The Political Economy of Memory

by Mark Chmiel

Alan S. Rosenbaum, ed., Is the Holocaust Unique? Perspectives on Comparative Genocide

I read this book for my treatment of Wiesel and it gave me plenty of perspectives, arguments and insights. The question of the volume already reflects its Shoah-centric status and bias. For example, there is no debate about the uniqueness of the Armenian slaughter. I still think that this question, which is but one reflection of the cultural production of the American political economy of memory, has its roots in the 1967 June War: after this there have been both sincere and disingenuous reckoning with the Holocaust. And Wiesel is torn — quelle surprise –between these two.

But there have come to be challengers to the implied moral claim that the Holocaust was the worst catastrophe in history (see even Dussel’s footnotes in Invention of the Americas) — and this volume gives them a voice, from Ian Hancock’s meticulous, impassioned claim that there was no difference between the treatment accorded Jews and Gypsies to Dave Stannard’s critique of the uniqueness proponents, especially Katz, for engaging in denial of other people’s Holocausts in the attempt to gain the monopoly on the genocide label only for the Jewish people.

Five pertinent passages:

Israel Charny: “{T]here is a disquieting pattern of claims of the ‘incomparable uniqueness’ of the Holocaust and a good deal of political power used in many places in academia, museums, and communities to back up these claims by pushing down and out nonadherents…. at times the treatment of the subject of the Holocaust takes on the semblance of a competitive or prestige issue for academicians, progressing to a point that deeply violates reverence for the Holocaust, both as an enormous specific tragedy and as a watershed event in our century that has finally brought before our human civilization the denied subject of genocide as an all-too-frequent and, indeed, universal phenomenon.” x

Richard Rubenstein: “For some, the Holocaust is ipso facto proof that a sinful Israel had been justly punished by a righteous god. Many others — both Jewish and Christian — are unable either to abandon some semblance of faith in the biblical God who-acts-in-history or to assert that the Holocaust was in any sense God’s righteous judgment. Unable to abandon either position, they are impaled on the horns of a dilemma, made more painful by their respective liturgical traditions that stress the righteous ands saving acts of the Lord.” 12

Ian Hancock: “At one presentation I gave at a Hillel center, I was interrupted by a woman who leapt to her feet and angrily demanded why I was even comparing the Gypsy case to the Jewish case when Jews had given so much to the world and Gypsies were merely parasites and thieves.” 57

David Stannard: “[E]ven if it were accurate to say with assurance that the massive destruction of the native people in the Americas was in large measure the immediate consequence of disease, starvation, and related causes — that is, what the US government now calls the ‘collateral damage’ that follows in the wake of direct violence — precisely the same thing is true regarding Jewish deaths during the Holocaust.” 176

Stannard: “Their manufactured claims of uniqueness for their own people are, after all, synonymous with dismissal and denial of the experience of others — others much weaker, more oppressed, and in far more immediate danger than they. Further — and this would be ironic were it not so tragic — in their denial of genocide victim status to other groups, Jewish uniqueness advocates almost invariably mimic exactly the same pattern of assertions laid out by the antisemitic historical revisionists who deny Jewish suffering in the Holocaust: The number of people killed is said to be exaggerated, the deaths that did occur are labeled as provoked or wartime casualties, most of the victims are claimed to have succumbed to natural causes such as disease, there is alleged to be no evidence of official intent to commit genocide, and so on. In this way, narcissistic, false claims of uniqueness are joined with brutal, racist denials of the sufferings of others, becoming two sides of the same debased coin.” 198

—September 1997

Advertisements