of responses, not all of them seemly or benign. A pornography of the Holocaust can accompany and undercut a didactics of the Holocaust.

4. In sum, the image of the Holocaust is continually being transfigured, and the several stages of its transfiguration, which one can trace throughout popular culture, may contribute to a fictional subversion of the historical sense rather than a firm consolidation of accurate, verifiable knowledge. One result of such a development may be an incipient rejection of the Holocaust as it actually was rather than its incorporation by and retention in historical memory.


This prospect and the subtle psychological, aesthetic, and cultural motives that underlie it are detectable in a broad range of cultural phenomena, many of which will be examined in the chapters of this book. As a start, let us consider a few noteworthy developments in political life and popular culture, primary sources for the dissemination of information in an age dominated by the mass media.

We can begin by acknowledging the obvious: most public acts of remembering cannot be understood apart from the political culture of the moment. As one American historian puts it, "Remembering is never just about the past. It's always about the present." As a vivid illustration of the truth of this insight, it is helpful to recall a code name that is no longer in the news, although for several weeks in the mid-1980s, it fairly dominated it: Bitburg. Prior to the spring of 1985 it is doubtful that very many people outside of Germany had ever heard of this small Rhenisch town (and inside Germany almost its only resonant association was with a locally produced beer, "Bit Bier"). Within a very short time, however, "Bitburg" came to symbolize far more than just its place name and pointed to an extraordinary tension in historical awareness, moral evaluation, German-American political relations, and more. What came to the fore with "Bitburg," in short, implicated a number of major and obviously unresolved issues rooted in the traumatic period of World War II and the still unassimilated history of Nazi crimes against the Jews and others. "Bitburg," it became clear, set in motion a debate about some of the deepest values of Western culture. The imperatives of historical memory, national responsibility, forgiveness and justice, politics and morality—all of these were stirred up by "Bitburg," albeit most often in inchoate and conflicting form.

How could so much of consequence emerge from what, on the face of it, started out to be little more than a ceremonial gesture between the heads of two allied governments? Newsweek, in a prominent story, summed up the matter as rooted in "one of the deepest moral quandaries of modern times—the tension between world Judaism's need to remember the crimes of the Holocaust and post-Nazi Germany's need to forget." While this formulation is simplistic, it is not altogether off the mark and comes close to expressing the popular sense of what "Bitburg" was all about. For a more precise sense of what was actually involved, it is helpful to recall the words of one of the major actors in the Bitburg affair, Ronald Reagan.

Here is some of what the president of the United States had to say at his revealing news conference of March 21, 1985, in reply to a reporter's question about his reluctance to visit Dachau, the notorious Nazi camp located in a suburb of Munich:

Q. Mr. President, would you tell us [of] your decision not to visit a Nazi concentration camp site when you make your trip to Germany in May commemorating V-E Day?

A. Yes. I'll tell you. I feel very strongly that this time, in commemorating the end of that great war, that instead of reawakening the memories and so forth, and the passions of the time, that maybe we should observe this day as the day when, 40 years ago, peace began and friendship, because we now find ourselves allied and friends of the countries that we once fought against, and that we, it'd be almost a celebration of the end of an era and the coming into what has now been some 40 years of peace for us. And I felt that, since the German people have very few alive that remember even the war, and certainly none of them who were adults and participating in any way, and the, they do, they have a feeling and a guilt feeling that's been imposed upon them. And I just think it's unnecessary. I think they should be recognized for the democracy that they've created and the democratic principles they now espouse.


This is a remarkable statement, not least of all for its striking linguistic fractures and imprecisions. One can lie, just as one can tell the truth, in a straightforward manner, but to express sentiments as ambivalent as President Reagan's requires that language be stuttered, not spoken straight out. Apart from the awkward mumblings, what is it about these words (and they presaged worse to come) that is so troublesome?

In part, one is offended by the note of historical ignorance they register and also perplexed by it: after all, it was common knowledge at the time that there were still large numbers of Germans alive who fought in the war and even larger numbers who remember it (knowledge never denied in Germany itself). Why, then, did the president of the United States not seem to know it? And if he did know it, what moved him to declare the opposite to be the case? Why, one wondered, was he so obviously intent on distancing Germany from its recent past?

The notion that "unnecessary" guilt feelings have been "imposed upon" the Germans is similarly wrong-headed and goes against the grain of common morality, which affirms that those who are guilty of wrongdoing should in fact feel guilty. Indeed, if they deny such feelings or acknowledge them only because someone else imposes them, then the guilty will never begin to acknowledge their misdeeds, let alone atone for them. For President Reagan to relieve the consciences of the guilty by suggesting that it is unfair to reawaken memory of the war years was another startling instance of presidential rhetoric gone astray.

Most troubling about President Reagan's words, though, was something else, namely the sense that what he was saying, as bizarre and objectionable as it seemed, might not be idiosyncratic at all but, on the contrary, might actually represent the sentiments of large numbers of people. The president of the United States was not unintelligent, and he certainly was not out of touch with popular feeling and common aspirations. Much of the success of his presidency, indeed, was probably owing to President Reagan's natural ability to express what was on the minds and in the hearts of his fellow citizens and to articulate some of their deeply felt and most basic views. If, in speaking as he did about Germany and the Germans, he conveyed not only his personal disregard of the past but that of significant numbers of his countrymen as well, the problem before us is even more troubling.

For a variety of reasons, many Americans have only scant knowledge of history. They also have difficulties relating to it, most of all if it is someone else's history, and especially if it is painful or otherwise upsetting. In looking to disconnect from recent German history, the American president probably did represent some of his countrymen's inclinations as well. One of President Reagan's aides in the White House, questioned about the prospects of a visit to a former concentration camp, recalled the president saying, "You know, I don't think we ought to focus on the past, I want to focus on the future, I want to put that history behind me." Another Administration official explained, "The President was not hot to go to a camp. You know, he is a cheerful politician. He does not like to grovel in a grisly scene like Dachau."

