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Reviewed by:
  • The End of the Holocaust
  • Rabbi Jack Riemer, Chair
The End of the Holocaust, by Alvin H. Rosenfeld. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011. 310 pp.

I can't imagine the pain and the despair with which this book must have been written.

Alvin Rosenfeld is one of the cadre of scholars who have devoted their lives to the study of the Holocaust, and, even more, to the study of its aftereffects. These people really believed when they started out that, if they could only collect the testimonies of those who somehow survived, and that, if they could only fully document what occurred then, and if they could only confront the perpetrators and the bystanders with the questions of how and why it happened, that they could really make a difference in humanity's self-understanding. They believed that humanity would be so shocked by the ghastly reality of what took place that they would never again have any stomach for hatred or any tolerance for intolerance. Looking back now from the perspective of more than half a century, Rosenfeld, like Jean Amery and Primo Levi and others, has come to the sad conclusion that the world was not interested in the Holocaust and wished that it would go away and not trouble their consciences any longer. Rosenfeld's book shows that the Holocaust has gone through several stages in the last half century. First it was [End Page 139] ignored, then it was reinterpreted, then it was deliberately distorted, and now, most frightening of all, it serves not as a warning but as a precedent that can, and—God forbid, God forbid, God forbid—may be emulated.

Rosenfeld begins this searing book by describing the way the Holocaust was not talked about in the early years. The survivors were told to "get over it," to be positive, and to get on with their lives, because those who were not there did not want to hear about it. These were the years when those who tried to write about what happened went nearly mad because of the indifference of the perpetrators, the witnesses, and even the survivors.

Then, after the Eichmann trial, and after the Six Day War, when Israel's existence seemed to be in peril, and when we heard once again the threats that it would be annihilated, we faced the Holocaust, but we insisted on understanding it in a very different way. America is a country that likes happy endings, and so the Holocaust was understood and interpreted here in "positive ways" instead of by confronting the awesome horror of its reality.

For example, The Diary of Anne Frank was a sanitized version of the Holocaust reality. You would not know from seeing the play that Anne Frank, like a million other Jewish children, ended her days, not as a dreamy-eyed idealistic teenager who still believed in man, but as a starving, diseased skeleton who died in a concentration camp and got no burial. Lillian Hellman, Garson Kanin, Otto Frank himself, and the authors of the play and the movie wanted to give us a deracinated Anne Frank, an adolescent finding her way to maturity, and so they distorted the ugly reality of what happened to her and to the rest of the Jews during the Holocaust, and turned her into some kind of a secular and nonsectarian saint instead.

Then came the stage in which the Holocaust became a cliché, in which it was taken to mean anything and everything unpleasant in society. Discrimination against gays, the opposition to civil rights, the mistreatment of the Indians by the early settlers in America, the complaints of the feminists—anything and everything became a "second Holocaust." A concept that can mean everything obviously means nothing, and that is what happened to the reality of the Holocaust in the polemics of these groups, both on the far left and on the far right.

And then came the worst stage of all: the stage in which the reality of the ultimate evil, which was the Holocaust, was turned against its victims! Now you have a whole host of demagogues who accuse Israel of carrying out a "second Holocaust...


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pp. 139-141
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