Echoes From The Holocaust

Echoes From The Holocaust: Philosophical Reflections on a Dark Time

Alan Rosenberg
Gerald E. Myers
Copyright Date: 1988
Published by: Temple University Press
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt14bt4nf
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  • Book Info
    Echoes From The Holocaust
    Book Description:

    The murder of six million Jewish men, women, and children during World War II was an act of such barbarity as to constitute one of the central events of our time; yet a list of the major concerns of professional philosophers since 1945 would exclude the Holocaust. This collection of twenty-three essays, most of which were written expressly for this volume, is the first book to focus comprehensively on the profound issues and philosophical significance of the Holocaust.

    The essays, written for general as well as professional readers, convey an extraordinary range of factual information and philosophical reflection in seeking to identify the haunting meanings of the Holocaust. Among the questions addressed are: How should philosophy approach the Holocaust? What part did the philosophical climate play in allowing Hitlerism its temporary triumph? What is the philosophical climate today and what are its probable cultural effects? Can philosophy help our culture to become a bulwark against future agents of evil? The multiple dimensions of the Holocaust-historical, sociological, psychological, religious, moral, and literary-are collected here for concentrated philosophical interpretations.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0161-8
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xv)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xvi-xvi)
  5. PART ONE: THE HISTORICAL IMPACT

    • 1 THE HOLOCAUST AS HISTORY
      (pp. 3-50)
      George M. Kren

      Before interpreting the Holocaust, what happened must be established. Such a task corresponds to the primary charge given by Leopold von Ranke, that the historian’s purpose is the recreation of the past as it really happened. For Ranke this was essentially a simple matter: The professional historian would bring back the facts from hitherto unexamined records. He held to an implicit faith that these facts would speak for themselves. Their enumeration, usually in a chronological order would present a true picture of the past. The meaning of the events would be self-evident. This faith has ceased to be tenable, since...

  6. PART TWO: ASSAULT ON MORALITY

    • 2 HOLOCAUST: Moral Indifference as the Form of Modern Evil
      (pp. 53-90)
      Rainer C. Baum

      Two voices address us here. The first is that of social science, the second that of poetry. The former sounds assertive, the latter interrogative. The first contributes to explanation, the second to moral meaning. The former is a quotation from the definitive history of theEinsatzgruppen(mobile extermination squads), the latter one from the playIncident at Vichy. Yet these differences notwithstanding, they seem to suggest the same idea: that a little more thoughtfulness among the principal perpetrators and a little less moral indifference among the bystanders were all that stood between life and death for millions of victims in...

    • 3 WHAT PHILOSOPHY CAN AND CANNOT SAY ABOUT EVIL
      (pp. 91-104)
      Kenneth Seeskin

      With few exceptions, academic philosophers have had little to say about the Holocaust. There was a time when I considered this outrageous. How could a discipline that examines human values and aspirations ignore one of the most significant, if notthemost significant, events of the century? We are rightly disdainful of the scientists and professors in Germany who continued their studies amid some of the most fiendish evil ever imagined. How can we criticize them if the present philosophical community sees nothing in the Holocaust worth discussing? Unless we entertain the dubious proposition that philosophy has nothing to do...

    • 4 LIBERALISM AND THE HOLOCAUST: An Essay on Trust and the Black-Jewish Relationship
      (pp. 105-117)
      Laurence Thomas

      After one has managed, as best one can, to come to grips with the fact that the Holocaust occurred, the next most shocking matter that one has to confront is the fact that so many did so little to prevent the Jews from being taken to the furnaces, to prevent the genocide of a people—although much assistance could have been offered that would not have seriously jeopardized anyone’s safety.¹ Whatever the causes of anti-Semitism might be, this much is clear: It exercised a most tenacious grip upon the will of so many who could have helped. First, it blinded...

