Holocaust Narratives


Holocaust (hŏl´əkôst´, hō´lə–), name given to the period of persecution and extermination of European Jews by Nazi Germany. Romani (Gypsies), homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, the disabled, and others were also victims of the Holocaust. Although anti-Semitism in Europe has had a long history, organized persecution of German Jews began with Hitler's rise to power in 1933. Jews were disenfranchised, then terrorized in anti-Jewish riots (such as Kristallnacht), forced into the ghettos and had their property seized, and finally sent to concentration camps. After the outbreak of World War II, Hitler established death camps to secretly implement what he called "the final solution of the Jewish question." Extermination squads were also sent to the fronts: In one operation alone, over 30,000 Jews were killed at Babi Yar (Ukr. Babyn Yar), outside Kiev. In all, some 1.7 million Jews were shot to death in Soviet Europe in 1941–42. After 450,000 Jews were sent from the Warsaw Ghetto to death camps, news of their fate led the last 60,000 to rebel (1943), fighting until they were killed, captured, or escaped to join the resistance. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has documented a staggering 42,500 ghettos, slave-labor and concentration camps, brothels, and other facilities for the confinement and/or murder of Jews in German controlled areas (from France to Russia) in the years 1933–45—a much higher number than originally thought. It is estimated that from 15 to 20 million people were imprisoned or died at these sites. The main Jewish resistance was spiritual: observing their religion and refraining from suicide, while Zionists evacuated some to Palestine. By the end of the war some six million Jews had been systematically murdered. The Allies refused rescue attempts and American Jews were warned against attempting them. While the European churches were silent, some clergy and individual non-Jews saved many. The Danes sent most Danish Jews to Sweden in private boats while under German occupation.

After the war Nazi leaders were tried for war crimes at Nuremburg, and West Germany later adopted (1953) the Federal Compensation Law, under which billions of dollars were paid to those who survived Nazi persecution. In the mid-1990s a number of suits were filed against Swiss banks that held accounts belonging to Holocaust victims but had denied the fact and failed to restore the money. A settlement reached in 1998 established a $1.25 billion fund to be used to compensate those who can document their claims and, more generally, Holocaust survivors, the latter as restitution for undocumented accounts and for Swiss profits on Nazi accounts involving Holocaust victims' property. Also in 1998, the Roman Catholic Church formally acknowledged Catholic complicity in the long-standing European anti-Semitism that was background to the Holocaust. Under the terms of an agreement signed in 2000 by the United States and Germany, a $5 billion fund was established by the German government and German industry to compensate those who were slave or forced laborers or who suffered a variety of other losses under the Nazi regime.

A vast literature consisting of histories, diaries, memoirs, poetry, novels, and prayers has emerged in an effort to understand the Holocaust in terms of its religious and secular implications. The secular materials have attempted to explain how it happened and the reactions of the victims; some have suggested that an underlying and pervasive anti-Semitism in Germany was fueled by a deep and complete despair combined with a corrosive and unacknowleged sense of worthlessness that had been created by crushing and humiliating hardships and the disintegration of the Weimar Republic. The religious materials have focused on the problem of whether one can still speak in traditional Jewish terms of a God, active in history, who rewards the righteous and who maintains a unique relationship with the Jewish people. Museums and memorials have been established in a number of cities worldwide to preserve the memory of the Holocaust. There are three main archives that contain materials relating to the Holocaust: the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, and the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen, Hesse, Germany.

See M. Buber, Eclipse of God (1952); E. Wiesel, Night (1960) and Legends of Our Time (1968); R. L. Rubenstein, After Auschwitz (1966); A. H. Friedlander, ed., Out of the Whirlwind (1968); L. Davidowisz, The War against the Jews (1975); D. S. Wyman, The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust (1984); C. Browning, Ordinary Men (1992); I. W. Charny, ed., Holding on to Humanity—The Message of Holocaust Survivors: The Shamai Davidson Papers (1992); R. Hilberg, Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders: The Jewish Catastrophe, 1933–1945 (1992) and The Destruction of European Jews (3 vol., 3d ed. 2003); D. J. Goldhagen, Hitler's Willing Executioners (1996); S. Friedländer, Nazi Germany and the Jews (2 vol., 1997–2007); W. D. Rubinstein, The Myth of Rescue (1997); I. Clendinnen, Reading the Holocaust (1999); O. Bartov, Mirrors of Destruction: War, Genocide, and Modern Identity (2000); R. Rhodes, Masters of Death: The SS-Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust (2002); O. Bartov, Germany's War and the Holocaust (2003); C. R. Browning, The Origins of the Final Solution (2004); P. Longerich, Holocaust (2010). See also C. Lanzmann, dir., Shoah (two-part documentary film, 1985).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Holocaust Narratives: Selected full-text books and articles

Fresh Wounds: Early Narratives of Holocaust Survival
Donald L. Niewyk.
University of North Carolina Press, 1998
Inside the Concentration Camps: Eyewitness Accounts of Life in Hitler's Death Camps
Eugène Aroneanu; Thomas Whissen.
Praeger, 1996
Auschwitz: True Tales from a Grotesque Land
Sara Nomberg-Przytyk; Eli Pefferkorn; David H. Hirsch; Roslyn Hirsch.
University of North Carolina Press, 1985
Flares of Memory: Stories of Childhood during the Holocaust
Anita Brostoff; Sheila Chamovitz.
Oxford University Press, 2002
The Dentist of Auschwitz: A Memoir
Benjamin Jacobs.
University Press of Kentucky, 1995
William & Rosalie: A Holocaust Testimony
William Schiff; Craig Hanley; Rosalie Schiff.
University of North Texas Press, 2007
No Common Place: The Holocaust Testimony of Alina Bacall-Zwirn
Alina Bacall-Zwirn; Jared Stark.
University of Nebraska Press, 1999
A Voice from the Holocaust
Eve Nussbaum Soumerai; Carol D. Schulz.
Greenwood Press, 2003
Missing Pieces: My Life as a Child Survivor of the Holocaust
Olga Barsony-Verrall.
University of Calgary Press, 2007
Courage to Remember: Interviews on the Holocaust
Kinue Tokudome.
Paragon House, 1999
The Persistence of Youth: Oral Testimonies of the Holocaust
Josey G. Fisher.
Greenwood Press, 1991
Gender and Destiny: Women Writers and the Holocaust
Marlene E. Heinemann.
Greenwood Press, 1986
Librarian’s tip: Chap. II "Characterization in Holocaust Narratives" and Chap. III "Inmate Relations in Holocaust Narratives"
Different Voices: Women and the Holocaust
Carol Rittner; John K. Roth.
Paragon House, 1993
Librarian’s tip: Part One "Voices of Experience," Part Two "Voices of Interpretation," and Part Three "Voices of Reflection"
Beyond the Conceivable: Studies on Germany, Nazism, and the Holocaust
Dan Diner.
University of California Press, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Part III "Holocaust Narratives"
Writing and the Holocaust
Berel Lang.
Holmes & Meier, 1988
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "Interpreting Survivor Testimony"
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