- Ethics in the Shadow of the Holocaust
Ethics in the Shadow of the Holocaust is really two books as records of two conferences held at the Bernardin Center in Chicago with the aim of developing more fully the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community. The editors have successfully gathered a group of top-flight scholars for both conferences and have constructed the volume in such a way so as to show as much as can be done in such volumes the actual interchange between Jews and Christians at these meetings. The first
of the conferences is directed mostly at a joint reflection on the recent Vatican document “We Remember,” an attempt to produce a Catholic response to the Holocaust. Of course, any Vatican document leads to a wider exploration of the issues that still create tensions between both communities such as the role of Pius XII and what each side wishes could be said about the papal response and responsibility during the Holocaust. It is this latter issue that turns a joint reflection into a discussion of ethics. The second portion of the volume turns our attention toward other leading figures in the Holocaust, namely the doctors and the businesses that were complicit in the final solution, set into the broad context of contemporary, post-Shoah ethics as described by Michael Berenbaum and John Pawlikowski.
The essays in this volume are superb scholarship in that they successfully present in a clear way the key details, the facts of the case if you will, of these matters and show how and why these details should play a role in our sense of contemporary ethics and basic human responsibility (whether that be of individuals or of communities and organizations). Indeed, the essays are quite thorough in this respect and lead us to some new ground on basic historical research such as with the excellent work by Michael Marrus and John Morley on the various ways of reading the actions of Pope Pius XII and the thorough detailing of the role of corporations and the corporate atmosphere of Nazi Germany in the essay by Peter Hayes. All of the scholars offer nice and thorough scholarly work that makes the issues clear and complement each other in seeing the contours of interaction between Jews and Christians on these topics. Thus, the conference and this book fulfill the purpose of the Bernadin Center admirably.
If there were one factor that leads me to a reservation it would be my sense as a scholar that the ground covered in these essays does little to push forward scholarship and thus to break new ground in Jewish-Catholic relations. I understand that conferences have limited objectives and these scholars were surely responding directly to the tasks that were given to them, but what we have in this text is a set of thorough investigations of issues that have been rather thoroughly discussed for the last thirty years of extensive Holocaust research. It is not even all that clear just how the studies do push us toward seeing with greater clarity what ethics actually means in the shadow of the Holocaust. Thus, the book does not quite match what it might have been or even suggests it is all about, a fresh approach to ethics given the horrors of the Holocaust. John Pawlikowski [End Page 145] does do a nice job in both sections in trying to move the discussion forward, and Peter Haas does reprise some of the thinking he has written more thoroughly elsewhere. Still, the text might have been more useful even for the classroom if it had been more innovative and not so confined to debates about historical detail, as important as those matters are.
Still, I would invite any interested reader of reflections about post-Holocaust Christian-Jewish relationships to read and to use this text because, despite what I might see as its limitations, it is still an assembly of noted scholars writing at their best on topics that are always...