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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