I’ve often found his thinking to be unexpected and provocative (consider his essay on the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange in the New York Times). In any case he wrote his essay in praise of Rosenfeld’s book for the last print edition of the Wilson Quarterly.
There was a paragraph early in the essay that caught my attention.
He writes of Rosenfeld: “he shows how the horror of the Holocaust has been minimized and even disparaged by those who want the public to focus on their own historical traumas and are frustrated by the Holocaust’s power to eclipse other tragic national experiences.”
This passage I think poses the real difficulty the fools who throw around the epithet “holocaust-obsessed” fail to see.
It has always seemed to me important not to use the holocaust to separate Jewish experience from the “historical traumas” and “tragic national experiences” of others. Important to err on the side of commonality and solidarity with other victims rather than to spend time arguing about what sets us apart from them.
It works both ways. Reich called my attention to an eloquent—and angry—column by The Washington Post’s Colbert King, in which a non-white, non-Jewish descendant of slaves expresses the rage he feels at the open expression of exterminationist anti-Semitism by the leaders of Iran—and the world’s culpable failure to respond. I recommend this to those who think such concern is limited to “holocaust-obsessed” neo-cons.
It’s a matter of choice, of emphasis. Why should we emphasize, even if it is true, the differences between our Holocausts and those of others even if they don’t measure up in body count or evil of the perpetrators exterminationist designs? Are the differences more important than the tragic similarities? Must we invoke the Passover night question: “Why is this night different from all other nights” to ask and answer “why is our holocaust different from all other holocausts?”
I don’t think so. I don’t think it diminishes what happened to one people if it leads to empathy for others—and to proactive intervention to prevent looming threats of genocidal mass murder.
That’s another kind of holocaust inconsequentialism. A removal of “our” Holocaust from history. From historical connection to others. And while it’s not a prescription for blithe spirits, perhaps we’d be better off if we were more holocaust-obsessed, in the sense of being concerned with all holocausts, historical and potential, and the profound flaws in human nature and human civilization that make them such a salient feature of our collective history.
While I was writing this I came upon, in that monument to civilization, New York’s Strand Bookstore, the semi-famous not-quite-forgotten short story collection by Delmore Schwartz, the Bellovian prodigy who died too young to fulfill his promise.
But almost everyone agrees on the merits of the book of stories named after the title story, “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities.”
Yes, and in nightmares too.