"In the Beginning There Was No Holocaust"

By Linenthal, Edward | Humanities, January/February 2003 | Go to article overview

"In the Beginning There Was No Holocaust"


Linenthal, Edward, Humanities


IN THE SPRING OF 1945, THE WORLD TRIED TO IGNORE the gruesome images of the Nazi concentration camps as they were liberated by Allied troops.

"In the beginning there was no Holocaust," writes historian Raul Hilberg. "When it took place in the middle of the twentieth century, its nature was not fully grasped."

Even for hardened combat veterans, the reality of what they saw was almost unimaginable. They felt, wrote historian Robert Abzug, "an almost unbearable mixture of empathy, disgust, guilt, anger, and alienation." The urge was to distance themselves from the horror and turn away from what seemed the futile task of communicating it to a war-weary American public. Consequently, what came to be known as the Holocaust in the immediate postwar years was often indistinguishable from the millions of noncombatant casualties caused by bombing, epidemic illness, or starvation. It was considered by most as simply part of the horror of war.

The implications of what had happened were too threatening for public analysis and the underlying guilt for not having done more was too great for many Americans to contemplate. Forgetfulness became a strategic ally in the postwar crusade against the Soviet Union. West Germany became a symbol of a miraculous transformation to democracy and a bulwark against Soviet aggression. Remembering the Nazi past was considered a needless complication in the struggle to win the Cold War.

Even in the American Jewish community, the Holocaust was virtually invisible. "The American Jewish suburban community," writes historian Deborah Lipstadt, "was concerned with manifestations of unity and not diversity, universalism and not particularism. They were more concerned about acting as Americans than as Jews." Jews did not want to be seen as victims, and assimilation meant agreeing with American foreign policy toward Germany. Survivor memories were of another place and another time. Survivors generally wanted to turn away from the horror they had lived through and build a new life.

Shards of memory existed, but did not make up a whole story. The rubble of the death camps was material evidence of the killing and these would become places of pilgrimage for American and Israeli Jews. But they did not emerge as sites for remembering until the Holocaust was seen as a distinct event.

There were official documents-an archival memory-- and survivor testimony. Benjamin Meed, president of the American Gathering/Federation of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, survived the war in Warsaw by passing as a Christian. He was active in the Jewish underground and witnessed the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto. He came to America in 1946 and later recalled: "Our first years were hard. Every time we heard car tires screeching, we froze.... We even had to adjust to the ringing of doorbells. For us the echo of the old world of fear and death reverberated many times a day.... For years we were alone. Our fellow Jews regarded us as 'green'-the newest immigrants. Americans treated us as refugees. 'Forget the past,' we were told; 'it can only hurt you.'"

The events of the Holocaust began to seep into public consciousness. "I couldn't be a Jew in the same way after the Holocaust," said Rabbi Irving Greenberg. As a Fulbright scholar in Israel in 1961 and 1962 he read about the Holocaust at the Yad Vashem Heroes and Martyrs Memorial Authority in Jerusalem, the central institution for Holocaust memory in Israel. Upon his return to Yeshiva University in New York, Greenberg spent two years trying to gain approval to teach a course on the Holocaust; he succeeded only when he agreed to call the course "Totalitarianism and Ideology in the Twentieth Century."

In 1961, the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Israel provided a public forum; more than a hundred survivors gave their testimony. For American Jews, writes Dorothy Rabinowitz, the trial was "a galvanizing force, bringing them face to face with emotions theretofore repressed, with events whose full scope and reverberations had been kept, rumbling, beneath the surface of consciousness. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

"In the Beginning There Was No Holocaust"
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.