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Reviewed by:
  • Visualizing the Holocaust: Documents, Aesthetics, Memory
  • Ellen G. Friedman (bio)
David Bathrick, Brad Prager, and Michael D. Richardson, eds. Visualizing the Holocaust: Documents, Aesthetics, Memory. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2008. 336 pp. ISBN: 978-1-57113-383-0, $75.00.

David Bathrick, one of the three editors of Visualizing the Holocaust: Documents, Aesthetics, Memory, a collection of essays, opens his introduction to the volume with a throwaway sentence: "Visual representations of the Holocaust have proved to be an absolutely integral but also highly contested means by which to understand and remember the Nazi atrocities of the Second World War." A few paragraphs later, Bathrick acknowledges that this volume engages in an already "evolved discourse," and reveals the task the volume has embraced: the writers in this edited collection are able to "narrow, but also [End Page 534] to deepen, the focus of their endeavors." Fair enough: this volume is, then, directed at scholars already familiar with the landscape of Holocaust scholarship, and aims to further excavate and magnify facets of this field.

For Bathrick, the volume represents a "younger generation of writers who are looking to reshape the way that the Nazi genocide and its representations might be discussed in the coming years." Bathrick himself received his PhD in 1970, so he is referring to the other scholars in the volume, who in large part are assistant professors, thus indeed representing a newer generation. This new generation, according to Bathrick, has "fluency with theoretical discourse," and refuses to "submit to the pieties that quite understandably defined first-generation approaches to the Holocaust." This last point is, simply, troubled. Although new scholarly books have to make way for themselves by justifying their contribution, Bathrick's pitting of first and new wave Holocaust criticism against one another seems an unworthy goal. The very newness of the younger generation of scholars represented in this volume separates them by a considerable distance from first generation Holocaust scholars, some of whom were survivors. The newer Holocaust critics' response is not to the raw event, but calibrated by about a half century of previous responses, and more generally, by scholarship, philosophy, and history since the Holocaust.

It is also not necessary to be dismissive of the anguished statements—about the limits on Holocaust representation and issues of authenticity, for instance—that Theodor Adorno, George Steiner, and Elie Wiesel made about the ethics of Holocaust representation by calling them "pieties." Distinguished thinkers have constructed the Holocaust as representing a break in Western culture. Cornell West, for instance, argues that it "shattered European self-confidence and prompted intense self-criticism, even self-contempt" (1989). Jürgen Habermas writes that since the Holocaust "a conscious" life is no longer possible without mistrust for continuities that assert themselves without question (1990). Jean François Lyotard attributes a "sort of sorrow in the Zeitgeist" to the Auschwitz effect (1986). In contrast to Bathrick's introductory essay, in fact, the piece by Sven-Erik Rose, "Auschwitz as Hermeneutic Rupture, Differend, and Image," challenges Frederic Jameson's and particularly Lyotard's assessment of the cultural significance of Auschwitz—of "the various constructions of 'Auschwitz' as a figure for the impossibility of thinking to protect us precisely from having to keep thinking"—on their own terms and without condescension. Rose's challenge is not to a piety but to the closed nature of certain final philosophical conclusions about the Holocaust.

The aim of removing taboos regarding Holocaust representation already contains much elegant documentation, for instance in such recent collections as the one also on visual representations edited by Alex Hughes and Andrea [End Page 535] Nobile, Phototextualities: Intersections of Photography and Narrative (2003). However, one does not have to be an exceptionalist—someone who believes that the Holocaust was a unique event demanding special historical and representational treatment—to recognize that Holocaust images necessarily resonate at least in part because they are Holocaust images.

Holocaust scholars have engaged in a multitude of complex and postmodern analyses. A case in point is the now iconic photograph of the boy in the Warsaw Ghetto with his hands raised. The photograph was one of fifty from the photo album of Jürgen Stroop, the Commander...


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