It has happened,
and so it can happen again;
it can happen,
( Primo Levi)
I did not study the question, but I believe it (i.e. the Holocaust) is but a small detail (statement by Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the French right wing party Le Front National, on 13 September 1987)
The difference between 'history' and 'literature' is sometimes interpreted as the difference between 'fact' and 'fiction', or even between 'truth' and 'fantasy'. We would like to argue here that in order to begin to understand the events we call the Holocaust, the literature of those events must be seen as an important historical source. If we want to penetrate that mystery of collective behaviour, ordinary knowledge of history does not suffice. Bare facts, horrific though they are, are meaningless unless they are given significance by personal testimony. The personal experiences of Gerard Durlacher, Jona Oberski and all the other writers we have met were set in the context of 'the history'. The experience of the Holocaust transcends the limitations of both traditional disciplines of history and literature.
The Polish/American author Louis Begley, author of the pseudo-autobiographical novel Wartime Lies, stated in an interview 1 that he found it difficult to talk about himself. Therefore, he invented a 'hero' and made him live through the same kind of experiences he had lived through himself:
I needed the intervention of a literary form to make use of personal recollections. The literary form enables one to add things, to idealize them or to change them. I was looking for an artistic truth that would not violate historical truth. (own translation)
Begley needed an invented artistic truth to supplement what he considered to be an incomplete historical truth. To a certain extent this might be true for all literature, but we feel that it is within the field of Holocaust literature that these questions are particularly relevant.
The literature of the Holocaust is often referred to as a 'literature of silence' or a 'literature of the unspeakable', meaning that silence can be the only appropriate answer to the events in the death camps of Nazi Germany.