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POSTED TO H-HOLOCAUST cc H-ANTISEMITISM From: "Dina Porat" <email@example.com> _The End of the Holocaust_, by Alvin Rosenfeld Magnes Press and Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 2013, Translated by Yehuda Porat This unexpected title of Alvin Rosenfeld's book is indeed enigmatic. Everyone knows that the Holocaust ended several decades ago so why speak again now about its end? What was on the mind of this distinguished scholar from Indiana University when choosing such a name for his book? This is the first of Rosenfeld's books to be translated into Hebrew and published in Israel. In view of the very warm critiques the book received when it was first published in English two years ago, its Hebrew publication aroused much interest and attention in Israel. The basic thesis of the book as stated by the author in his introduction is that "the history of the Holocaust becomes broadly acceptable only as its basic narrative undergoes change of a kind that enables large numbers of people to identify with it". He presents his thesis with vigor in a severe and worrying manner, out of deep concern that the memory of the Holocaust as a historical event may fade away and that a different and more palatable image of it might be shaped by public culture out of political and ideological motives. His principal aim is to warn against this developing process of change which takes different forms according to culture, place, time and social and national needs. He believes that such a process may undermine the understanding of the Holocaust in all its severity and cruelty, that it might blunt the moral sensitivity to its atrocities and weaken their remembrance. He emphasizes that he deals with a cultural process and not with the history of the Holocaust as historians present it in their writings and in their debates, although he believes that historical research and popular representation are in fact two adversaries and that the competition between them reflects a struggle between opposing motives and ways of action. Rosenfeld called his book The End of the Holocaust in order to state that the Holocaust as depicted and presented by historians is undergoing a process of change and dissolution; it is becoming more remote and is being replaced by something totally different. His conclusion is that "one can, with good reason, grow properly skeptical and anticipate something like an approaching 'end of the Holocaust'". One senses that the author is deeply involved in the matter and admits that it is not easy for him to predict such dire consewuences and that he is emotionally involved in what he views as a distressing perspective. Rosenfeld's arguments as well as his deep involvement make this important book all the more challenging and deserving serious consideration. The examples he brings to make his point are both fascinating and revolting. The anger, and sometimes even the shock, that the author feels gradually permeate to his readers. Rosenfeld begins his account with the justifications that former President Reagan gave to his visit to the Waffen S.S. cemetery in the German town of Bitburg in the spring of 1985, and to his strong refusal to visit the former concentration camp of Dachau. Reagan claimed that the war horrors had already been forgotten by the Germans; that guilt feelings had been imposed on them unnecessarily (!); that the soldiers buried in Bitburg were themselves victims of Nazism no less than the victims of the concentration camps. More than once he referred to the dictatorship of "one man", without even mentioning his name and stated repeatedly that one should show respect and appreciation for the democracy that Germany has built after the war and move on forward. As for the "one man", there exist today a long list of movies and books that depict Adolf Hitler as a lovely chap, and some even bring up his "funny" side, or his artistic romantic and amiable aspect – the man who liked dogs and vegetarian food, "a blend of Robert Redford and a Boy Scout leader". Hitler's figure as presented in numerous art works and used for commercial purposes gradually loses any real touch with the original figure and certainly with the Holocaust. It serves as a tool to arouse excitement, to peep at the forbidden and to feed fantasies. Rosenfeld then presents a long list of examples to show how the Holocaust is being trivialized: protesters against development plans in Central Park call them "another Mein Kampf"; Betty Friedan, the great priestess of feminism, warns women who tend to limit themselves to the role of housewives that they risk a danger similar to that of the millions who marched to their death in the concentration camps; an exhibition blaming the Food and Drug Administration of the United States of negligence and assuming the title of the "Holocaust Exhibition"; a divorced poet who moans in his poem entitled "An American Holocaust" the separation from his children that torment him even more than the "rain of white-hot ash dropping from Bergen Belsen's chimney stacks bellowing nonstop into a gaseous welkin". This, to Rosenfeld's mind is already wild rhetoric. Rosenfeld then refers to the widespread writings on the suffering of the black slaves in the United States and the murder of the Indians, depicted both as "worse than the Holocaust" and then to the long list of groups that claim to be in danger of a holocaust, or to have already undergone one, such as homosexuals, Japanese-Americans, bisexuals, people with mental illness, AIDS victims and so on and so forth. The status of the victim has become much sought because it provides privileges. Therefore, the question of who is a victim turns out crucial and arises in a variety of contexts. Rosenfeld cites Yehuda Bauer who said that "any evil that befalls anyone anywhere becomes a Holocaust". The two following excellent chapters on