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SOURCE: "Was Silence the Only Solution?" in The Saturday Review, New York, Vol. XLIX, No. 21, May 21, 1966, pp. 26-7.
[Lewy is a German-born American historian, educator, and nonfiction writer. In the following excerpt, he discusses Pius XII and the Third Reich and the reasons for the Pope's decision not to speak out against Germany when presented with evidence of the Nazi's "Final Solution," the attempt to exterminate European Jewry.]
The attitude of Pope Pius XII toward Nazi Germany and the reasons for his silence in the face of the murder of six million Jews have been the subject of extensive and often acrimonious debate ever since the young German playwright Rolf Hochhuth chose this problem as the theme for The Deputy.
In Saul Friedländer's Pius XII and the Third Reich we now have a source of valuable information that generates light rather than heat. The author is associate professor of contemporary history at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, Switzerland. His study consists of documents with brief accompanying notes which provide the historical setting and contribute to the readability of the book. A large proportion of the documents included come from the files of the Nazi Ministry of Foreign Affairs: others are taken from British and American diplomatic papers and from the Zionist Archives in Jerusalem. Most of them have been known to specialists in the field, but many are now published for the first time.
The author admits frankly that a study of the Holy See's policy toward Nazi Germany based in the main on German diplomatic papers cannot but be biased. These German documents give us only one dimension of the problem; moreover, diplomatic reports, especially under a totalitarian régime, are often influenced by a desire of the writers to tell what their governments want to hear. And yet, despite a very real need for caution, the Nazi documents contribute to a better understanding of these tragic events. Much of what they contain is corroborated by accounts of American, British, and Polish diplomats. The documents just released from the Vatican archives, which were not available to Professor Friedländer, further confirm some of his main interpretive findings.
Without claiming to state definitive conclusions Friedländer notes that the documents presented by him reveal impressive agreement on two points. First, Pope Pius XII, who had spent many years in Germany as papal nuncio, had a predilection for that nation which was not substantially diminished by the nature of the Nazi régime. Second, the Pontiff feared a Bolshevization of Europe and therefore was anxious not to weaken Germany by criticizing its wartime policies. The documentary support for the first of these conclusions is extensive; the second finding is based on more circumstantial evidence, though the considerable number of documents quoted serves to enhance the plausibility of this interpretation. The Pope's failure to protest the "final solution," argues Friedländer, is thus in part accounted for by Pius's love for Germany and by his fear of undermining German resistance in the East. Other factors were his desire not to make a bad situation worse and to avoid greater evils—for the Jews as well as for the German Catholics, on whom Hitler might have sought vengeance. The Pontiff's wish to pursue a policy of neutrality also receives mention.
In the years immediately following World War II some Catholic writers attributed the silence of the Pope (and of the German bishops) on Nazi atrocities to lack of knowledge to these deeds. The Pope and the bishops, wrote a high German church dignitary in 1946, did not protest against...
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many Nazi horrors because they did not know of them. This explanation, the documents now available show clearly, is untenable. The Holy See received detailed information about the mass killings of Poles and Jews from a variety of sources. After much prodding by Allied diplomats, Pius XII in his Christmas message of 1942 finally expressed his concern for the "hundreds of thousands of people who, through no fault of their own and solely because of their nation or their race, have been condemned to death or progressive extinction." Beyond this cautious comment the Pope was not prepared to go.
Less than ten days after this Christmas message, Wladislaw Raczkiewicz, President of the Polish government in exile, implored the Pontiff to issue an unequivocal denunciation of Nazi violence in order to strengthen the willingness of the Poles to resist the Germans and to help the Jews. His people, wrote Raczkiewicz on January 2, 1943, "do not ask so much for material or diplomatic help, because they know that the possibilities of their receiving such help are slim, but they implore that a voice be raised to show clearly and plainly where the evil lies and to condemn those in the service of evil. If these people can be reinforced in their conviction that divine law knows no compromise and that it stands above any human considerations of the moment, they will, I am sure, find the strength to resist."
Similarly, on September 5, 1944, after more than half a million Hungarian Jews had been sent to their death at Auschwitz, the Chief Rabbi of Palestine, Isaac Herzog, urged through the Papal Delegate to Egypt and Palestine that "the Pope make a public appeal to the Hungarian people and call upon them to place obstacles in the way of the deportation; that he declare in public that any person obstructing the deportation will receive the blessing of the Church, whereas any person aiding the Germans will be denounced." Whether any sizable number of Polish or Hungarian Catholics would have been influenced by such a papal appeal for the Jews we will never know. Both interventions failed; the Supreme Pontiff maintained his silence.
At the end of his book Friedländer expresses the hope that the documents of the Vatican archives will soon be published "so that the events and personages can be brought into proper perspective."
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SOURCE: "Diplomatic Decisions," in The New York Times Book Review, May 22, 1966, p. 6.
[Laqueur is a German-born American historian and novelist who is widely considered an expert on modern German and Israeli history. In the following review of Pius XII and the Third Reich, he describes Pius XII's diplomacy toward the Nazis as "masterly inactivity," judging it "tragically inapplicable in an extreme situation."]
The policy of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church during World War II has during the last few years been the subject of several historical studies, of plays, polemical essays and theological disputations in various countries. Needless to say, there was in the Catholic Church no uniform reaction to Hitler and Nazism; if the great majority of German bishops collaborated, quite a few of the lower clergy resisted and were incarcerated. In France, especially after the Occupation, the clergy took on the whole a patriotic stand.
Cardinal Tisserant wrote from the Vatican as early as June, 1940, that "Our governments … persist in imagining this is a war like the wars of times gone by." He had grasped that Hitlerism had transformed the conscience of the young, and made them willing to commit any crime for any purpose ordered by their leader: "Instead of dying on the battlefield, Frenchmen will be obliged to die by inches—men separated from their wives, and children spared perhaps to serve their conquerors as slaves." Even at the beginning of the war Tisserant was deeply critical of the policy of Pope Pius XII: "I fear history may have reason to reproach the Holy See with having pursued a policy of convenience to itself and very little else." Later on, similar sentiments were expressed by Catholics in the United States and elsewhere.
