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Problems Unique to the Holocaust

Harry James Cargas Editor
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 208
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    Problems Unique to the Holocaust
    Book Description:

    Victims of the Holocaust were faced with moral dilemmas for which no one could prepare. Yet many of the life-and-death situations forced upon them required immediate actions and nearly impossible choices. In Problems Unique to the Holocaust, today's leading Holocaust scholars examine the difficult questions surrounding this terrible chapter in world history. Is it ever legitimate to betray others to save yourself? If a group of Jews is hiding behind a wall and a baby begins to cry, should an adult smother the child to protect the safety of the others? How guilty are the bystanders who saw what was happening but did nothing to aid the victims of persecution? In addition to these questions, one contributor considers whether commentators can be objective in analyzing the Holocaust or if this is a topic to be left only to Jews. In the final essay, another scholar assesses the challenge of ethics in a post-Holocaust world. This singular collection of essays, which closes with a meditation on Daniel Goldhagen's controversial book Hitler's Willing Executioners, asks bold questions and encourages readers to look at the tragedy of the Holocaust in a new light.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4363-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Can Betrayal Ever Be Legitimate?
    (pp. 1-6)
    Steven L. Jacobs

    In the crucible of the Shoah (Holocaust), the act of betrayal, whether seemingly well-intentioned or misguided, becomes synonymous with that of slander of informing. In the Hebrew language one finds three terms:malshin(from the rootlashone, speaking or language),mosair(from the rootmasar, transmitter), anddelator(from the Latin, probably reflecting its origin during the period of Roman oppression). All such words are indicative of a reality with which the Jewish people would rather not deal directly: that of traitors or turncoats who, for self-advancement, would denounce their fellow Jews to the authorities, all too often with baseless...

  5. The Moral Dilemma of Motherhood in the Nazi Death Camps
    (pp. 7-24)
    David Patterson

    Any moral judgment of the actions undertaken by inmates of the Nazi death camps must begin with an acknowledgment of our tenuous position as judges in such matters. Those of us who have not seen the inside of the sealed trains, who have not been covered with the ashes of our mothers and fathers and children raining down from the sky, who have not known the collapse of human significance and human sanctity—in a word, those of us who comfortably abide in the world without having known the horror of the anti-world—can hardly presume to peer into these...

  6. Holocaust Victims of Privilege
    (pp. 25-42)
    Susan L. Pentlin

    In the next century of Holocaust education and research, there will be fewer and fewer survivors to guide and help us understand the sparse written evidence left by victims and the thousands of pages of memoirs, oral testimony, trial transcripts, video productions, literary works, and archival evidence. This rich legacy of words and images from those who experienced the invasion of the Germans across the European continent, the occupation, the ghettos, theEinsatzkillings, the concentration camps, and the death camps is what will remain. But we will have no one left to tell us what is not recorded or...

  7. Suicides or Murders?
    (pp. 43-50)
    Charlotte Guthmann Opfermann

    The question concerning the suicides performed by the targeted victims in a persecuted environment such as the Holocaust in Nazi Germany, 1933-45, transcends the usual outsider’s considerations of ethical, moral, or theological justifications of such an act. The period from 1933 (the beginning of the official National Socialist reign in Germany) to 1935 (Nuremberg Laws and other legal bugle calls) should be classified as one of social and economic separation, identification and demonization, before and leading up to the ultimate killing. The 1936 Olympic games represent a hiatus, during which even theJuden unerwünscht(Jews not wanted here) signs were...

  8. Holocaust Suicides
    (pp. 51-66)
    Jack Nusan Porter

    In his essay on “intellectual craftsmanship,” the late sociologist C. Wright Mills showed scholars how to use their files creatively. Everyone has files; the question is how to employ them, how to cross-index them. Take, for example, a file on Elie Wiesel, Martin Buber, Gershom Scholem, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Now take those same files and cross-index them to Hasidism, Zionism, or socialism. The results are provocative. What does the Lubavitcher Rebbe think of socialism or Zionism? How do Elie Wiesel and Martin Buber differ regarding Hasidism? The findings would make not only a good essay but a very interesting...

  9. Victims of Evil or Evil of Victims?
    (pp. 67-82)
    Didier Pollefeyt

    When one looks at the behavior of the victims during the Nazi genocide, at first sight it seems that all camps reveal a sad truth about humans. A great deal of literature on the concentration camps indicates that every trace of ethical life tends to get lost under extreme circumstances. Life in the camps is often brought forward to prove that man is essentially an animal that is involved in a merciless battle to survive. Stories in which unscrupulous prisoners treat each other with utmost cruelty and inhumanity are used to illustrate this hypothesis. The camps are called the “high...