Anne Frank continue the presentation of Rosenfeld's thesis and reinforce it. Anne Frank's diary is certainly the most famous document related to the Holocaust period. It has been translated to more languages and has gained more popularity than any other document of its kind, and especially documents written during the Holocaust. Anne's figure has gained popularity all over the world and has been projected through virtually every kind of media means. Why so? Because the diary describes the Holocaust without the Holocaust, given the fact that Anne's family, except her father, perished in Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen and that their death does not make part of the Diary. Even the Germans who stormed their hiding place and dragged out its occupants are not part of the story, and plays and movies based on the diary made sure to avoid any horrors; because the numerous adaptations and translations of the Diary shied away from Anne the Jewish girl hiding from the Nazis and preferred to describe her as a universal case of a girl persecuted by Evil in general, so as to accommodate her figure to all times, places and ideologies. Eleanor Roosevelt who wrote the first introduction to the English translation of the Diary did not even mention the fact that Anne was Jewish, nor did she mention the Nazis or the Germans; and because such parts of the Diary in which Anne describes the Germans' cruelty, the terrible fear from deportation, her self-image as a Jew – most of these were wiped out, and above all from the German translation. Instead, what was cited and stressed again and again were Anne's optimistic expressions and her belief that in spite of everything "people are really good at heart". The chapters on Jean Améry, Primo Levi, Elie Wiesel and Imre Kértesz – all of them survivors, witnesses, writers and former Auschwitz inmates – express their concern that their works might not transmit properly the experience of the Holocaust to their readers; that words are too poor to express the terrible experience; that the bitter sensations of torture, shame, physical and mental sufferings have left on them a scar that does not heal, and that their experience is a very personal experience that fills them with guilt feelings. These torments have only aggravated over the years when they realized the changes that have occurred in the image and representations of the Holocaust as described by Rosenfeld. With the years their anguish has only intensified because of the fear that their writings do not have any real influence on their readers who refuse to live with the memory of the terrible crime and carry the burden it imposes. However, these chapters, I believe, contribute only partly to the main thesis. First, because the anguish that the witness, the memoirs and the lectures to students and even conversations at home with members of the second or third generations cannot never convey fully the realities of those days, and this concern is shared by all survivors both in their verbal accounts and in their writings. This is a basic and understandable concern and it is not necessarily connected to Rosenfeld's thesis, but rather to the natural wish of a person who has experienced such an outstanding ordeal to share it with others and warn against its recurrence. Secondly, it is indeed true that all three of them were deported to Auschwitz because they were Jews. However, three of them do not, or at least did not regard themselves primarily as Jews, and do not share Jewish culture and tradition as part of their life. Kertézs describes himself as a young boy "who did not even know exactly what 'Jew' means" and became aware of his identity only later in his life. Primo Levi was a leftist who believed in universal values and Jean Améry whose father was Jewish but his mother was Catholic, is concerned mainly with the fate of man in general and not with the specific fate of the Jew. Levi and Améry addressed their works also to German audiences and were very worried and disappointed that their writings had no echo among them and that they could not feel any process of change in Germany as a result of their writings and lectures. Both committed suicide, perhaps because of their feeling that their efforts had no consequences whatsoever and did not have any effect on the perception of the Holocaust as a message to humanity in general and not necessarily as a Jewish historical event. And thirdly, Elie Wiesel, a Jew in every sense of the word, is not a good example of a writer who doubts the importance of his activities and writings. He rather stands out as an example of a person who acts vehemently in the international arena in order to instill the realities of the Holocaust deeply in the public consciousness. One may question whether the author did not go too far in his conclusions regarding the present situation and in his deep concern for its consequences. Couldn't two currents co-exist in parallel and not one instead of the other – one current promoting a true and reliable account of the historical facts and showing keen interest in the fate of the Jewish people, and the other moving away from this reality? Could it be that his observations reflect mainly the situation in the United States where popular culture is strongly affected by changing fashions? After all, the Holocaust happened somewhere else and the realities in the United States are totally different than those in Poland and France for example, and certainly those in Germany and Israel. The danger may therefore be less alarming than described by Rosenfeld. Nevertheless, Rosenfeld's final words to his Hebrew readers are a plea not to forget the imperative of remembering nor the dangers of forgetting. This by itself would justify the publication of his book. -- Yocheved "Yo" Menashe H-Net Certified Editor H-Antisemitism & H-Holocaust H-Net Council H-Net Networks & Teaching Committees --