Saul Friedlander, a young historian now resident in Switzerland, tries to answer the question whether the Pope knew what was happening and whether he should have been silent. His book [Pius XII and the Third Reich], is not a polemical work; he lets the documents speak for themselves and provides only a minimum of running commentary. Yet underlying the dispassionate discussion is a feeling of passionate involvement; the author, we learn, was born in Prague in 1932. The family was forced to flee to France, where in 1942 his parents were taken by the Nazis, deported to Auschwitz and killed. The child was hidden in a monastery until the end of the war.
The Pope's position was not an easy one, for Catholics were fighting on both sides. There were 30 million Catholics in Germany and Pius XII wanted to avoid any statement that would lead them away from Rome. As the Osservatore Romano put it after the Nazi conquest of Norway: "There are only 2,000 Catholics in Norway; that being so, the Holy See, though severely condemning the moral aspect of the matter, must take a practical view and bear in mind the 30 million German Catholics."
The "practical view" was no doubt of the greatest importance, but it should not have been the only criterion; considerations of expediency have their limits, and Pius XII apparently never realized when they were exceeded. He was not lacking in courage, but his political and moral assessment of the situation was found wanting. His ambition to enter history as Pastor Angelicus, a great maker of peace, led him to persist in appeasement long after such a position had become morally untenable. His many years in Germany made him view world affairs (especially where Russia was involved) through German eyes; as an Italian patriot he sympathized too often with Mussolini's foreign policy.
Polish Catholicism had been traditionally the most faithful daughter of the church. What happened to Poland after the Nazi conquest is well known and was eloquently expressed in a message to the Holy Father by the then President of the Polish Government-in-exile: divine laws trampled underfoot, human dignity degraded, hundreds of thousands of men murdered without trial, churches profaned and closed. He implored the Holy Father to break his silence "that a voice be raised to show clearly and plainly where the evil lies and to condemn those in the service of evil."
Yet the Holy Father with great sorrow refused to break his silence and never budged from his position that a forthright denunciation of Nazi atrocities would only result in the violent death of many more people.
From time to time additional not very convincing reasons were given to justify his silence; if he denounced German atrocities (it was once explained) the Germans in the bitterness of defeat would later reproach him, if only indirectly, for that defeat—just as they had accused Benedict XV after World War I. The Pope apparently subordinated all other political considerations to the importance of victorious resistance to Bolshevism in the East. He failed to understand that Hitler's aggression had made the Sovietization of Eastern Europe inevitable.
If the Pope refused to speak out in defense of the church in Poland, it was unrealistic to expect him to do so on behalf of the Jews. The Holy See knew of the Nazi policy of mass extermination by late 1942; three attempts are known to have been made to alleviate the lot of individual Jews in the Reich. Orsenigo, the Papal Nuncio in Berlin, intervened on one occasion on behalf of a 74-year-old Jewish woman in Amsterdam; on another he expressed ("casually," the files say) concern about rumors of the impending ordinance on the dissolution of mixed marriages. On the third occasion ("somewhat embarrassed and without pressing the point") he simply asked what had become of certain French Jews who had been made to leave their previous place of residence.
There may have been other unofficial approaches of which there is no record. In Pius's secret address to the Sacred College of Cardinals in June, 1943, he said: "Every word We address to the competent authority on this subject, and all Our public utterances, have to be carefully weighed and measured by Us in the interests of the victims themselves, lest, contrary to Our intentions, We make their situation worse and harder to bear … The Vicar of Christ, who asked no more than pity and a sincere return to elementary standards of justice and humanity, then found himself facing a door that no key could open." The image of the door that no key could open reappeared several times in his addresses later in the war, but we do not know what the Pope meant, for in the German files on which this book is based there is no reference to any further intervention by the Vatican.
The Pope's belief that his silence prevented worse evil was profoundly mistaken. Pius XII has entered history not as Pastor Angelicus, but at best as a very controversial Pope. It would be naive to assume that had he taken a forthright stand the Nazis would have desisted from their crimes. Bishop Galen of Munster's denunciation caused the Nazis to discontinue their euthanasia program, but the "final solution" was a different proposition, and there is no certainty that they would have shut down Auschwitz and Maidenek simply because the Pope had condemned genocide. At best it might have served to delay matters, and so saved thousands of lives; most Catholics would no doubt agree now that the Pope should have broken his silence even had there been no chance at all.
Eugenio Pacelli had been a diplomat for too long before he became Pope Pius XII. He continued to behave like a diplomat, measuring every word, dropping hints, taking half measures, trusting in masterly inactivity at a time when the world was on fire. This traditional policy had on previous occasions proved quite successful. It was tragically inapplicable in an extreme situation that called for character, steadfastness and spiritual leadership rather than traditional diplomacy.
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SOURCE: "The Vatican in WW II," in Book Week—Chicago Sunday Sun-Times, June 5, 1966, p. 7.
[Mayer is a Luxembourgian-born American historian. In the following review of Pius XII and the Third Reich, he focuses on Pius XII's "hostility to Bolshevism" as a determinant of Vatican policy during World War II.]
Anyone who does not literally interpret the claim that the Pope is God's Vicar will not be overly shocked by Pius XII's policies during the Second World War. After all, the man who was Pope never ceased to be a good Italian, a confirmed Germanophile, a punctilious elitist, an impassioned anti-Bolshevik, and a shrewd chief executive of one of the world's vastest institutional structures.
In this untendentious documentary history, [Pius XII and the Third Reich], Saul Friedländer, a professor of contemporary history at the Graduate Institute of International Studies at Geneva, quite properly suggests that as an Italian, Pacelli was not about to wish for Italy's defeat. Besides, the concordat with Mussolini worked rather smoothly, the Holy See's autonomy was being respected, and any political alternative to Fascism in Italy threatened to be too left-wing for Pacelli's very conservative predilections.
