On the Edge of the Holocaust: The Shoah in Latin American Literature and Culture by Edna Aizenberg (review)
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On the Edge of the Holocaust: The Shoah in Latin American Literature and Culture, Edna Aizenberg (Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press [distributed by the University Press of New England], 2016) 182 pp., hardcover $85.00, paperback $40.00, electronic version available.

As the last Holocaust perpetrators go to trial and the last survivors give their testimony, and despite Adorno's injunction against artistic representation of the Shoah, artists continue to create works dealing with the Nazis' genocide. Historians and literary critics continue to discover unknown or misunderstood material, and to reconsider issues of our painful past. Professor Edna Aizenberg's latest book challenges the cliché that South America, and especially its Southern Cone, provided fertile ground for Nazi war criminals and their sympathizers. Aizenberg examines forgotten stories, little-studied manuscripts, diplomatic papers, newspaper accounts, letters, diaries, and other materials to show how Argentines Jorge Luis Borges and Alberto Gerchunoff, Brazilians João Guimarães Rosa and Clarice Lispector, and the Chilean Gabriela Mistral, not only spoke out against Nazi Germany in ways that were "overt and covert" (p. x), but paved a way to "represent" the Holocaust. Despite Axis sympathies among Southern Cone governments during World War II, Aizenberg reveals that some writers dared to speak out. Moreover, she asserts, literati among the diplomatic corps disobeyed their own governments to help Jews obtain visas to escape Europe when doors around the world were closed to them. To do this Aizenberg reads works by five Latin American writers through the lens of the Shoah.

Aizenberg first takes up the iconic Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899−1986), about whom she has written for decades. Her primary focus in this chapter is a reappraisal of the story "Deutsches Requiem" in which Otto Dietrich zur Linde, the subdirector of a Nazi concentration camp, tells his story in the time that remains before he is executed for war crimes. According to Aizenberg, this story has been largely ignored or misconstrued. She painstakingly examines the work of critics who glossed over the story, overlooked it entirely, or read it as an apology for Nazi thought. "Could Borges somehow even have been defending Nazism?" (p. 8). Aizenberg points out that we need to know the provenance of the story as well as work Borges was doing in the thirties if we are fully to comprehend his staunch opposition to the Nazis. "Deutsches Requiem" first appeared in 1946 in Sur (a cultural magazine [End Page 140] that had frequently criticized the Nazi agenda) just as the world was watching the Nuremberg Trials. She brings to light anti-Nazi writing by Jorge Luis Borges, such as three separate negative reviews of Elvira Bauer's 1936 antisemitic children's book. Aizenberg's close reading of Borgesian irony and allusion reveals that "Deutsches Requiem" is a study of the "logic of violence, hatred, and destruction" that undercuts the words of its protagonist (p. 19). Borges's seemingly sympathetic rendering of zur Linde's words speaks from the margins, a place he occupied due to his opposition to his government and in his place as an intellectual; Borges renders a complex study of the mind of zur Linde, influenced in his own genocidal project by the philosophies of Heidegger, Nietzsche, and Spengler. Borges is not afraid to make his protagonist complex and vulnerable; Aizenberg shows that the protagonist is neither a reliable narrator nor a role model, but rather a deluded criminal.

"Deutsches Requiem" did not have to wait for Graff Zivin and others among the current generation of scholars for readers to see the story as an ironic rendering of the Nazi mentality. If some scholars from the sixties and seventies (Paul de Man, Jaime Alazraki, and John Sturrock, to name a few) may have read it wrong, Alexander Coleman chose this story and the other relevant stories "El milagro secreto" and "La muerte y la brújula" for his textbook Cinco maestros in 1968. That text has been widely adopted in college courses, and a web search shows it on many syllabi today. Coleman told readers that Borges "carries on a disengaged inspection of stupidity, fanaticism, and ignorance—in effect, a study at a...