December 21, 2006
Swimming in the Holocaust
(Page 2 - Previous Page)Yet the mountain of facts are alarmingly rational. We, who were not there, can never really enter the nightmare world. Yet the facts of the Holocaust, once known, can never really leave our consciousness.
I have come to resist exactly what I was guilty of, of making the Holocaust into a teaching story. The late Susan Sontag, in her essay, "Against Interpretation," argued that the methodology of art theory is based on a premise that requires art to justify itself. Using her logic, it behooves us to ask ourselves why we expect the Holocaust to have a justification? I believe it is because we, who can never really understand it, feel compelled to create theories about why it occurred for the sake of our own humanity.
What I wish is that we could separate the Holocaust from our response to it. We have the facts. They are enough. We don't need to spin them -- to posit the Jews who were murdered as sheep who were led to slaughter or as martyrs or heroes. We need only pay respect to the facts themselves, free from interpretation.
But I know that it is impossible. The very incomprehensible nature of the events and the legacy of the murder impel us to seek ownership and control of the horror by coloring the events with our response to it. That is as understandable as it is inevitable.
Wiesel writes in his new introduction that "having survived, I needed to give some meaning to my survival." Wiesel became a writer and then an advocate, an outspoken moral voice speaking out against anti-Semitism and the crime of potential genocide wherever it occurred -- for which he received the1986 Nobel Peace Prize.
The women in "Swimming in Auschwitz" became mothers and grandmothers. That, too, is a response. They lived when so many imagined they would not. They have shared their tales as a legacy for the generations to come.
For the survivors, telling their stories, recording their histories and memorializing the dead have given lie to the Nazis' boasts that no one would remember and no one would care. Out of respect for the survivors and for the dead, we, too, are impelled to document, to remind, to remember.
The actual swimming pool
For those born after the Holocaust, those who will only know of the Holocaust from the testimonies of others, from books, and teachers and documentaries and movies and miniseries, I can only hope that when they dive into the pool of Auschwitz information, they will come out the other end and continue to march on, respectful of what they can never understand, not so much changed as needing to respond. Tom Teicholz is a film producer in Los Angeles. Everywhere else, he's an author and journalist who has written for The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Interview and The Forward. His column appears every other week.
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