These are familiar sentiments, then and now. Like the president, most people do not wish to be reminded of the brutalities of the past and are not eager to have them linger disturbingly in their minds. To the degree they know about Dachau at all, they would prefer to put that place, which is grisly, behind them. A forward-looking people, Americans in general endorse the notion that it is preferable to forgive, if not necessarily to forget, and get on with the business of living—even, if one can find a way, with a former enemy.

As he saw it, President Reagan's task at Bitburg, therefore, was to patch up old quarrels with the Germans and pardon them for old hurts, a task for which he devised a twofold solution: (1) to celebrate the achievements of the New Germany, and (2) to offer absolution to the Old Germany by blaming its sins on what he repeatedly called "one man's totalitarian dictatorship"—a dictatorship he portrayed as absolute and as responsible for victimizing not only the peoples of Europe but the German people as well. With respect to the first solution, most people recognize that German democracy in the postwar period has proven itself and that Germany today stands as a generally prosperous, strong, and reliable ally of the United States. For an American president to say as much is neither astonishing nor objectionable. But for him to do so as part of a planned visit to a German war cemetery situated just near the site of the Battle of the Bulge, and containing the graves of SS men, obviously was bound to raise troubling questions.

President Reagan's answers to these questions greatly deepened the embarrassment of his upcoming visit to Bitburg, yet they nonetheless showed his determination to proceed with his task of historical cleansing. Listen to the following words from the president's news conference of April 18, 1985, and recall that only a month before he declared that he did not want to visit a Nazi concentration camp for fear of reawakening old passions: "I think that there is nothing wrong with visiting that cemetery where those young men are victims of Nazism also, even though they were fighting in the German uniform, drafted into service to carry out the hateful wishes of the Nazis. They were victims just as surely as the victims in the concentration camps." If ever a public utterance was designed to reawaken old passions, this one was, for in two simple sentences it succeeded in leveling the distinctions between those murdered in the camps and the comrades- in-arms of their murderers; at the same time, the president's words echoed a Nuremberg-style defense of the murderers, who appear in President Reagan's apologetic view as reluctant agents of somebody else's aggressive will.

Curiously enough, the "somebody else" was never mentioned by name, although on several occasions the president referred to "the awful evil started by one man," "one man's totalitarian dictatorship," and the like. There are aspects of Nazi Germany that we still do not understand fully, but by now it is clear that the Nazi state was not run by "one man," that the Nazi war machine was not and could not have been driven by "one man" alone, and that the terror carried out over a dozen years in the name of the Third Reich could not have come about had a great many people not actively and willingly followed the lead of this "one man." Nazism was a mass phenomenon, and in both large and small ways involved vast numbers of Germans over the course of the war. In attributing the evil of Nazism to Hitler alone, and, inexplicably, by never referring to him by name, President Reagan was reducing history to caricature, to a celluloid image of pervasive, if ineffable, malevolent force.

At Bergen-Belsen, a camp that he belatedly and awkwardly added to his German itinerary (and this only as a result of considerable public pressure), President Reagan referred to "the awful evil started by one man—an evil that victimized all the world with its destruction." He continued in the same figurative vein: "For year after year, until that man and his evil were destroyed, hell yawned forth its awful contents." Such sentences, employing old and by now empty abstractions, deflect from history in its particular features and have the effect of promoting the oblivion of its individual actors. Hitler appears in President Reagan's view as a terrifying but vague embodiment of evil, and Hitler's soldiers, "the young men" in their graves, as his innocent and unwilling victims. As for the real victims—mourned by President Reagan as those "Never to hope. Never to pray, never to love. Never to heal. Never to laugh. Never to cry"—they are sentimentalized out of mind. One victim and one alone is referred to by name—Anne Frank—but the passage from Anne Frank's diary that President Reagan quoted at Bergen-Belsen is the one always recalled by those who want to sanitize the past and put its horrors rapidly behind them: "In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart." In the precarious safety of her Amsterdam attic hideaway there were moments when the young girl did experience such optimistic feeling, but surrounded by the dead and dying of Auschwitz and later herself a victim of the deprivations and diseases of Bergen-Belsen, it is doubtful that such a passage from the diary represented anything close to what Anne Frank must have felt at the end.

President Reagan's rhetoric, however, indicated that he was not much interested in the real Anne Frank or the real Bergen-Belsen. "We are here," he declared at the camp, "to commemorate that life triumphed over the tragedy and the death of the Holocaust—overcame the suffering, the sickness, the testing, and, yes, the gassings." The fact that there were no gas chambers and hence no gassings at Bergen-Belsen was lost on President Reagan's speech-writers and obviously on President Reagan himself, but even if there had been, it would not have made much difference. The president had Germany's Chancellor Helmut Kohl and national reconciliation in mind, not Bergen-Belsen and the Holocaust; and, once his obligatory courtesy call at a Nazi concentration camp was concluded, he flew off to pay homage to the German war dead at the Bitburg cemetery.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The End of the Holocaust by Alvin H. Rosenfeld. Copyright © 2011 Alvin H. Rosenfeld. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction
1. Popular Culture and the Politics of Memory
2. The Rhetoric of Victimization
3. The Americanization of the Holocaust
4. Anne Frank: The Posthumous Years
5. The Anne Frank We Remember/The Anne Frank We Forget
6. Jean Améry: The Anguish of the Witness
7. Primo Levi: The Survivor as Victim
8. Surviving Survival: Elie Wiesel and Imre Kertész
9. The End of the Holocaust
Epilogue: A "Second Holocaust"?

Indiana University Press

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