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  • "And Thou Shalt Bind Them as a Sign upon Thy Hand":Eve's Tattoo and the Holocaust Consumer
  • Rob Baum (bio)

The eponymous Eve of Eve's Tattoo acquires a tattoo based on a photograph of an anonymous woman from Auschwitz. New York writer Eve Flick seeks to memorialize all victims of Nazi genocide by performing their death stories, but instead plays out her own personal and political dramas before a backdrop of contemporary U.S. concerns, urban chic, and German reunification. Emily Prager's contemporary novel interrogates the Judeophobia prevalent in the most artistic and educated of milieux. The novel exemplifies a postmodern malaise I call the "Holocaust reader." The "Holocaust reader" actively pursues an empathic obsession with victims (and sometimes survivors) of the Shoah. The syndrome is ontologically "postmodern" in its pathology, as the "Holocaust reader" reads the Shoah as a secondary or tertiary text, and projects herself into the literature of torture and gratuitous death.

Let your absence be the latest shape of your being felt forever.—Rilke

When Eve Flick acquires a tattoo at the age of forty, she does not choose a butterfly, rose, or dragon to curl around her shoulder. Eve's tattoo resembles that of an unknown woman murdered at Auschwitz, matched to a photograph found hidden in the recesses of her boyfriend's closet; the tattoo is placed on her left forearm, six small numbers from a dead stranger. Why was this photograph in the closet, and what does Eve mean by transferring a dead woman's Ka-Tzetnik number onto her own limb? Eve intends to memorialize Hitler's female victims, to create archetypal death narratives, postmodern performances of memory. Around the imagined name "Eva," Eve invents myriad fictional selves, fragments of horrible truth. The brave, stupid gesture of emblazoning [End Page 116] Auschwitz on her arm initiates a spiritual journey as Eve hunts for the nameless woman she desires to embody. But she does not glimpse the decadent Gentile European body she has actually conjured from silence—a body that gives voice to racist and homophobic hatred in the name of a "living," loving god. Content in North American privilege and a generation away from war, Eve's painful dramas of private alienation, public betrayal, and self-denial testify to the contemporary allure of Nazism.

Nazism exerts a dangerous fascination in these times, not least because of its association with the erotic. Nazi symbolism elides in the simplistic shapes of monster and maiden, discolours Jewish lives, whitens Gentile lives. In the twenty-first century, Nazism inspires the décor of Asian restaurants, fashions on Milanese catwalks, costumes of famous rock stars, national prize-winning novels, tags of Polish gangs.1 The resonance of Nazism with postmodernism governs a brisk market in secret photos, Judenstern crisp with age, Nazi china, shrivels of Torah scrolls reduced to swastikas. Fifteen years ago I handled a silver soupspoon with an incised lightning bolt of the SS, touched the dim dent made in its bowl by SS teeth. Hate memorabilia is very good business. You can buy it on the internet if you can't make it to the conferences, meetings, trade fairs, and club dinners where such goods are brokered, along with concentration camp uniforms, prisoners' tools, Jewish talismans, soap, flesh, and other Nazi family heirlooms. The Jewish Holocaust, the Shoah,2 has become a commodity, something to consume, to want, to want to possess.

Emily Prager's novel Eve's Tattoo3 forms the basis of my exploration of Holocaust consumption, the visitation of a neo-trauma on the Jewish body. This insightful novel shapes my discussion of performance and embodiment, the iconography of the Ka-Tzetnik (concentration camp) tattoo, the Nazi erotic and the dangers of Holocaust consumption. [End Page 117]

Performing the Jewish Woman

The central character of Eve's Tattoo is Eve Flick, a tony New York magazine writer known for her witty, acerbic pen. In Eve's mind, "memorialization" is not the same thing as "immortalization"; the dead live in, rather than apart from, Eve, who incorporates the narrative. Attracted to, yet repelled by, the woman in the photograph who (blonde, blue-eyed, and Germanic) looks so much like...


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pp. 116-138
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