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Related: WW II - Nazism - Holocaust in film and fiction

The Holocaust is one of the most shameful events of world history. Never before, and never on such a scale have so many people been systematically murdered and tortured. On these pages I consider the limits of language when faced with the historical trauma of the Holocaust. Already in 1949, Theodor Adorno announced that "writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric" because the old language of poetry could only serve to glorify the Holocaust; a new language, a new poetry was needed, he argued. Can such an event ever be represented or is the best response, as some have argued, silence?

Holocaust, WWII


Holocaust refers to the Nazis' systematic extermination of various groups they deemed undesirable during World War II: primarily Jews, but also Communists, homosexuals, Roma and Sinti (also known as gypsies), the physically handicapped, the mentally retarded, Soviet prisoners of war, Polish, Russian, and other Slavic intelligentsia, political activists, Jehovah's Witnesses, some Catholic and Protestant clergy, trade unionists, psychiatric patients, and common criminals all perished alongside one another in the camps, according to the extensive documentation left behind by the Nazis themselves (written and photographed), eye-witness testimony (by survivors, perpetrators, and bystanders), and the statistical records of the various countries under occupation. The exact number of deaths during the Holocaust is unknown. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holocaust [Aug 2004]

Holocaust theology

On account of the magnitude of the Holocaust, many theologians have re-examined the classical theological views on God's goodness and actions in the world. Some believers and apostates question whether people can still have any faith after the Holocaust, and some of the theological responses to these questions are explored in Holocaust theology.

Writing Poetry after Auschwitz is Barbaric

Nach Auschwitz ein Gedicht zu schreiben, ist barbarisch. Theodor W. Adorno 1949: "Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft"
In 1949, Theodor Adorno announced that "writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric" because the old language of poetry could only serve to glorify the Holocaust; a new language, a new poetry was needed, he argued.  In the nearly sixty years since the end of WWII thousands of texts have been written about the Holocaust and the experiences of those who survived, some of which, it could be argued, attempt to meet Adorno’s challenge. Yet even then Adorno’s statement lingers, haunting the attempts at understanding by survivors and theorists alike. Can such an event ever be represented or is the best response, as some have argued, silence?  How can the The Food of the Dead for the Living by David Olère experience of the Holocaust be written when, as Arthur A. Cohen argues, “The death-camps are a reality which, by their very nature, obliterate thought and the human program of thinking”?

In this seminar, we will consider the limits of language when faced with the historical trauma of the Holocaust.We will do so through the study of various “responses” to the Holocaust, including memoir and testimony, novels and short fiction, poetry, film and drama.Readings and texts for the course may include Art Spiegelman’s Maus I and Maus II, Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz, Imre Kertesz’s Fateless (or Kaddish for a Child Not Born), Olga Lengyel’s Five Chimneys, the poetry of Paul Celan, Nelly Sachs, and Yala Korwin, Tadeusz Borowski’s This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, Arrival of a Convoy by David Olère, and Alain Resnais’ documentary Night and Fog, as well as selections from Shoah, by Claude Lanzmann. --Dr. Steve Ferruci, http://www.easternct.edu/depts/english/461_Sp2004_ferucci.htm, accessed Feb 2004

The History of the Gay Male and Lesbian Experience during World War II

The pink triangle has become one of the symbols of the modern gay rights movement, but it originated in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. In many camps, prisoners wore badges. These badges were colored based upon the reason for imprisonment. In one common system, men convicted for sexual deviance, including homosexuality wore a pink triangle. The icon has been reclaimed by many in the post-Stonewall gay rights movement as a symbol of empowerment, and, by some, a symbol of rememberance to the suffering of others during a tragic time in history.
"The windows had a centimetre of ice on them. Anyone found with his underclothes on in bed, or his hand under his blanket -- there were checks almost every night -- was taken outside and had serveral bowls of water poured over him before being left standing outside for a good hour. Only a few people survived this treatment. The least result was bronchitis, and it was rare for any gay person taken into the sick-bay to come out alive. We who wore the pink triangle were prioritised for medical experiments, and these generally ended in death. For my part, therefore, I took every care I could not to offend against the regulations. " Heinz Heger
--http://www.pink-triangle.org/ptps/graphic.html, accessed Mar 2004

