Hold It All

Tag: Holocaust

The Political Economy of Memory

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. Read the rest of this entry »

A Feat of Reading and Writing


[T]he sheer enormity of what took place between 1933 and 1945 beggars our powers of description and understanding. The more one studies this period and its excesses, the more one must conclude that for any decent human being the slaughter of so many millions of innocents must, and indeed should, weigh heavily on subsequent generations, Jewish and non-Jewish…. there is no reason at all, in my opinion, not to submit oneself in horror and awe to the special tragedy besetting the Jewish people. As an Arab in particular I find it important to comprehend this collective experience in as much of its terrible concrete detail as one is capable: this act of comprehension guarantees one’s humanity and resolve that such a catastrophe should never be forgotten and never recur.
—Edward W. Said, Al-Ahram Weekly, 1997


Charles Reznikoff immersed himself in more than 20 volumes of transcripts from World War II war crimes trials and the Eichmann trial. Out of that intense reading of thousands of pages came Holocaust, a book of poetry in 12 sections comprising 88 pages published in 1975. Read the rest of this entry »

The Way It Looked in 1996

The main intellectual task is to confront the Israeli conscience with the serious human and political claims of the Palestinians:  these require moral, intellectual, cultural attention of the most profound kind, and cannot easily be deflected by the common tactic of putting Israeli security on the same plane.  On the other hand I do think it is a mistake simply to rule out the whole history of anti-Semitism (the Holocaust included) as irrelevant.  As Palestinians and Arabs we have not even tried to study this enormous subject, nor in any serious way have we tried to see how it impinges on the Jewish, and indeed Western, conscience as something all too real. Thus we need a discourse that is intellectually honest and complex enough to deal both with the Palestinian as well as the Jewish experience, recognizing where the claims of one stop and where the other begin.

–Edward Said, The End of the Peace Process: Oslo and After


The lesson of the Holocaust is the facility with which most people, put into a situation that does not contain a good choice, or renders such a good choice very costly, argue themselves away from the issue of moral duty (or fail to argue themselves towards it), adopting instead the precepts of rational interest and self-preservation.  In a system where rationality and ethics point in opposite directions, humanity is the main loser.  Evil can do its dirty work, hoping that most people most of the time will refrain from doing rash, reckless things — and resisting evil is rash and reckless.  Evil needs neither enthusiastic followers nor an applauding audience — the instinct of self-preservation will do, encouraged by the comforting thought that it is not my turn yet, thank God:  by lying low, I can still escape.

The second lesson tells us that putting self-preservation above moral duty is in no way predetermined, inevitable and inescapable.  One can be pressed to do it, but one cannot be forced to do it, and thus one cannot really shift the responsibility for doing it on to those who exerted the pressure.  It does not matter how many people chose moral duty over the rationality of self-preservation — what does matter is that some did.  Evil is not all-powerful.  It can be resisted.  The testimony of the few who did resist shatters the authority of the logic of self-preservation.  It show it for what it is in the end — a choice.  One wonders how many people must defy that logic for evil to be incapacitated.  Is there a magic threshold of defiance beyond which the technology of evil grinds to a halt?

–Zygmunt Bauman

An Option for “Unworthy Victims”

On Norman G. Finkelstein, The Rise and Fall of Palestine: A Personal Account of the Intifada Year
First published in the National Catholic Reporter, fall 1997

Some years back, the political critics Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman  coined the expression “worthy and unworthy victims” to refer to  the ways in which U.S. propaganda dictates differential and deferential treatment to victims.  “Worthy victims” are those  victimized by an official enemy of the U.S., and their plight  deserves heightened press coverage and our government’s aid, at least rhetorically.  “Unworthy victims” are those who suffer under U.S.-backed regimes, and so it is best not to call attention to their misery, especially given the usual provenance of their  financial and military backers.

Norman Finkelstein’s most recent book is a preferential option for the perennially unworthy victims, the Palestinians. Emerging out of four trips to Israel and Palestine from 1988 to 1993, the book is a moving eye-witness account  of Finkelstein’s growing friendships with Palestinians in the Christian town of Beit Sahour and in a refugee camp outside of Hebron. Herein, he records their dramatic  hopes and fears, from the beginning of the intifada to its terminus, with the onset of the so-called peace process, symbolized by the “famous handshake” between Yasir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin.