Of course, Pius XII realized that the fortunes of Italy were tied to those of Germany, whose language and culture he had assimilated while Papal Nuncio in Munich and Berlin from 1917 to 1929. When called upon to carry forward Benedict XV's peace proposal in 1917, Pacelli first discovered his own diplomatic skills, in which he subsequently trusted ever so blindly. More important, in the first half of 1919 he observed first-hand not only the establishment of the Bavarian "Soviet" but also its overthrow with the help of some forerunners of Nazism, whose brutal methods he never publicly questioned. Hereafter Pacelli was captivated by Hitler's anti-Bolshevik rhetoric, as were even those few European bishops who eventually, unlike himself, explicitly condemned the anti-Semitic and eugenic atrocities of the Nazis. Admittedly, as Friedländer shows, the Pope kept his remonstrances against what Eugen Kogon so aptly called the Theory and Practice of Hell deliberately vague and general. He did so because reports about atrocities struck him, as so many others, as being exaggerated; because he did not want to alienate the German hierarchy and rank and file, whose ultranationalism firmly tied them to Hitler's Reich; and because he was afraid that his protests might goad the Nazis into still greater savagery.
Friedländer presents these conventional explanations, if not apologies, for the Pope's inordinate caution in the broader context of the international civil war of this century. Many of his documents from the archives of the German Foreign Ministry suggest that Pacelli's policy toward the Third Reich was at all times influenced, possibly even determined, by his hostility to Bolshevism and his zeal to keep Soviet Russia out of the East European rimland, which was so heavily Catholic. The same documents provide credible indications that the Pontiff continued to favor appeasement after Munich; that once France had fallen he advocated an Anglo-Nazi accommodation designed to free Hitler to turn his full wrath against Stalin; and that following the invasion of Russia he cooled towards the Anglo-Saxon Powers because these went into a defensive partnership with the Soviets. In August 1941 the Secretary of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith declared that "just as yesterday on Spanish soil, so today in Bolshevik Russia itself … brave soldiers of our own fatherland, along with others, are fighting the greatest battle of all … [and] are defending the ideal of our freedom against Red barbarism." Though it is not clear whether such statements had the Pope's explicit imprimatur, undoubtedly they reflected the opinion of high Vatican officials.
Certainly as soon as the battle turned against the Axis at Stalingrad, the westward advance of Boishevism and Soviet Russia became the Holy See's chief preoccupation, the more so because, simultaneously, the Communists were surfacing in the Italian Resistance. Friedländer concludes that judging by these German documents, especially by the fall of 1943, the Pope "feared a Bolshevization of Europe more than anything else and hoped, it seems, that Hitler's Germany, if it were eventually reconciled with the Western Allies, would become the essential rampart against any advance by the Soviet Union toward the West."
Whereas in 1917 Benedict XV had pressed for a negotiated settlement between all the belligerents, in 1943–44 Pius XII appears to have sought a separate peace between the Western Allies and the Axis as a prelude to a joint crusade against Bolshevism. It is to be hoped that some day the Vatican archives will tell us whether Pacelli actually considered giving his blessings to a diplomatic deal which would have prolonged the life of Hitler's extermination system, or whether he considered the overthrow of the Nazi regime as an essential precondition for such a realignment—an overthrow which really was never in the cards. Meanwhile Friedländer's documentation, which is based almost exclusively on the archives of the German foreign ministry, calls attention to the counter-revolutionary impulses which informed the secular policies of the Pope, the Vatican, and the Church before, during, and after the War.
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SOURCE: "Tragic Dilemma," in National Review, New York, Vol. XVIII, August 23, 1966, pp. 843-44.
[In the following excerpt, Wall faults Friedländer for his possibly biased selection of documents in Pius XII and the Third Reich and for "rushing" to publish an admittedly incomplete account of the Vatican's policies toward Nazi Germany.]
Friedlander's [Pius XII and the Third Reich], despite its title, is not the story of Pius XII and the Third Reich. It is a collection of quotations from documents and other books, interspersed with the author's comments and conjectures. What is particularly valuable about the work is that some of the material reproduced is hitherto unpublished diplomatic correspondence between Nazi ambassadors at the Vatican and the Wilhelmstrasse Foreign Office in Berlin during the period 1939–1944. The documents that survive from those ruined archives are interesting in themselves. They are, however, incomplete and the reader is placed in the position of reading Browning's "My Last Duchess" with lines and perhaps even whole sections omitted.
Presumably to remedy the obvious deficiencies of the Nazi documents, and to try to live up to the ambitious title that he has set on his book, the author also throws in quotations from other documents (e.g. from the Zionist Archives in Jerusalem) and from other books (e.g. Jacques Nobecourt's Le Vicaire et l'Histoire). It is in doing this that he gets into trouble. Obviously he cannot reproduce all the documents, all the facts, all the data relevant to his announced subject. He has to make selections. But the act of selection is, conversely, the act of exclusion. To select one thing is ipso facto to exclude the others one does not select. Thus Friedlander has already come under attack from the Jesuit historian Robert Graham for having omitted important documents. Inevitably, it must appear that he is not engaged in an objective scholarly inquiry so much as in grinding an ax. The impression is reinforced by his assertions that he is but commenting "on the documents," while he quite glides over the fact that he has antecedently selected the document upon which he is now going to comment.
Although the author speaks of Pius XII and the Third Reich, it is apparent that his main concern is with the question of why Pius did not speak out as brazenly as the massed bells of all the cathedrals of Christendom after the Nazis began the systematic extermination of the Jews in 1942. At least the reviewer can find no other reason for his devoting several pages of quotation to the impressions of a Vichy French diplomat on the theological position of the Catholic Church (including the position of St. Thomas Aquinas) vis-à-vis the Jews. The author (for reasons utterly unknown) thinks that this is important enough to devote space to, but oddly reduces to a footnote … the report of Angelo Roncalli (later John XXIII) that his numerous activities to help the Jews were made at "the instance of the Pope," at the instance of Pius XII. Other examples of "selectivity" can be cited.
