Holocaust Days

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Yesterday, Shimon Peres delivered an address, in Hebrew, before the Bundestag as Germany and other nations marked International Holocaust Day, commemorating the date in 1945 when Soviet forces arrived at Auschwitz.  Israeli and American Jews conduct their own Holocaust remembrances in the spring, on the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Ultra-Orthodox Jews, uneasy with the Zionist emphasis on force and resistance, hold their memorials on the tenth of Tevet, one of the traditional fast days for the destruction of the Temple.

In short, the Holocaust remains as open to interpretation, reinterpretation—and misunderstanding—as is the hole it blew through all the history and theology that preceded it. One historian argues that too exclusive a focus on Auschwitz has blurred our view of the vast killing fields of Poland, Ukraine, and the Baltics. Another has uncovered the story of the internment camps maintained by the fascist regime of Mussolini. Meanwhile, a guided catalog of the 35,000-page Warsaw Ghetto Archive has just been released in English.

Bringing memory into dialogue with the present is no simple task. Bringing it into dialogue with the past is not much easier. According to a recent book, too many Jewish historians are guilty of treating the Holocaust as a stand-alone event, to be studied in isolation from the course of Jewish history. If the charge is valid, the answer may be that such evasion is the only way not so much to highlight the uniqueness of the Holocaust as, paradoxically, to keep it from shadowing everything and everyone else.


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