In the Beginning Was the Holocaust?

Blasphemy, rage, memory, and meaning of the Shoah

In April 1951, the Israeli Knesset established Yom ha-Shoah U'Mered ha-Getaot, Holocaust and Ghetto Revolt Remembrance Day. Note that the fledgling State of Israel, which had to fight to win its existence, intended to commemorate not only the victims in the concentration camps but also those Jews who had died fighting their Nazi oppressors.

The new tradition was not universally welcomed in the Jewish community, nor is it universally accepted even today, more than 50 years later. Still, the Holocaust has become a prominent, even inescapable preoccupation of our time, to a degree that of those early members of the Knesset could hardly have imagined, and each year in the United States, Holocaust Remembrance Day makes its claims on a larger number of people—most of whom, of course, are not Jewish.

This year, Holocaust Remembrance Day falls on April 9, with bullets flying in Bethlehem and more suicide bombers in waiting. The demand to make a reckoning is not easily met in good faith. We are wallowing in Holocaust sentimentality and kitsch, weary of polemics, numbed by the never-ceasing flow of books and movies and memorials. How to cut through all that? What does it mean to "remember" the Holocaust?

One strategy is rage. "In the Beginning Was Auschwitz," the novelist and short story writer Melvin Jules Bukiet proposed last month in a lead essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Bukiet has edited a collection of writings by the children of Holocaust survivors, Nothing Makes You Free.

These "Second Generation" writers, Bukiet proudly affirms, "are viciously unredemptive, scoured of weakness as they look atrocity in the face with barely contained rage." Later in the essay, he writes that "no one—not a German and not a Jew—who isn't ...

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