The End of the Holocaust
Publication Year: 2011
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 AmÃ©ry, Primo Levi, Elie Wiesel, and Imre KertÃ©sz. The book concludes with a powerful warning about the possible consequences of "the end of the Holocaust" in public consciousness.
Published by: Indiana University Press
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This is a book about victims and survivors of the Holocaust. It reflects some of the ways we have come to think about such people and also about ourselves in relationship to them. Above and beyond these matters, my concern is with changing perceptions of the Holocaust within contemporary culture and with the impact of certain cultural pressures and values on our sense of this particular past. It is a gruesome past, yet also an unavoidable one.
1 Popular Culture and the Politics of Memory
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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.
2 The Rhetoric of Victimization
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In The Minimal Self, a perceptive study of “psychic survival in troubled times,” Christopher Lasch noted that a preoccupation with victimization and survival had become a prominent feature of American culture since the early 1970s and that, as a consequence, everyday life was now infiltrated by “the rhetoric of crisis and survival.”1 Lasch, an acute social historian and critic, located the main source of this heightened concern with adversity in the history of twentieth-century genocide.
3 The Americanization of the Holocaust
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Looking back upon the devastation of European Jewry during World War II, what is it that most people see and how do they understand it?
In an effort to discover answers to questions of this kind, the American Jewish Committee carried out a series of studies in the 1990s to determine what people in several different countries— among them, the United States, France, Germany, and Great Britain—know about the Holocaust.1
4 Anne Frank:The Posthumous Years
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It has been estimated that, among the almost six million Jews who fell victim to the Nazis during World War II, at least one million and perhaps as many as one and a half million were children. Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and other research institutions elsewhere have many of their names on record. To the world at large, however, these children all bear one name—that of Anne Frank.
5 The Anne Frank We Remember/The Anne Frank We Forget
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People think that she is very special. Once, when my daughter was in the Netherlands with her twin daughters, one of the first things they wanted me to show them was the Anne Frank House. I didn’t feel up to it; actually, I didn’t want to go at all. For more than forty years I had pushed that aside because I really wanted to live normally, and I didn’t want to talk about it anymore.
6 Jean Am�ry: The Anguish of the Witness
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To turn from a consideration of Holocaust victims to Holocaust survivors is to turn, one expects, from the dead to the living. In fact, though, the relationship of the living to the dead is less clearly defined within the troubled precincts of Holocaust memory. Far from encountering two sharply differentiated types— “victims” and “survivors”—one often finds an ontological status that is blurred and ambiguous. Lawrence Langer calls it “deathlife.”
7 Primo Levi: The Survivor as Victim
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The suicide of Jean Am�ry, like that of numerous other Holocaust writers, raises troubling questions about the possible links between the lingering effects of Holocaust trauma and a self-inflicted death. Literary scholars, social scientists, psychiatrists, and writers themselves have made serious inquiries into the roots of suicide among those who survived the camps, wrote about their experiences, and later took their own lives
8 Surviving Survival: Elie Wiesel and Imre Kert�sz
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As should be clear from the preceding chapters, a close reading of Jean Am�ry and Primo Levi shows a significant strain of authorial doubt regarding the efficacy of Holocaust testimony. Both writers produced exceptionally important work about the nature and impact of the Nazi crimes against the Jews. At the end of their careers, however, Am�ry and Levi both came to believe their writings lacked decisive effect, if not, indeed, were fated to fail altogether. Other
9 The End of the Holocaust
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Werner Weinberg’s downcast prognosis, taken from his exceptionally thoughtful but barely known book, Self-Portrait of a Holocaust Survivor,1 says more than his words seem to say at first glance. Most Holocaust survivors are already gone, and those who remain are now in their eighties or older. Weinberg, however, expressed his lament over the closing of the era of survivors almost thirty years ago, so he clearly had in mind more than the diminishments that belong to human mortality and naturally come with the passing of time.
Epilogue A “Second Holocaust”?
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Shortly before the end of the last century, the political scientist Walter Truett Anderson published a brief article calling attention to a spate of books that struck him as constituting a new subgenre of literature. These works were all about “the end of” something— history, affluence, the nation-state, education, work, ideology, etc. Spotting over nine hundred titles that began with those portentous three words, Anderson realized that, with the approaching end of the twentieth century, a trend was in the making.
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Page Count: 328
Publication Year: 2011