    • 5 THE DILEMMA OF CHOICE IN THE DEATHCAMPS
      (pp. 118-127)
      Lawrence L. Langer

      Suppose Dante’s pilgrim in theDivine Comedyhad arrived at the exit from the Inferno to find the way barred by a barbed wire fence, posted with warnings reading “No trespassing. Violators will be annihilated.” When the spiritual and psychological equivalents of Purgatory and Paradise are excluded from human possibility, to be replaced by the daily threat of death in the gas chamber, then we glimpse the negative implications of survival, especially for the Jews, in the Nazi extermination camps. After we peel from the surface of the survivor ordeal the veneer of dignified behavior, hope, mutual support, and the...

    • 6 ON THE IDEA OF MORAL PATHOLOGY
      (pp. 128-148)
      Martin P. Golding

      In November 1942 Jan Karski, a member of the Polish underground and delegate of the Polish government, made his way from Warsaw to London. Although his main mission was to report on general conditions, he was able to provide extensive information on the situation of the Jews in Poland and about the Warsaw ghetto, which he had visited a number of times. Subsequent to his sessions in Britain, Karski met with American officials and leading Jewish figures. His conversation with Felix Frankfurter is described in Walter Laqueur’s bookThe Terrible Secret:

      Karski told Justice Frankfurter everything he knew about [the...

    • 7 THE RIGHT WAY TO ACT: Indicting the Victims
      (pp. 149-162)
      Abigail L. Rosenthal

      It is clear that our moral and dramatic landscape, the narrative look of the twentieth century, would be far different if we could imaginatively erase the Nazi from that landscape. He occupies it with us. He is a kind of measuring rod of our relation to the category of evil. But the Nazi’s outstandingness in that department has also been challenged. One of the challenges to the consensus about Nazi villainy has involved redirecting a part of it to the Jew, as the victim who obviously suffers the fullest impact of that villainy. Questions of the most serious kind have...

    • 8 ON LOSING TRUST IN THE WORLD
      (pp. 163-180)
      John K. Roth

      Jean Améry, lone child of a Catholic mother and a Jewish father, was born in Vienna on October 31, 1912. He fled Nazism by going to Belgium in 1938. There he later joined the Resistance. Captured by the Gestapo in 1943, he was sent to a series of concentration camps, including Auschwitz. Liberated from Bergen-Belsen in 1945, Améry went on to write a series of remarkable essays about his Holocaust experiences. One of them is simply titled “Torture.” It drove Améry to the following observation: “The expectation of help, the certainty of help, is indeed one of the fundamental experiences...

    • 9 ETHICS, EVIL, AND THE FINAL SOLUTION
      (pp. 181-198)
      Warren K. Thompson

      Germany’sEndlösung der Judenfrageis a paradigm of what G.J. Warnock has called a “plain fact” of moral wrong. Philip Hallie, in his account of the French Huguenot village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon (Haute-Loire), whose citizens shielded Jews during the German occupation, begins by citing Warnock:

      I believe that we all have, and should not let ourselves be bullied out of, the conviction that at least some questions as to what is good or bad for people, what is harmful or beneficial, are not in any serious sense matters of opinion. That it is a bad thing to be tortured or...

  7. PART THREE: ECHOES FROM THE DEATH CAMPS

    • 10 THE HOLOCAUST AS A TEST OF PHILOSOPHY
      (pp. 201-222)
      Alan Rosenberg and Paul Marcus

      Dewey was right. There are such issues that, “… in their production of good and evil … are so central, so strategic in position, that their urgency deserves, with respect to practice, the names ultimate and comprehensive.” There can be little doubt that the Holocaust is such an issue. But Dewey also states, almost casually, that it is “relatively unimportant whether this attention be called philosophy or by some other name.” Does this imply, as it seems, that it does not matter that philosophers have paid so little attention to the Holocaust? Or is it, rather, a matter of considerable...

    • 11 THE HOLOCAUST AND HUMAN PROGRESS
      (pp. 223-244)
      Ronald Aronson

      After Auschwitz is absorbed as fact, it must be contemplated as meaning. Philosophy, and other disciplines as well, must paint its gray in gray, setting it alongside what we already know and think about human beings, their actions, the life and world they have created. Language, for example, must be rethought in light of both the massive masking and distorting functions it assumed during the Holocaust,² and its weakness in rendering what happened. Is it no more than a desperate rhetorical flourish to say that poetry is impossible after Auschwitz?³ Furthermore, all disciplines concerned with morality must be rethought in...