It is not surprising that in concluding his book the author writes: "At the end of this study, which claims to be nothing more than an analysis of documents, I cannot make any definite answer to the questions raised by the wartime policies of the Holy See toward the Third Reich because I have only incomplete documents at my disposal." Why did he bother writing the book? Why did he not wait until he had more material and could venture definite answers, rather than rush into print now with nothing more than conjectures and insinuations? Scholarship has all of time in which to reach its conclusions, even if Friedlander does not.
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SOURCE: "Of Diplomatic Thrust and Counterthrust," in The Christian Science Monitor, December 15, 1967, p. 13.
[Tetlow is an English journalist and nonfiction writer. In the following highly positive review of Prelude to Downfall, he praises the "self-effacing zeal" with which Friedländer writes and relates some of the dramatic political machinations that preceded American entry into World War II.]
Looking back a quarter of a century, one sees now that it should have been apparent to all concerned that, once Hitler had turned away from an undefeated England and decided instead to take on the sprawling colossus of the Soviet Union, he had lost his war. He had staked everything on a quick kill, and even by the end of 1940 the gamble had obviously failed. But the moment had long ago passed when he could evade paying forfeit. He, and everybody else, had to play to the end the tragedy he had provoked.
How and why did Hitler fail? There were two factors which above all others brought him down. One was the instinctive refusal of the English to give up, and the other was an implacably determined Franklin Roosevelt, who had resolved on behalf of the United States to prove the English right.
The resulting duel between Hitler and Roosevelt, fought while the two countries they led were not yet at war with each other, is the engrossing theme of Saul Friedländer's book [Prelude To Downfall: Hitler and the United States, 1939–1941]. This is no tale, then, of blood-and-thunder heroics on the field of battle, but one of diplomatic and political thrust and counterthrust. Men's minds, not their bodies, were at odds here. The weapons they used were ideas and words, not guns, and the ammunition was a mass of documents—official archives, ambassadorial telegrams, speeches, everything that a thorough and painstaking author can now fit together. The story is told, ingeniously and illuminatingly, from the German corner.
Professor Friedländer shows that Hitler's bedrock purpose was to keep the United States out of the war until he had finished off England and the others who stood barring his path to invincibility. Conversely, Roosevelt's was to keep a battered and staggering England in the ring until he guided his country, step by step and guilefully toward the war which he knew it must face.
The two men had one characteristic in common. It was dedication to their purpose. Thus, until war was inevitable after bombs had started falling on Pearl Harbor, Hitler refused the increasingly despairing appeals of his sailors to let them answer one galling provocation after another by attacking and sinking United States ships. Roosevelt was never deterred by powerful sentiments of isolationism in and out of Congress and, with astonishing dexterity, still kept up his offensive against Hitler while fighting another battle at home to get himself reelected.
Hitler's henchmen in Washington served him with dogged efficiency during the weird period of prolonged and deepening twilight. They were up to every trick to foster opposition to Roosevelt, "the Jewish faker." Strange indeed is it to read now that Hans Thomsen, the German charge d'affaires, could plan for 50 Republican congressmen to be invited, at a cost of $3,000, to spend three days at the party convention in 1940 to influence delegates toward an isolationist foreign policy; and to arrange behind the scenes for publication of anti-interventionist books by well-known American authors without their knowing where the money had come from.
Strange also is it to read, in view of what happened between 1941 and 1945 and thereafter, that Roosevelt was reelected by only a small margin in 1940 and that Congress repealed the main provisions of the Neutrality Act, less than a month before Japan attacked, by the smallest majorities obtained for any foreign policy act since the beginning of the war. Professor Friedländer even offers the view that the America First Committee and other isolationists might have succeeded in keeping the United States from intervening in the conflict had it not been for the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
This is one of the few personal views hazarded by the author in his most effective work, and it is a dubious one. For the most part he practices the self-effacing zeal of the scholar in letting the facts and the documents speak mightily for themselves, and as a result we are treated to a brightly lit picture of Hitler's dealings not only with Roosevelt and the United States but with a slippery Franco, a touchy and difficult Vichy, and a double-dealing Japan. All is related carefully and dispassionately. Perhaps the most eloquent tribute one can pay to the author is that unless the reader were told, he would never guess from the book that Saul Friedländer's father and mother were caught by the Nazis in 1942 and killed in Auschwitz.
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SOURCE: "Die Amerikaner," in The New York Times Book Review, February 4, 1968, pp. 10, 12.
[In the following review, Loewenheim states that Friedländer's Prelude to Downfall, though its arguments are not original, adequately presents Hitler's perceptions of and policies toward the United States before its entry into the Second World War.]
It seems clear that many Americans—and especially critics of United States policy in Vietnam—would prefer to hear as little as possible about the history and meaning of American foreign policy in the 1930's. This may help to account for the disturbing fact that neither William L. Langer's and S. Everett Gleason's The Challenge to Isolation; The World Crisis of 1937–1940 (1952) and The Undeclared War, 1940–1941 (1953), one of the great works of modern scholarship, nor the impressive chapters on international affairs in James MacGregor Burns's Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox (1956) and William E. Leuchtenburg's Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932–1940 (1963), or the important recent work of Manfred Jonas, Isolationism in America, 1935–1941 (1966), have achieved anything like their deserved impact or general influence.
Saul Friedländer, who teaches contemporary history at the Graduate Institute of International Studies at Geneva, and a year ago published a widely praised study of Pius XII and the Third Reich, has not sought to re-examine the whole course of American foreign policy before Pearl Harbor [in Prelude To Downfall]. He has set himself the more limited, but no less important, task of examining the role the United States played in German foreign policy in the two years immediately preceding the outbreak of war between the two countries in December, 1941.
