Generations of the Holocaust

Generations of the Holocaust

Generations of the Holocaust

Generations of the Holocaust

Excerpt

Thus far, attempts of historians, creative artists, and scientists to comprehend fully the dark forces unleashed during the Holocaust have met with limited success. Many survivors have warned us that we can never fully understand their experiences. Elie Wiesel has asked, "How do you tell children, big and small, that society could lose its mind and start murdering its own soul? How do you unveil horrors without offering at the same time some measure of hope?" (1977, p. 6). Undertaking even an approximate scientific study of this period of infamy, and of the legacy of evil which followed it, poses an almost insuperable challenge. One may feel it presumptuous to attempt—rationally, soberly, and objectively—to describe the indescribable and to speak of the unspeakable. Yet our hope is to achieve understanding out of living memory as seen through a prism of psychoanalytic discipline that has already illuminated much of what shapes and determines human behavior.

The very term Holocaust has been criticized. Some critics claim that it has a euphemistic ring and covers the general concept of genocide, thus diminishing the Jews as victims of Nazi tyranny. Lucy S. Dawidowicz (1976) has affirmed, however, that it is precisely the term the Jewish people themselves have chosen in the English language (Shoah in Hebrew) to describe their fate of persecution and death. She points out that, on a superficial level, the word denotes great destruction and devastation, but that its etymological roots suggest a more specific Jewish interpretation. It derives from the Greek word holokauston, a translation in the Septuagint for the Hebrew word olah, which means "what is brought up." Translated into English, olah can mean "an offering made by fire unto the Lord" or a burnt offering. The implication is that once more the Jewish people are sacrificial victims, and that the Holocaust is another link in the chain of suffering and martyrdom. We are also reminded that the chronicles and liturgical poetry of the period of the First Crusade (1095-99) evoke the image of the Akedah, the binding for the sacrifice of Isaac, as the antecedent of later Jewish ordeals, and hence as a rationalization for them. One important difference must be underscored: however the story . . .

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