Art After the Holocaust (1)

Art—at least that art that has been purified of all artifice and flashiness, all grandiloquence and gaudiness—can call us back from the sort of forgetting of ourselves that shames us, and into the sort of forgetting of ourselves that honors us. It can call us back from forgetting ourselves negatively and into forgetting ourselves positively—back into forgetting ourselves precisely by honoring our obligations, and paying what we owe.    

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Holocaust Remembrance (4)

In my preceding post, I argued that our remembrance of the Holocaust must remain a carefully articulated one, in which we are careful to honor all he victims of the Holocaust at the same time that we preserve acknowledgment of the disproportionate suffering that the Holocaust inflicted on some segments of the general population--above all, but not exclusively, on those who were classified as Jews. Not to show such care to remember all the victims in their full articulation into disproportionate segments is to “forget ourselves” in the negative sense of a self-forgetfulness that works to our own dishonor.

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Holocaust Remembrance (3)

Fifty years ago, Jean Améry insisted, with the full right given him by the fact of his own survival of Auschwitz, that for the German people truly to remember the Holocaust would be for that people to bring itself as a whole and at last to judgment for what it did during those years. However, Améry, at least, was never under the illusion that any such thing would ever happen. Already fifty hears ago, he knew it never would.

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Holocaust Remembrance (2)

When a community has committed crimes against some of its own members, there can be no genuine reconciliation of the community as a whole (both those who were made to suffer and those who made them suffer, both victims and perpetrators) at the level of “historical practice” itself, as Jean Améry calls it (rather than at the level of what an American expression disdainfully refers to as “pie in the sky bye and bye”) unless the victims are allowed to cherish their resentments, and the perpetrators in turn are made to maintain a deep and lasting self-mistrust.

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Holocaust Remembrance (1)

Holocaust "survivor" Jean Améry knew as well as Primo Levi, another famous “survivor” of Auschwitz in the same sense that Améry was (both eventually committed suicide), that he was required to speak not only for his own sake but also above all for the sake of those who could no longer speak for themselves—those who could no longer speak for themselves, because they had been murdered by the Germans and their accomplices during the Holocaust.

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