"How," he asks, for instance, "did the leadership in Berlin regard the role of the United States in the struggle for world power? How much was Hitler influenced in his strategic deliberations by the probability that this colossus would enter the war? Had it occurred to the German leaders that the fate of the Third Reich might be decided, much as that of the Second had been, by intervention from America?"
Unfortunately, Friedländer's work promises rather more than it actually delivers. He begins with the assertion that "it is astonishing that no systematic treatment has yet appeared of so pivotal a factor as the relation of the Third Reich to the United States"—an astonishing claim that not only ignores the interesting books of James V. Compton, The Swastika and the Eagle—Hitler, the United States, and the Origins of World War II, and Alton Frye's Nazi Germany and the Western Hemisphere, 1933–1941, published last year (which his publishers ought certainly to have told him about), but also H. L. Trefousse's still valuable pioneer study Germany and American Neutrality, 1939–1941 (published in 1951 and in fact listed in his bibliography!). Friedländer's work is based, for the most part, on a detailed, but by no means exhaustive, study of the German diplomatic documents that fell into Western hands at the end of World War II.
Since Messrs. Compton and Frye (and Trefousse too) had gone over somewhat the same materials, the result, not surprisingly, is a certain amount of duplication as well as—and this is of course by no means undesirable—considerable agreement on many of the key issues.
Thus Friedländer shows once more, at some length, that while Hitler generally misjudged—that is to say, under-rated—American power, prospective and extant, he much preferred to keep the United States out of the war as long as possible, and went to some length to discourage incendiary incidents that might have led to a formal rupture of diplomatic relations or the actual outbreak of hostilities.
Hitler, Friedländer points out, was not "so blinded by his hatred of the United States as not to fear its intervention. On the contrary, the whole of Hitler's policy points to his full awareness of the importance of the American factor in the event of a long war. Did he, nevertheless, think that with Japanese help the Axis powers could stand up victoriously to the formidable coalition that they were going to have to face? The numerous utterances quoted in this book suggest that he did."
In this quite understandable desire to keep the United States out of war as long as possible, Hitler had considerable support on this side of the Atantic, and some of the most intriguing and suggestive (but again by no means definitive) pages of Friedländer's book are devoted to a straightforward account of it. There was a strange collection of professional pacifists, political opportunists, philosophical isolationists, narrow-minded legalists, thinly veiled pro-Nazis, self-appointed peacemakers, glamorous military experts, totalitarian apologists, idealist social reformers, passionate President-haters, thoughtless academics and university students (Yale being a special hotbed of isolationism), devout Quakers and reverend clergy, unprincipled journalists and washed-up novelists—all of them ready, for one reason or another, including in some instances hard cash, to do the Führer's work.
Finally, as Trefousse, Compton and Frye before him, Friedländer has turned up no concrete evidence to the effect that Hitler planned to attack the United States or the Western Hemisphere, once he had achieved effective mastery over the Old World. Does that mean that President Roosevelt was mistaken when, in 1940–1941, he all too belatedly aligned the United States on the side of the Western democracies, or what still remained of them, and certain other powers resisting the spread of Nazi aggression? It will be interesting to hear from the New Left historians on this point—once they have finished rewriting the origins and history of the cold war.
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SOURCE: A review of Kurt Gerstein: The Ambiguity of Good, in America, Vol. 120, No. 15, April 12, 1969, pp. 454-55.
[Muhlen was a German-born American journalist and historian. In the following mixed review of Kurt Gerstein: The Ambiguity of Good, he faults Friedländer for his facile psychoanalysis of his subject and for the moralistic tone of his conclusions.]
The hero of this historical study [Kurt Gerstein: The Ambiguity of Good] is one of the most enigmatic figures of the Nazi years. In an era characterized by tragedy on a mass basis, his tragedy was unique. A devoutly Lutheran Christian, the son of an old-fashioned Prussian middle-class family, a promising 27-year-old mining engineer when Hitler came to power, Kurt Gerstein joined the Nazi party. Though he had not broken with it, he soon was banned from his occupation and briefly sent to a concentration camp because he tried to defend the integrity of the Protestant youth movement against totalitarian claims. He became a total enemy of the Nazi regime only after he suspected that a sister-in-law of his, together with many other patients of German mental hospitals, had been secretly murdered at the beginning of World War II. His suspicion turned out to be right, as he discovered in an almost incredible, yet fully documented, search for the truth.
It led Gerstein, the passionate Nazi-hater, to join the most fanatically faithful Nazi organization, the S.S., some of whose members were in charge of the mass murder actions. Due to his professional abilities, he was promoted to a position which brought him into personal contact with the Jewish extermination camps. In contrast to the mental hospitals, they were located outside the German borders, and therefore the crimes committed within their walls could be kept a much closer secret of tiny Nazi gangs. Gerstein himself was assigned to procuring some of the lethal gases used to "solve the Jewish problem" in a mass destruction process, and he seemed to do his job.
As he made clear to friends and even to chance acquaintances, he wanted to be a personal witness, and probably the only hostile witness, to the Nazi crimes when the day of their prosecution would arrive. He also wanted to be in a position immediately to warn the world, and to beg it to interfere, for which purpose he related his horrible knowledge, with facts and figures, to some neutral diplomats including the papal nuncio in Berlin, and to a few Protestant churchmen. The Secret State Police never found out about his warnings, which, of course, would have brought his death sentence. Nor was it discovered that this apparent and often actual assistant of the murderers himself tried to counteract the murder plans by sabotaging deliveries of Zyklon B, the lethal gas; in a few instances he succeeded. When the Allies invaded Germany, Gerstein gave himself up at the earliest moment, but French authorities imprisoned him as a war criminal. He took his life in a Paris jail cell.
If Saul Friedländer, an Israeli historian, had solely related the course of Gerstein's life, he would have contributed an important chapter to the history of the Third Reich. Unfortunately, however, Mr. Friedländer also attempts to set himself up as a supreme moral judge of the large majority of the German people as well as of Gerstein himself. Given his hostile personal bias and his superficial treatment of moral as well as factual questions, which he often answers by cut-rate psychoanalysis and by comic-strip-styled oversimplifications (like the playwright Hochhuth, who depicted Gerstein in The Deputy), he appears poorly equipped for such a final judgment. His ambiguous verdict on the "ambiguity of good" remains as meaningless as its fashionable model and companion piece, Hannah Arendt's banal charge against the "banality of evil."
