The End of the Holocaust

The End of the Holocaust

The End of the Holocaust

The End of the Holocaust

Synopsis

In this provocative work, Alvin H. Rosenfeld contends that the proliferation of books, films, television programs, museums, and public commemorations related to the Holocaust has, perversely, brought about a diminution of its meaning and a denigration of its memory. Investigating a wide range of events and cultural phenomena, such as Ronald Reagan's 1985 visit to the German cemetery at Bitburg, the distortions of Anne Frank's story, and the ways in which the Holocaust has been depicted by such artists and filmmakers as Judy Chicago and Steven Spielberg, Rosenfeld charts the cultural forces that have minimized the Holocaust in popular perceptions. He contrasts these with sobering representations by Holocaust witnesses such as Jean Améry, Primo Levi, Elie Wiesel, and Imre Kertész. The book concludes with a powerful warning about the possible consequences of "the end of the Holocaust" in public consciousness.

Excerpt

This is a book about victims and survivors of the Holocaust. It reflects some of the ways we have come to think about such people and also about ourselves in relationship to them. Above and beyond these matters, my concern is with changing perceptions of the Holocaust within contemporary culture and with the impact of certain cultural pressures and values on our sense of this particular past. It is a gruesome past, yet also an unavoidable one. “Unavoidable” is not the same as “acceptable,” however; and, as I shall argue, the history of the Holocaust becomes broadly acceptable only as its basic narrative undergoes change of a kind that enables large numbers of people to identify with it. At the core of this process of transformation and identification lies the fate of the victims and survivors—their memories, stories, and future status as imagined figures within a continually evolving narrative of the Nazi crimes against the Jews.

By referring to the victims and survivors as “imagined figures,” I am aware that I run the risk of being misunderstood. Obviously, such people were and are real people, who were forced to undergo real and terrible suffering. None of that is at issue here. What is at issue are the sources of our knowledge of their suffering. In looking at these sources, especially in their more popular forms, attention inevitably is directed to the narrative potency of literature and other forms of cultural representation as readily as . . .

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