(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

In his prologue, “What Is Holocaust Politics?” John K. Roth recognizes our lack of intellectual, emotional, and spiritual closure over the Holocaust, the torture and killings of Jews and others by the Nazi regime in the 1930’s and 1940’s during World War II. We will never comprehend the “how” or “why” of this atrocity because the depth and breadth of its evil defy all of our assumptions about civilized human behavior. Holocaust politics involves such issues as Holocaust denial, memorializing, and financial restitution to survivors. In arguing that ethics needs to be an integral part of Holocaust politics, Roth insists that Holocaust study should be done not as an end in itself but solely as a means to an end: human betterment.

In chapter 1, “Who Owns the Holocaust?” Roth points out how difficult it is to provide restitution for survivors when such debts are incalculable. Do Jews “own” the Holocaust, or does it belong to the Germans or others (Gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses) who were slaughtered? Roth concludes that all humanity “owns” the burdens, lessons, and responsibilities of the Holocaust as well as the necessity to become more deeply caring and loving humans.

In chapter 2, “What Can and Cannot Be Said About the Holocaust?” Roth debates whether the Holocaust (the conscious, systematic annihilation of an innocent people) is unique and exceeds the bounds of historical comparison. It is a chilling irony that German chancellor Adolf Hitler was Time magazine’s Man of the Year in 1938, and was considered for Man of the Century in 1999. Although historians have researched details of Hitler’s life and the Holocaust, we will never fully understand or explain the man or the genocide; clearly, we must study both with deep commitment to truth.

In chapter 3, “How Is the Holocaust Best Remembered?” Roth explains our obligation to study and teach the particularity of the Holocaust, since eventually no living witness will remain. We must also study what happened before the Holocaust—such as Pope Pius XI’s failure in 1938 to condemn Nazi racism—and after it: Only 12 of 142 defendants found guilty were actually executed, despite the best efforts of the Nuremberg tribunal.

In chapter 4, “How Is the Holocaust a Warning?” Roth insists that the Holocaust warns us to reevaluate all human knowledge, philosophy, and assumptions about values. Holocaust politics exhorts us not to take our freedom or dreams for granted and not to practice a xenophobic “us” versus “them” mentality. Indeed, we must remember Holocaust researcher Gitta Sereny’s caveat that we are responsible for ourselves as well as others because of “the fatal interdependence of all human actions.”

In chapter 5, “Holocaust Politics and Post-Holocaust Christianity,” Roth explains that the Papal Concert to Commemorate the Holocaust in 1994 did not go far enough to acknowledge Catholic anti-Semitism before and...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Beck, Norman A. Mature Christianity in the Twenty-First Century: The Recognition and Repudiation of the Anti-Jewish Polemic of the New Testament. New York: American Interfaith Institute/World Alliance, 1994. Traces the anti-Jewish passages of the New Testament and argues that mature Christians must undo such defamation.

Cargas, Harry James. Shadows of Auschwitz: A Christian Response to the Holocaust. New York: Crossroad, 1990. Uses terrifying photographs from the period to show how Christian persecution of Jews permitted Nazi sadism and asks if reconciliation is possible.

Garber, Zev. Review of Holocaust Politics, by John K. Roth. Shofar 23, no. 1 (Fall, 2004): 141-143.

Hallie, Philip P. Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed: The Story of the Village of Le Chambon, and How Goodness Happened There. New York: Harper & Row, 1979. Details the uplifting story of how the heroic pastor and parishioners of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon saved five thousand refugees from Nazi slaughter.

Henschel, Stepanie N. “Ethics During the Holocaust: Professor Studies Effects of Anti-Semitism.” Jewish News of Greater Phoenix, January 28, 2005, p. 17.

Rittner, Carol, and John K. Roth, eds. “Good News” After Auschwitz? Christian Faith in a Post-Holocaust World. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2001. Anthology of essays about forgiveness, faith, and the possibility of retaining true Christian beliefs after the Holocaust.

Rittner, Carol, Stephen D. Smith, and Irena Steinfeldt, eds. The Holocaust and the Christian World. New York: Continuum, 2000. Focuses on the relationship between Christians and the Holocaust, contrasting their frequent collusion with the Nazis with a section on the amazing Christian rescuers.

Roth, John K. “Converting Dreams into Realities: Reflections on the Shadow of Birkenau.” In History, Religion, and Meaning: American Reflections on the Holocaust and Israel, edited by Julius Simon. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2000.

Roth, John K. “Good News After Auschwitz: Does Christianity Have Any?” In “Good News” After Auschwitz? Christian Faith in a Post-Holocaust World, edited by Carol Rittner and John K. Roth. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2001.

Roth, John K., and Michael Berenbaum, eds. Holocaust: Religion and Philosophical Implications. St. Paul, Minn.: Paragon House, 1989. Anthology of essays regarding the Holocaust’s uniqueness, Nazi atrocities, and questions of religion; the editors’ essay “Why?” is especially relevant.