The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering - Norman G. Finkelstein

  • The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering - Norman G. Finkelstein [Amazon US] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    When it comes to analyzing how 'The Holocaust' has been employed to advance political interests, Finkelstein is at his best. --The Nation

    His basic argument that memories of the Holocaust are being debased is serious and should be given its due.--The Economist

    This iconoclastic study was one of the most widely debated books of 2000. Finkelstein indicts with both vigor and honesty those who exploit the tragedy of the Holocaust for their own personal political and financial gain. In a devastating new postscript to this best-selling book, Norman G. Finkelstein documents the Holocaust industry's scandalous cover-up of the blackmail of Swiss banks, and in a new appendix demolishes an influential apologia for the Holocaust industry.

    In an iconoclastic and controversial new study, Norman G. Finkelstein moves from an interrogation of the place the Holocaust has come to occupy in American culture to a disturbing examination of recent Holocaust compensation agreements. It was not until the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, when Israel's evident strength brought it into line with US foreign policy, that memory of the Holocaust began to acquire the exceptional prominence it enjoys today. Leaders of America's Jewish community were delighted that Israel was now deemed a major strategic asset and, Finkelstein contends, exploited the Holocaust to enhance this newfound status. Their subsequent interpretations of the tragedy are often at variance with actual historical events and are employed to deflect any criticism of Israel and its supporters. Recalling Holocaust fraudsters such as Jerzy Kosinski and Binjamin Wilkomirski, as well as the demagogic constructions of writers like Daniel Goldhagen, Finkelstein contends that the main danger posed to the memory of Nazism's victims comes not from the distortions of Holocaust deniers but from prominent, self-proclaimed guardians of Holocaust memory. Drawing on a wealth of untapped sources, he exposes the double shakedown of European countries as well as legitimate Jewish claimants, and concludes that the Holocaust industry has become an outright extortion racket. Thoroughly researched and closely argued, The Holocaust Industry is all the more disturbing and powerful because the issues it deals with are so rarely discussed. --Book Description via Amazon.com

    Shoah (1985) - Claude Lanzmann

    Shoah (1985) - Claude Lanzmann [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

      To write a review of a film such as Shoah seems an impossible task: how to sum up one of the most powerful discourses on film in such a way as to make people realize that this is a documentary of immense consequence, a documentary that is not easy to watch but important to watch, a documentary that not only records the facts, but bears witness. We are commanded "Never forget"; this film helps us to fulfill that mandate, reverberating with the viewer long after the movie has ended. Yes, Holocaust films are plentiful, both fictional and non-, with titles such as The Last Days, Schindler's List, and Life Is Beautiful entering the mainstream. But this is not a film about the Holocaust per se; this is a film about people. It's a meandering, nine-and-a-half-hour film that never shows graphic pictures or delves into the political aspects of what happened in Europe in the 1930s and '40s, but talks with survivors, with SS men, with those who witnessed the extermination of 6 million Jews.

      Director Claude Lanzmann spent 11 years tracking people down, cajoling them to talk, asking them questions they didn't want to face. When soldiers refuse to appear on film, Lanzmann sneaks cameras in. When people are on the verge of breaking down and can't answer any more questions, Lanzmann asks anyway. He gives names to the victims--driving through a town that was predominantly Jewish before Hitler's time, a local points out which Jews owned what. Lanzmann travels the world, speaking to workers in Poland, survivors in Israel, officers in Germany. He is not a detached interviewer; his probings are deeply personal. One man farmed the land upon which Treblinka was built. "Didn't the screams bother you?" Lanzmann asks. When the farmer seems to brush the issues aside with a smile, Lanzmann's fury is noticeable. "Didn't all this bother you?" he demands angrily, only to be told, "When my neighbor cuts his thumb, I don't feel hurt." The responses, the details are difficult to hear, but critical nonetheless. Shoah tells the story of the most horrifying event of the 20th century, not chronologically and not with historical detail, but in an even more important way: person by person. --Jenny Brown for Amazon.com

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