    • 12 THE HOLOCAUST: MORAL THEORY AND IMMORAL ACTS
      (pp. 245-261)
      George M. Kren

      Susan Sontag writes that “one’s first encounter with the photographic inventory of ultimate horror is a kind of revelation, the prototypically modern revelation: a negative epiphany. For me, it was photographs of Bergen-Belsen and Dachau…. Nothing I have seen … ever cut me as sharply, deeply, instantaneously.”¹

      This text may be contrasted with three others: one, by Rudolf Hoss, the commandant of Auschwitz, a second by Adolf Eichmann, and finally one by an anonymous railroad official.

      Rudolf Höss, while in prison in Poland awaiting his execution, wrote a revealing, self-pitying autobiography. At its conclusion, speaking of himself in the third...

    • 13 TECHNOLOGY AND GENOCIDE: Technology as a ʺForm of Lifeʺ
      (pp. 262-291)
      Steven T. Katz

      Technology is a determinative, metaphysical factor requiring consideration in any analytic probe of the uniqueness of theShoah. Though the technological element has been recognized as repercussive from the inception of the debate over Nazism, it is important for analytic purposes to give it heightened prominence as a “normative” category. The quintessence of this designation lies in the recognition that the dominating reality of technology is not merely a matter of a consuming mechanics, but is tied to a larger uncompromising cultural-ideological process which needs to be described through such modalities as “dehumanization,” “rationalization,” “disenchantment,” bureaucracy, and totalitarianism—all transformative...

    • 14 THE CONCEPT OF GOD AFTER AUSCHWITZ: A Jewish Voice
      (pp. 292-305)
      Hans Jonas

      After Auschwitz, that is to say, after the Holocaust for whose widely dispersed reality that single name serves as a blindingly concentrating lens, the Jew can no longer simply hold on to the time-honored theology of his faith that has been shattered by it. Nor, if he wills Judaism to continue, can he simply discard his theological heritage and be left with nothing. “Auschwitz” marks a divide between a “before” and an “after,” where the latter will be forever different from the former. For the sake of this after, and in the somber light of the dividing event, we must...

    • 15 THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MAN AFTER AUSCHWITZ
      (pp. 306-326)
      Gerald E. Myers

      Auschwitz symbolizes, in the words of Sara Nomberg-Przytyk, the devastation “in the psyche of every human being,” and it symbolizes, we may add, the devastation of traditional concepts of the human psyche. No Auschwitz was needed to confirm the grimmer verdicts of human nature passed down from Plato through Freud, yet so incredible are the Holocaust and its death camps that today incomprehensibility and despair replace those pessimistically tinged theories of man. Philosophers anxious to understand, somewhat better, the “bizarre transformation of reality” that Auschwitz wrought, must ponder the question, What can psychology tell us about it?

      Primo Levi, an...

    • 16 CONCENTRATION CAMPS AND THE END OF THE LIFE-WORLD
      (pp. 327-340)
      Edith Wyschogrod

      The fact that the life-world of the concentration camps is radically different from that of ordinary experience is incontestable.¹ But how and in what sense are we to understand this difference? Are the structures of human existence changed merely in regard to this or that component of experience: work, sexuality, habitation, or, even more fundamentally, modes of eating and sleeping, so that a quantitative shrinkage of the life-world is the end result? Or, does the world of the camps present so radical an alteration in the structure of experience that the term “life-world” is inapplicable and we are justified in...

    • 17 LANGUAGE AND GENOCIDE
      (pp. 341-362)
      Berel Lang

      The explanation of a historical event inevitably bears the mark of artifice. If it did not omit or compress, it would be as extensive as the events it was intended to explain and would be no more coherent than they were individually. To be sure, it is not only because of the complexity of historical connections in general that even the most sustained attempts to identify the causes of the Nazi genocide against the Jews seem inadequate. The difficulties here add the extraordinary character of that occurrence to the unusual status of evil itself, which even in less extreme appearances...

