Reading the Holocaust

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Overview

The events of the Holocaust remain unthinkable to many men and women, as morally and intellectually baffling today as they were a half century ago. Inga Clendinnen seeks to dispel what she calls the "Gorgon effect:" the sickening of imagination and the draining of the will that afflict so many of us when we try to confront the horrors of this history. Clendinnen explores the experience of the Holocaust from both the victims' and the perpetrators' points of view. She discusses the remarkable survivor testimonies of writers such as Primo Levi and Charlotte Delbo, the vexing issue of "resistance" in the camps, and survivors' strategies for understanding the motivations of the Nazi leadership. She focuses an anthropologist's precise gaze on the actions of the murderers in the police battalions and among the SS in the camps. Finally she considers how the Holocaust has been portrayed in poetry, fiction, and film. A Prize-winning archaeologist, anthropologist and historian of ancient Mexican cultures, Inga Clendinnen has spent most of her teaching career at La Trobe University in Bundoora, Australia. Ambivalent Conquests: Maya and Spaniard in Yucatan (Cambridge, 1989) and Aztecs: An Interpretation (Cambridge, 1995) are two of her best-known scholarly works; Tiger's Eye: A Memoir, (Scribner, 2001) describes her battle against liver cancer.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Reading the Holocaust, is not, despite its somewhat generic title, just another book about the Holocaust....this is an important, insightful, superbly written meditation on a sorrow beyond words, well worth the attention of outsiders and insiders alike." New York Times Book Review

"Reading the Holocaust is an excellent introduction to Holocaust studies and a lucid, morally stringent reflection on genocide."
Susan A. Crane, University of Arizona, Journal of Modern History

Daphne Merkin
...[A]n important, insightful, superbly written meditation on a sorrow beyond words...
New York Times Book Review
Daphne Merkin
...[A]n important, insightful, superbly written meditation on a sorrow beyond words...
The New York Times Book Review
The Jerusalem Post
Reading the Holocaust is worthwhile indeed.
Kirkus Reviews
A trenchant collection of essays intended to forge the human connections necessary to begin the move toward a full understanding of the Holocaust. Clendinnen critiques the notion that the Holocaust is a unique event that falls outside the boundaries of normal history; it was, she notes, perpetuated by members of 20th-century Western society like ourselves. While she recognizes that the Holocaust presents particular difficulties of representation, such as the relative scarcity of survivors able to tell their stories, the failure of words to communicate human suffering, and the impossibility of communicating the experience of those rendered mute or murdered, she insists that we can come to understand this episode in human history through the unglamorous techniques commonly employed by historians and biographers. Rather than the search for general causes and flashes of intuition, she stresses the need for the piecing together of contexts, the establishing of sequences of actions, and the inferring of the likely intentions behind those actions from our knowledge of the individuals involved and our general stock of knowledge about human motivations. Her approach stresses the absolute necessity of understanding both the victims of the Holocaust and those who perpetrated it. She demands a historical accounting not only of those orchestrating the "final solution," but of the regular soldiers, the police brigades, and even the Sondercommandos, the camp prisoners, mostly Jews, who supplied much of the labor to keep the camps running. The impulse to think of the Nazis as beyond comprehension and to confuse understanding them with identifying with them, yields the dangerous possibility that theiractions will be understood as merely idiosyncratic. Although she draws heavily upon literary voices, such as Primo Levi and Charlotte Delbo, Clendinnen suggests that the Holocaust can best be understood through historical writing. An important step toward an honest encounter with one of the great horrors of our past.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521012690
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/2002
  • Series: Canto Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 238
  • Product dimensions: 5.43 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.55 (d)

Meet the Author

Inga Clendinnen is the author of Ambivalent Conquests: Maya and Spaniard in Yucatan, 1517-1570 (1989) and Aztecs: An Interpretation (1991). Reading the Holocaust has won the Premier's Award for General History in New South Wales.

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Table of Contents

1. Beginning; 2. Impediments; Part I. Victims: 3. Witnessing; 4. Resisting; Part II. Perpetrators: 5. Defining: inside the grey zone: the Auschwitz Sonderkommando; 6. Leaders; 7. The men in the green tunics: the order police in Poland; 8. The Auschwitz SS; 9. Representing the Holocaust.

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