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Judging ''Privileged'' Jews

Judging ''Privileged'' Jews: Holocaust Ethics, Representation, and the 'Grey Zone'

Adam Brown
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Judging ''Privileged'' Jews
    Book Description:

    The Nazis' persecution of the Jews during the Holocaust included the creation of prisoner hierarchies that forced victims to cooperate with their persecutors. Many in the camps and ghettos came to hold so-called "privileged" positions, and their behavior has often been judged as self-serving and harmful to fellow inmates. Such controversial figures constitute an intrinsically important, frequently misunderstood, and often taboo aspect of the Holocaust. Drawing on Primo Levi's concept of the "grey zone," this study analyzes the passing of moral judgment on "privileged" Jews as represented by writers, such as Raul Hilberg, and in films, including Claude Lanzmann'sShoahand Steven Spielberg'sSchindler's List. Negotiating the problems and potentialities of "representing the unrepresentable," this book engages with issues that are fundamental to present-day attempts to understand the Holocaust and deeply relevant to reflections on human nature.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-992-3
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  2. Introduction “Privileged” Jews, Holocaust Representation, and the “Limit” of Judgment
    (pp. 1-41)

    On 17 October 1962, the fragmented and partially indecipherable manuscript of Salmen Lewenthal, a Polish Jew, was unearthed at the site where the crematoria of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp once stood. Although he died before the camp’s liberation, Lewenthal had included in his testimony the following passage:

    We were shamed of one another and we dared not look one another in the face … […] I admit that I, too, … […] it appeared that my actions, too, […] were […] … the truth is that one wants to live at any cost, one wants to live because one lives,...

  3. Chapter 1 La “Zona Grigia”: The Paradox of Judgment in Primo Levi’s “Grey Zone”
    (pp. 42-75)

    Considerable attention has been paid by a number of scholars to Levi’s controversial notion of the “grey zone.” The concept proved fundamental to his understanding of his Auschwitz experiences and has since been appropriated, often uncritically, in the fields of Holocaust studies, philosophy, law, history, theology, feminism, popular culture, and human rights issues relating to the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.¹ In spite of this, there has been no attempt to provide a comprehensive analysis of the influences on the concept and its evolution, and little has been written on Levi’s moral judgments of “privileged” Jews. Recent interpretations and appropriations of...

  4. Chapter 2 The Judgment of “Privileged” Jews in the Work of Raul Hilberg
    (pp. 76-108)

    The limit of judgment in relation to “privileged” Jews is crucially important to a consideration of Hilberg’s work, the widespread impact of which cannot be underestimated. His seminal study,The Destruction of the European Jews, has been praised by many as “the single most important work on the Holocaust,” and Hilberg himself has been characterized as “the single most important historian” in the field.¹ Furthermore, the above epigraph makes clear that Arendt’s controversial arguments regarding Jewish leaders (see the introduction) drew heavily on Hilberg’s pioneering work. This chapter investigates the part of Hilberg’s work that deals with “privileged” Jews, in...

  5. Chapter 3 Bridging History and Cinema: “Privileged” Jews in Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah and Other Holocaust Documentaries
    (pp. 109-148)

    Claude Lanzmann’s influential filmShoah(1985) may be viewed as a bridge between history and documentary film. Widely believed to be “the most important film about the Holocaust ever made,”¹Shoahhas been praised by John K. Roth as “a cinematic counterpart to Hilberg’s monumental writing.”² Indeed, Lanzmann’s film exhibits a complex relationship with history, not least of all through the crucial impact Raul Hilberg had on the film’s conceptualization and his on-screen presence in pivotal scenes. The intersection of firsthand testimony, historical content, and filmic techniques inShoah—along with Lanzmann’s positioning of Hilberg in the film—results in...

  6. Chapter 4 Portraying “Privileged” Jews in Fiction Films: The Potential to Suspend Judgment?
    (pp. 149-194)

    In one of his last essays, which was first presented at an academic conference on the grey zone, Raul Hilberg emphasizes the inevitable incompleteness of empirical historiography, noting that in contrast to written history’s “scattered images,” more complete “descriptions” are attempted by novelists and filmmakers.¹ In relation to literary and filmic works that represent the Holocaust, Hilberg writes: “To fill the gap they promise an imaginative reconstruction, but given the manifest difficulties it is often imaginary.”² Considerable scholarly attention has been directed at fiction films dealing with the Holocaust, particularly Steven Spielberg’sSchindler’s List(1993) and Roberto Benigni’sLife Is...

  7. Conclusion “And What Would You Have Done?” Negotiating the Paradoxical Bind
    (pp. 195-203)

    Even though the far-reaching implications of the Holocaust have caused many scholars to take little for granted when reflecting on ethics, I do not argue that the event has propelled humanity into an ethical abyss. It would perhaps be too easy to exclaim “Enough!” and banish the Holocaust from human history and discourse, into some transcendental realm that is beyond all hope of understanding. Yet thenecessityof continued efforts to represent and—to whatever extent possible—comprehend the magnitude of the event and the extreme experiences it entailed counterbalances any claim that the Holocaust is fundamentally impossible to come...