  8. PART FOUR: CHALLENGES TO THE UNDERSTANDING

    • 18 SOCIAL SCIENCE TECHNIQUES AND THE STUDY OF CONCENTRATION CAMPS
      (pp. 365-378)
      Hannah Arendt

      Every science is necessarily based upon a few inarticulate, elementary, and axiomatic assumptions which are exposed and exploded only when confronted with altogether unexpected phenomena which can no longer be understood within the framework of its categories. The social sciences and the techniques they have developed during the past hundred years are no exception to this rule. It is the contention of this paper that the institution of concentration and extermination camps, that is, the social conditions within them as well their function in the larger terror apparatus to totalitarian regimes, may very likely become that unexpected phenomenon, that stumbling...

    • 19 THE CRISIS IN KNOWING AND UNDERSTANDING THE HOLOCAUST
      (pp. 379-395)
      Alan Rosenberg

      Holocaust studies are at a turning point. We know what happened; we are now challenged tounderstandthis event, to move from recounting the facts to assimilating theirmeanings

      The popular slogan “Never Again!” has captured the Jewish imagination. If we are to realize its intent, if we are to build a future in which another Holocaust will not happen, we shall have to generate understanding of what we know. We must pass beyond knowledge of the past as merely a matter of record to the point where the past becomes a moving principle of daily life, an existential commitment...

    • 20 THE POLITICS OF SYMBOLIC EVASION: Germany and the Aftermath of the Holocaust
      (pp. 396-411)
      Manfred Henningsen

      Was Hitler allowed to treat German Jews as prisoners of war and to intern them in camps? The prominent German historian Ernst Nolte thought so, and in the summer of 1986, his unusual thoughts provoked a public debate about the place and meaning of the Third Reich in the context of German history. Nolte’s views were first published in a British volume on the Third Reich¹ and then revised for a public colloquium in Frankfurt. Whether Nolte had misunderstood the conditions of his invitation (as the organizers of the colloquium claimed) or whether he was disinvited (as Nolte charged), he...

    • 21 THE ABUSE OF HOLOCAUST STUDIES: Mercy Killing and the Slippery Slope
      (pp. 412-420)
      Peter H. Hare

      The magnitude of Holocaust literature (including films) in the last twenty-five years is difficult to grasp. Probably no other event in the history of humankind has been as intensively examined. Although every decent human being applauds the effort to record and understand the horrors of the Third Reich, this tidal wave of literature carries with it dangers as well as benefits. I share Alan Rosenberg’s view that the Holocaust is “a transformational event”¹ that “implies a deep and sweeping criticism of existing culture,”² but we must be on our guard against the abuse of the cry “Never again!”

      As much...

    • 22 THE ʺINCOMPREHENSIBILITYʺ OF THE HOLOCAUST: Tightening up Some Loose Usage
      (pp. 421-431)
      Dan Magurshak

      As scholarship concerning the destruction of European Jewry accelerates, articulate survivors and some well-informed scholars remind the researchers that, as an event that demands serious investigation, the Holocaust may be, nonetheless, uniquely incomprehensible. Nora Levin writes: “The Holocaust refuses to go the way of most history, not only because of the magnitude of the destruction … but because events surrounding it are still in a very real sense humanly incomprehensible…. Indeed, comprehensibility may never be possible.”¹ In the same vein Elie Wiesel asserts that “Auschwitz cannot be explained” because “the Holocaust transcends history.” Emphasizing his point, he soberly adds, “The...

    • 23 STUDYING THE HOLOCAUSTʹS IMPACT TODAY: Some Dilemmas of Language and Method
      (pp. 432-442)
      Alice L. Eckardt and A. Roy Eckardt

      While studying certain aspects of the aftermath of the Holocaust in Germany and other parts of Europe, as well as in Israel, during the latter half of the 1970s—especially that event’s continuing interpretations and reputed lessons in our time—we became aware that some basic conceptual and procedural problems face all those engaged in such study. The present discussion represents our tentative consideration of these issues.

      Although we are not dealing with the event of the Holocaust as such, we can hardly escape or ignore divergent views of the nature and meaning of that reality.

      The German Nazis determined...

  9. THE CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. 443-446)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 447-453)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 454-454)