The Incomprehensible Holocaust

Why Did the Heavens Not Darken? The “Final Solution” in History

by Arno J. Mayer
Pantheon, 492 pp., $27.95

The Kraków Ghetto and the Plaszów Camp Remembered

by Malvina Graf, foreword and notes by George M. Kren
Florida State University Press, 183 pp., $22.00

Some Dare to Dream: Frieda Frome’s Escape From Lithuania

by Frieda Frome, foreword by Robert Abzug
Iowa State University Press, 204 pp., $19.95

Double Identity: A Memoir

by Zofia S. Kubar
Hill and Wang, 208 pp., $17.95

Life With a Star

by Jirí Weil, translated by Ruzena Kovarikova, by Roslyn Schloss, preface by Philip Roth
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 208 pp., $22.95

From That Place and Time: A Memoir, 1938–1947

by Lucy S. Dawidowicz
Norton, 333 pp., $21.95

And I Am Afraid of My Dreams

by Wanda Póltawska, translated by Mary Craig
Hippocrene, 191 pp., $14.95

Doctor #117641: A Holocaust Memoir

by Louis J. Micheels M.D., foreword by Albert J. Solnit M.D.
Yale University Press, 199 pp., $19.95

Eva’s Story: A Survivor’s Tale by the Step-Sister of Anne Frank

by Eva Schloss, with Evelyn Julia Kent
St. Martin’s, 224 pp., $16.95

Unbroken: Resistance and Survival in the Concentration Camps

by Len Crome
Schocken, 174 pp., $8.95 (paper)

Lódz Ghetto: Inside a Community Under Siege

compiled and edited by Alan Adelson, by Robert Lapides, with annotations and bibliographical notes by Marek Web
Viking, 464 pp., $29.95

Soldiers of Evil: The Commandants of the Nazi Concentration Camps

by Tom Segev, translated by Haim Watzman
McGraw-Hill, 240 pp., $17.95

The Holocaust in History

by Michael R. Marrus
New American Library, 267 pp., $8.95 (paper)

Unanswered Questions: Nazi Germany and the Genocide of the Jews

edited by François Furet
Schocken, 392 pp., $15.95 (paper)

Modernity and the Holocaust

by Zygmunt Bauman
Cornell University Press, 224 pp., $29.95

According to the historian Raul Hilberg, the United States alone captured 40,000 linear feet of documents on the murder of European Jews. Add to this other captured documents, police and court records, memoirs, oral histories, film documentaries, interviews, two thousand books in many languages (there are over ten thousand publications of varying size on Auschwitz alone), and we can say that the Holocaust is a uniquely well-documented historical event. Yet a host of unanswered questions remain, and we have not even agreed on a name for the terrible thing that happened. The term “The Final Solution” has passed into common usage, but, fortunately, this obscene Nazi euphemism does not correspond to fact because nearly half of the European Jews survived. “Holocaust” is the choice of the Jewish organizations, but as Arno Mayer points out in Why Did the Heavens Not Darken?, Holocaust is a “religiously freighted word concept,…a term whose standard meaning is a sacrificial offering wholly consumed by fire in exaltation of God.” And in truth, why should one find sacrificial offering or exaltation of God in the involuntary agony of the Jewish millions, many of whom were converts or unbelievers?

Others resent the Hebrew “Shoah,” which, in the words of Philip Lopate, shares “the same self-dramatizing theological ambition to portray the historic suffering of the Jews during World War II as a sort of cosmic storm rending the heavens.’ Arno Mayer prefers “Judeocide,” arguably an apt term but one unlikely to win any more followers than his careful distinctions between “anti-Semitism” as the institutionalized form of prejudice, “Judeophobia” as a personal prejudice, and “anti-Judaism” as hostile feelings or actions directed against the Jewish religion and its adherents.

Clearly, finding the right name is not our gravest concern (I shall be using all these terms freely) regarding the worst mass murder—or one of the worst mass murders—in history, even though by choosing a name we are inevitably making a religious and political statement. Moreover, by hedging the question—writing “the worst,” as opposed to “one of the worst”—I have already opened a hornet’s nest in the Holocaust controversy. After all, did not Stalin and Mao kill many more people than Hitler? Did not the Turks murder proportionately more Armenians? Conversely, was not the Holocaust a unique event, aiming as it did at the extermination of an entire people, something neither Stalin, nor Mao, nor Enver Pasha sought to achieve?

Some of the writers under review have raised these questions, risking accusations of either Jewish ethnocentrism or German apologetics, cold war propaganda or an attempt to rewarm the now somewhat discredited theory of totalitarianism. At least, no serious historian would agree with those on the far right and the far left who try to compare the Final Solution to Hiroshima, My-Lai, or the bombing of Dresden. Nor need anyone pay heed to those who claim that the Holocaust never took place. (Note, however, that the foremost promoters of this persistent fantasy are not …

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Letters

The Incomprehensible Holocaust: An Exchange December 21, 1989