As it is, Mr. Friedländer supplies merely an outline of the great tragedy of Kurt Gerstein, a man of good will under an evil dictatorship.
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SOURCE: A review of Kurt Gerstein: The Ambiguity of Good, in The New York Times Book Review, April 13, 1969, p. 10.
[Cohen was an American historian, novelist, nonfiction writer, and theologian. In the following review, he examines some of the moral complexities Friedländer explores in Kurt Gerstein: The Ambiguity of Good.]
The enigma of Kurt Gerstein, a lieutenant in the Waffen-SS responsible for securing shipments of Zyklon B, the lethal gas used in the crematoria of Auschwitz, first came to the attention of the American public through Rolf Hochhuth's celebrated play, The Deputy. There, Hochhuth represents Gerstein as having sought to bring word of the extermination camps to the attention of the Papal Nuncio in Berlin.
However Hochhuth has interpreted the case of Gerstein, the case remains open, and it is to the incredible moral complexities of his case that Saul Friedländer, author of Pius XII and the Third Reich, (1966) has directed his fascinating, exhaustive and brutally deadpan historical essay, Kurt Gerstein: The Ambiguity of Good.
Kurt Gerstein was a familiar and unexceptionable "good German," born in 1905 into a tradition of civil service, educated in middle-class rectitude, trained to all commonplace values, including that of anti-Semitism. (Among notable Protestants only Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth—and not Martin Niemoller and Bishop Dibelius—were free of and outspokenly opposed to anti-Semitism.)
The original conflict for Kurt Gerstein was between membership in the Nazi party and his total moral involvement in the defense of the Confessional Churches that were under severe attack by the Nazis. Gerstein agitated, distributed contraband pamphlets, lectured to Bible groups on the moral resistance which Christian faith required. Although his opposition in those prewar years was confused and uncertain, it was enough to earn him expulsion from the party and two brief imprisonments.
The turning point in his life came when he learned that his sister-in-law had been one among the 70,273 mental patients murdered between January, 1940, and August, 1941. It was then that Gerstein set himself the unique task that was to consume the four years remaining to him to join the SS, to dissemble as a dedicated instrument of Hitler's Final Solution, while at the same time impeding its effectuation and bringing news of its horrors to the German people and the outside world.
The ambiguity of fact is that Gerstein did and didn't he effected the transport of more tons of liquid prussic acid (the essential ingredient of Zyklon B) than he was able to destroy; he tried to tell church authorities, neutrals and underground contacts of the exterminations he had witnessed, but his warnings were ignored. He was left finally spreading the word to any and all, risking his life daily to communicate the horror to casual passersby and strangers. The task became an obsession and the obsession occasioned the deterioration of his use to the cause, to himself. In 1945, imprisoned by the French after his surrender to Allied forces, he ostensibly committed suicide.
The ambiguity of moral judgment is that the denazification proceedings against him conducted posthumously in Tubingen in 1950, having acknowledged that, at considerable risk to his life, he had opposed the Nazi regime from within and sought to bring word of its monstrosities to the outside world, condemned him as suffering "taint" because his actions—given the privileged knowledge which he possessed—were too ineffectual. (He was rehabilitated in 1965 by Kurt Kiesinger then Premier of Baden-Wurttemberg). He was condemned originally, as Friedländer says, "for the uselessness of his efforts" (author's italics). It would have been preferable, Friedländer expatiates, in the eyes of the German court, if Gerstein had behaved as millions of "good" and "silent" Germans had, who, with ample suspicion, if not knowledge (as Friedländer demonstrates convincingly that they had), of what was transpiring in the East sat by and watched as passive spectators.
The ambiguity of the good in a totalitarian state is that it is never able to be effectual, particularly if the good is pursued as a solitary, lonely and personal destiny. Had those other Germans—those good, silent, Germans who had come from the same backgrounds as Gerstein, who had the same bourgeois values, the same loyalty and love of das Volk, the same tincture of anti-Semitism, and the same Christian conscience—decided to impede and obstruct as Gerstein did, the extermination machinery would have still continued to work, but, as Friedländer concludes, "hundreds of thousands of victims would have been saved."
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2185
SOURCE: "A Question of Conscience," in Commentary, Vol. 48, No. 1, July, 1969, pp. 71-2, 74.
[In the following review, Lewy discusses the ethical dilemmas Friedländer explores in Kurt Gerstein: The Ambiguity of Good, examining at length the moral untenability of both blind obedience to the law and complete reliance on conscience.]
The story of Kurt Gerstein involves one of the most bizarre episodes of the Nazi era, a period of human history not lacking in the fantastic. Gerstein was an SS Obersturmführer, in charge of supplying the deadly Zyklon B gas to Hitler's murder factories. At the same time, he was a member of the Confessing Church, an opponent of Nazism, and a man who repeatedly risked his life in attempts to alert the Western world and the Vatican to what was happening in the Nazi death camps. At the end of the war Gerstein surrendered to the French; then, in July 1945, he was found dead in a prison cell in Paris, an apparent case of suicide.
This, in very broad outline, is the story of Kurt Gerstein, a story that was popularized and brought to the attention of a wide audience by Rolph Hochhuth's play The Deputy, of which Gerstein is one of the heroes. As is so often the case, however, reality is more intricate than a playwright's interpretation. Saul Friedländer, a professor of contemporary history at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, and best known for his work of documentation, Pius XII and the Third Reich, through painstaking research has been able to reconstruct the actual drama of Kurt Gerstein. Beyond telling the life story of one rather unique man, Friedländer attempts [in Kurt Gerstein: The Ambiguity of Good] to come to grips with the moral dilemmas of an entire society. As I shall try to show later, the ramifications of these dilemmas reach into our own lives today.