  10. Medicine in the Shadow of Nuremberg
    (pp. 83-97)
    Diane M. Plotkin

    In 1946, following what has become known as the Nuremberg Medical Trial, twenty physicians were indicted for crimes against humanity. To prevent a repeat of their excesses, the military tribunal established ten basic principles for future moral, ethical, and legal behavior in the practice of medicine. These principles came to be known as the Nuremberg Code.¹ In essence, they require the patient’s consent for any experiments to be conducted and demand that any medical experiments be conducted only by qualified medical personnel. They demand that experiments not be conducted if there is a risk of death or disabling injury and...

  11. Is Objectivity Morally Defensible in Discussing the Holocaust?
    (pp. 98-108)
    Robert S. Frey

    Parker J. Palmer, who has written extensively and lectured widely on American education and epistemology, notes that we are well-educated people schooled in a manner of knowing that treats the world as anobjectto be dissected, decomposed, and manipulated. This manner of knowing gives us apparent power over the world.¹ Henry J. Folse refers to a “spectator account of knowledge.”² Indeed, we in the late twentieth century often function in this capacity, as if we could observe the spectrum of reality, which we allow to impinge upon us and which we help to create, from a seat high atop...

  12. Indifferent Accomplices
    (pp. 109-121)
    Eric Sterling

    Holocaust scholars have written prolifically about the atrocities committed by Nazi soldiers as well as the courageous rescues of Jews by altruistic people. These two groups represent the two extremes of immoral and moral participants during the Holocaust. Discussions involving bystanders, however, prove more problematic because such people are neither completely evil nor virtuous. Some bystanders claim that they were unaware of the atrocities that the Nazis perpetrated while others maintain that they desired to help but feared retribution. Although the latter excuse possesses more credibility than the former, neither rationalization proves acceptable. Oftentimes, bystanders failed to help Holocaust victims...

  13. Intruding on Private Grief
    (pp. 122-134)
    Alastair G. Hunter

    Edward Said’s strictures on the subject of Orientalism have at their heart two principles.¹ The first is that, for reasons both cultural and psychological, Western academics, travelers, commentators, and colonizers have signally failed to comprehend the hearts and minds of the peoples, cultures, and religions of the East. The second, almost inevitable consequence is that, unwilling to admit that failure—and unable to recognize it—the West proceeded to reinvent the East in its own terms, thereby manufacturing a pseudo-science (“Orientalism”) which gave theappearanceof knowledge and insight but whose ostensible subject was so profoundly and systematically misrepresented that...

  14. Christians as Holocaust Scholars
    (pp. 135-151)
    Leon Stein

    Harry James Cargas, an authentic “post-Auschwitz Christian,” expresses in one of his most recent books about the Holocaust an important problem that sometimes arises among Christian teachers and scholars of the Holocaust: “Some Jews have been suspicious of my motive—I cannot blame them, given the history of Jewish-Christian encounters. Some Christians have been suspicious as well. Their suspicions are less understandable.”¹

    Such concern about a Christian scholar and teacher of the Holocaust is understandable, for some Jewish observers could interpret a Christian entry into the daunting area of the Holocaust as a result of mere guilt, remorse, or a...

  15. Art After Auschwitz
    (pp. 152-168)
    Stephen C. Feinstein

    In his essay “Trivializing Memory,” Elie Wiesel posits the fundamental questions that confront artists, writers, and filmmakers who try to capture an understanding of the Holocaust. In describing that event, Wiesel suggests that it represented a universe “parallel to creation,” a negative reality that not only made the civilized person into themuselmanderbut also “defeated culture; later it defeated art, because just as no one could imagine Auschwitz before Auschwitz, no one could now retell Auschwitz after Auschwitz.”¹

    Wiesel’s concern over what he calls “the victory of the executioner” and humanity’s greatest defeat is real. Not only Wiesel but...

  16. Reflections on Post-Holocaust Ethics
    (pp. 169-181)
    John K. Roth

    On August 20, 1942, a Polish Jew named Calel Perechodnik returned home. This fact is known because Perechodnik recorded it in the writing that he began to do on May 7, 1943. Sheltered at the time by a Polish woman in Warsaw, the twenty-six-year-old engineer would spend the next 105 days producing a remarkable document that is at once a diary, memoir, and confession rooted in the Holocaust.

    Shortly before Perechodnik died in 1944, he entrusted his reflections to a Polish friend. The manuscript survived, but it was forgotten and virtually unknown in the United States until Frank Fox’s translation...

  17. Afterword
    (pp. 182-189)
    Harry James Cargas

    When this book,Problems Unique to the Holocaust, was conceived, it was thought that each chapter would deal with a particular issue directly related to the Shoah. Since the time of that decision, recent scholarship on the Event has taken on controversy; it seems necessary to address that debate. It is impossible to overlook Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s bookHitler’s Willing Executioners, which was a major part of the author’s doctorate qualification at Harvard University. Two questions must be asked: How well did Goldhagen prove his thesis and is it an acceptable work of scholarship? I find the book wrong and...

  18. Contributors
    (pp. 190-192)
  19. Index
    (pp. 193-196)
  20. A Note on Harry James Cargas 1932–1998
    (pp. 197-199)
    Franklin H. Littell