Read the rest of this entry »

“Every Man Should Have His war”

One of the best books I’ve ever read is by Gloria Emerson, Winners and Losers: Battles, Retreats, Gains, Losses and Ruins from a Long War. A major themes in the book is how the Vietnam War affected Americans (or how it didn’t).  Here’s a sample of passages:

Each year that it lasted Americans who took opposite sides on the war seemed to hate each other more than the Vietnamese who opposed us. 37

In 1976 she was given a large black-and-white poster of Ho Chi Minh, sent from Bangkok, which she put up over her desk. The face of the dead Vietnamese so upset one of the older women that it had to be taken down. 53

“What have any of us done to be tired?”  58

The Department of Defense does not give a breakdown of the serious injuries, so no one knows how many blind, how many burned, how many paralyzed, how many amputees they were. 59

Many Americans cannot pronounce the name of the race. Read the rest of this entry »

Remembering the Dead/2

Dear Shimmelstoy
I was moved by what you mentioned about Joel

His is a private commemoration
Which for some reason reminds me of Yankev Glatshteyn

(If you haven’t read him yet, get’s Fein’s translation
In my twenties I read many of Glatshteyn’s books in the original Yiddish)

You and I both know the Holocaust
Has been used as a weapon in Israel

Begin used it against Ben-Gurion
Ben-Gurion used it against Nasser

Politicians today use it to justify their crimes
Even as they insist Palestinians cease talking about the Nakba

To this day I still read books that come out of the 1930s and 40s
I’ve never had a “Holocaust phase”

It’s obviously been a steady part of my inner life
And my outer commitments too

Unwittingly through you
Joel gave me an idea

I recently went on-line
(Just like he does)

And I found a list of the Palestinians killed
In Israel’s most recent “operation”

Translated: “weeks of atrocities by the IDF”
I found myself whispering the names of the victims

One after another
For several minutes

Then I had to stop…
I was feeling so tight

For a few minutes
I was overwhelmed

So I had to breathe in deeply
And breathe out deeply

There’s so much to do Shimmelstoy
You remind me of this …

Sending you one of my immense hugs
Bella Levenshteyn

–from novel-in-progress, Our Heroic and Ceaseless 24/7 Struggle against Tsuris

On Segev’s The 7th Million: The Israelis and the Holocaust

The following is a short summary and commonplace passages with comments on Tom Segev’s book, The 7th Million: The Israelis and the Holocaust. It’s one of the many books I examined when writing my first book, Elie Wiesel and the Politics of Moral Leadership.

cf. Peter Novick’s study on the Holocaust reception in the US and Ed Linenthal, Preserving Memory

This is Segev’s main claim: “The most fateful decisions in Israeli history, other than the founding of the state itself — the mass immigration of the 1950s, the Six-Day War, and Israel’s nuclear project — were all conceived in the shadow of the Holocaust.  Over the years, there were those who distorted the heritage of the Holocaust, making it a bizarre cult of memory, death, and kitsch.  Others too have used it, toyed with it, traded on it, popularized it, and politicized it.  As the Holocaust recedes in time — and into the realm of history — its lessons have moved to the center of a fierce struggle over the politics, ideology and morals of the present.”  11 Read the rest of this entry »

Deploying the Holocaust

Israel’s Holocaust and the Politics of Nationhood, by Idith Zertal. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.  Cambridge Middle East Studies 21. 208 pages. Biographies to p. 216. Glossary to p. 222.  Bibliography to p. 230. Index to p. 236. $30.00 cloth.  Published in Journal of Palestine Studies, vol. 35, no. 3 (139), Spring 2006. p. 123.

In late summer of 2005 on the order of Ariel Sharon’s government, several thousand Israeli settlers departed the Gaza Strip. In protest, some settlers donned Star of David patches, which Jews had been forced to wear under Nazi domination. Settlers, among them Holocaust survivors and their children, contended that withdrawal would lead to another Holocaust.

Such an assertion of persecution and victimization in terms of the Holocaust has a long history, according to Israeli writer, Idith Zertal, in her recently translated book from Hebrew, Israel’s Holocaust and the Politics of Nationhood. Zertal’s work explores the growing reliance upon Holocaust discourse in Israel, as she candidly states, “Politicians, journalists, and historians let themselves speak out in the name of the Holocaust dead. They/we all use Holocaust images for their/our purposes. Some of these images are threatening, others are trivial, all are distorting” (197). Read the rest of this entry »