The early years of Kurt Gerstein do not reveal any very unusual traits: Friedländer calls him "a German like so many others." Born at Münster in 1905, he grew up in a Protestant Prussian middle-class family; his father was an ardent nationalist and later a convinced Nazi. Young Gerstein, too, shared the intense nationalism of so many members of his generation; as a student at the University of Marburg he joined one of the most chauvinistic fraternities in Germany. But he was also a deeply religious person, preoccupied with feelings of guilt and a longing for purity. He became actively involved in the Evangelical Youth Movement, and when the Nazis, in late 1933, insisted on merging this organization into the Hitler Youth, Gerstein protested. Not that he was opposed to Hitler's political aims—Gerstein had joined the Nazi party in May 1933, and for a long time he continued to insist on his loyalty to the Führer. However, he was seriously disturbed by the Nazis' neo-paganism, and he felt duty bound to insist that a nation without God was "a dangerous thing."
During the following years, Gerstein wrote and distributed pamphlets setting forth this view. He was twice arrested and in October 1936 he was expelled from the Nazi party. In a letter which he wrote in 1938 and which he mailed to his uncle in America, he spoke of tragedies arising "from loss of intellectual freedom, religious freedom, and justice." But after the outbreak of the war and Hitler's impressive early victories, Gerstein's attitude to the Nazi regime changed again. He agreed to write for the Hitler Youth and in August 1940 he sought reinstatement in the party. A few months later, or perhaps even earlier, he applied for service in the Waffen-SS and in March 1941 he joined the military branch of the Nazi elite guard.
The motives for this decision are not altogether clear. At war's end Gerstein said that he had wanted to find out for himself about the Nazis' compulsory euthanasia program for the insane and mentally retarded (his sister-in-law had been one of its victims). Then, after seeing clearly into this dreadful mechanism, he wanted to "cry it aloud to the whole nation." But Friedländer thinks that Gerstein's motives were more complex. There is evidence that Gerstein talked about joining the Waffen-SS as early as the end of 1939, well before the first rumors about the killing of the feeble-minded had begun to circulate. Furthermore, the question of how a person twice arrested by the Gestapo could be accepted into the Waffen-SS—at that time still an elite force—remains an enigma.
After basic military training, Gerstein, on account of his technical proficiency, was assigned to the office of the Hygienic Chief of the Waffen-SS. Here he distinguished himself in constructing disinfection and water-purifying equipment, and in January 1942 became head of disinfection services, with the rank of Obersturmführer. It was this office that soon thereafter was given charge of supplying the lethal gas for the death camps, and in August 1942 Gerstein personally witnessed mass gassings at Belzec and Treblinka. The experience proved so shattering that from that time on, and in a perfectly reckless manner, he began to reveal the details of the machinery of the Final Solution to a large number of influential people. Contrary to the dramatic account in The Deputy, he failed to gain admittance to the Papal nuncio in Berlin, but he did succeed in telling his horrifying tale to several neutral diplomats, German churchmen, and many others.
To Gerstein's utter dismay and distress, nothing happened as the result of his revelations that mass murder was being committed on an unprecedented scale. The Pope and the German churchmen maintained a discreet silence; the Western Allies, while denouncing the crimes, rejected proposals to bomb the gas chambers or the transportation system leading to the death camps. The machinery of destruction continued to function smoothly—with the increasingly distraught Gerstein as the chief purchasing agent of the deadly Zyklon B gas. Here begins the element of high tragedy. After the war Gerstein asserted that he had been able to divert and destroy several shipments of gas, but a German Denazification Court in 1950, while accepting the truth of this assertion—for which substantiating testimony is available—nevertheless refused to exonerate Gerstein: "After his experiences in the Belzec camp, he might have been expected to resist, with all the strength at his command, being made the tool of an organized mass murder." This he did not do. In fact, he became a cog in the machinery of the Final Solution. Despite the fact that Gerstein had destroyed trifling quantities of the gas supplied by him, said the court, and had made courageous attempts to inform the world of the murder of the Jews, he could not be freed of a share of responsibility for the crimes which his actions had facilitated.
In January 1965, Gerstein was rehabilitated in West Germany. Kurt Kiesinger, then prime minister of Baden-Würtemberg, based his decision on the fact that "Gerstein resisted National Socialist despotism with all his strength and suffered consequent disadvantage." Friedländer welcomes this rehabilitation, but finds that the reasons given do not sufficiently come to grips with the earlier condemnation. He argues that unlike most "good" Germans who remained quiet while millions of Jews died, Gerstein accommodated himself to the crime in order to resist it—risking his life in the process. Under a totalitarian regime resistance can be carried out only from within the system. The resister, therefore, often seems indistinguishable from the executioner. Had there been in Germany thousands or even hundreds of Gersteins to divert shipments of gas or cause files to go astray or instigate delays in the construction of the gas chambers or even to warn Jews, then hundreds of thousands of victims would have been saved by these "accomplices" of the regime. Much of Gerstein's tragedy, Friedländer concludes, lay in the loneliness of his action: "his appeals having brought no response and his dedication having proved a solitary commitment, his sacrifice appeared 'useless' and became 'guilt.'"
Friedländer's reasoning is unexceptionable but it does not fully clarify the moral issue posed by the so-called "inner emigration" of officials who stayed at their jobs in order to ameliorate the disastrous results of the system they continued to serve. How does one balance the good such men did against the horrible crimes which resulted from the continued fulfillment of their official duties? Is it not true that the machinery of extermination was able to grind away mercilessly precisely because the Globkes, Weizsäckers, and Gersteins remained at their posts, all the while consoling themselves that their inner opposition plus an occasional act of necessarily minor sabotage left them with clean hands?
