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Not Comparable

In response to:

True Confessions from the July 17, 1997 issue

To the Editors:

Mr. Timothy Garton Ash in his article on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission [NYR, July 17] refers in a note to our book Reconciliation Through Truth: A Reckoning of Apartheid’s Criminal Governance published by David Philip last year.

Although it is not incorrect to state that “the book has been strongly criticized in South Africa for its explicit comparison of apartheid with the Holocaust,” this particular criticism was confined to one or two reviewers who misread either the book itself or the first review of it to appear.

Our book does not equate apartheid to the Holocaust.

It does however call apartheid a crime against humanity, and it does explore the ideological affinity between the proponents of Nazism and the proponents of apartheid, as well as the influence of Nazism on the development of apartheid policies.

The second edition of our book will contain an afterword explicitly stating that we consider the Holocaust to have been a unique horror. This does not invalidate other parallels which we draw, such as for example the process of ethnic cleansing which the National Party endeavored to carry out.

Louise Asmal
Cape Town, South Africa

Timothy Garton Ash replies:

Louise Asmal’s note of clarification is welcome. I certainly never suggested that Mrs. Asmal and her coauthors equated apartheid with the Holocaust. However, when I visited South Africa, the comparison they do make between dealing with the legacy of apartheid and dealing with the legacy of the Holocaust, and more generally between white-ruled South Africa and Nazi Germany, was being fiercely discussed and disputed. This was the point.

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