If the answers to such questions are difficult to find, it is equally hard to draw the proper lessons to be learned from these tragic events—a task not undertaken by Friedländer but relevant to the moral vocabulary of our time. In a letter written in March 1944, the elder Gerstein reassured his son Kurt on the subject of the latter's guilt feelings: "The person who bears the responsibility is the man who gives the orders, not the one who carries them out. There can be no question of disobedience. You must do what you are ordered to do. As an old official and a former Prussian officer, that is the way I learned things." When the orders in question involve deeds that outrage all accepted canons of morality, it is not difficult to reject this kind of insistence on unquestioning obedience; thus, the Nuremberg courts repudiated the plea of obedience to superior orders by declaring that "individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience imposed by the individual State." But the problem becomes more complicated when the immorality or injustice of the actions one is ordered to perform is less clear.
Ever since the revelation of the hideous crimes committed by the Nazis—crimes whose perpetrators often defended themselves by pleading that they were merely following orders—it has become fashionable to celebrate the primacy of the individual's conscience over the commands of the state. Now, the tradition of subjecting legality to the scrutiny and judgment of morality is an old and honorable one, and in some cases disobedience to law can clearly become a moral duty. But are we today perhaps in danger of going to the opposite extreme from that of the Nazi officials who faithfully carried out Hitler's monstrous orders? Is the only lesson to be learned from the Nazi experience that we should distrust all legality, presume it to be in the wrong unless proved otherwise, and follow the commands of our private judgments without regard to the social consequences of our actions?
Unthinking obedience to law just because it is law can lead to gross immorality, but absolute reliance on conscience rather than on law can bring about an equally undesirable state of affairs. In such a situation, the racist, following his conscience, will push around the defender of minority causes, militant Rightists will break up meetings of their opponents on the Left with the justification that they are following the dictates of their own moral convictions. In short, the absolute reliance on conscience leads to an absolute reliance on raw force, with the outcome of disagreements determined by the criterion of strength and ruthlessness. One need hardly add that a Hitler or a Himmler would undoubtedly pass with flying colors the test of strong personal convictions and sincerity.
In this country, the conflict between legality and morality was revived in the days of Martin Luther King's nonviolent civil-rights movement and lives on in the crisis of confidence in democratic government engendered by the war in Vietnam. But uncritical praise of civil disobedience and resistance to a law branded as unjust or immoral has by now itself become an important factor in the spread of hate and violence, and has seriously weakened the social fabric of America. Has the time not come to call a moratorium on the cult of conscience? I do not wish to belabor a point that has been forcefully and eloquently argued in these pages by Nathan Glazer and others, but I do wish to register the opinion that it is possible to criticize American policy and the conduct of the war in Vietnam, on political as well as moral grounds, without speaking of genocide; and that this odious comparison in fact constitutes a veritable act of blasphemy toward the memory of the six million dead, to say nothing of the gross historical obtuseness it reveals.
The moral problem faced by Kurt Gerstein was at once easier and more difficult than the dilemmas we face today. The evil Gerstein confronted was overwhelming and obvious, but the price exacted for his fidelity to conscience was infinitely higher than that which anyone is expected to pay today. The lessons to be learned from Gerstein's predicament are complex and cannot be deduced by crude analogies. But as little as blind and unqualified subservience to law will the apotheosis of conscience help us to act in conformity with our political and moral heritage.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2588
SOURCE: "Shadowboxing," in Commentary, Vol. 61, No. 1, January, 1976, pp. 89-92, 94.
[In the following review of Arabs and Israelis, Lewis criticizes Friedländer for inadequately defending Judaism and Israel against the arguments of Marxist Arabs.]
It was in 1939, I think, that the Arabs for the first time officially refused to talk with the Jewish Palestinians. Their intransigence began, at any rate, years before there were Arab refugees, or occupied territories, or even an independent Israel. What did exist at that time was the claim of Jewish entitlement to basic rights in Palestine and a Jewish demand for self-determination, equality, and freedom from Arab rule. These were ideas so unexpected and so shocking to the Arab mind that, apparently, no compromise with them could be imagined and no discussion was thought possible.
Since then, the Arab policy of non-communication has become fixed in the public awareness and any conversation between an Arab and an Israeli can be viewed as something of a happening in and of itself. So it is that, concerning this recent conversation, [Arabs and Israelis: A Dialogue], (which has already been published in France and in Israel and is now translated into English), primary significance is seen in the fact that a "genuine dialogue" took place at all. "For the first time they have agreed to meet, to speak together," exclaims France's Le Figaro about the book. "In the course of its pages myths crumble, preconceptions fall apart." Strictly speaking, neither of these statements happens to be true. Nonetheless, Le Figaro's sentiment does reflect the air of the book. That a few men sat and talked together for three days is presented as such an earthshaking event that, at the very least, something somewhere must surely have crumbled and fallen apart.
The characters in this drama are not easily identifiable as spokesman for their governments or for specific political groups. They are only, in a general sort of way, held to be representative of certain sensibilities and points of view. The Israeli, Saul Friedlander, is described as a "liberal in the Anglo-Saxon tradition" and representative of the "liberal current of thought of Israel's politico-intellectual class." He is "in favor of more active attempts to achieve a form of peace that combines justice with security." Friedlander, then, is what is now known as a dove. He was born in Prague in 1932 and is a professor of history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Graduate Institute of International Relations in Geneva.
Mahmoud Hussein is harder to bring into focus. The name, it turns out, is a pseudonym for not one but two Arabs whom, however, we hear speaking in only a single undifferentiated voice throughout the book. Their real names are Bahgat Elnadi and Adel Rifaat. They are Egyptians, recently turned thirty, and Communists since adolescence, who have "divided their lives among militant activism, prison (in Egypt), and exile." They are settled in Paris. Rifaat, while claiming to be a dedicated Marxist, is a Jewish convert to Islam, though the book does not mention it. Mahmoud Hussein's voice, we are told, is the voice of the Arab avant-garde and "an echo of the popular voice … typical of the style of reasoning" heard in Cairo and Damascus.
The man who brought the three together around the tape recorder, and who serves as moderator, is Jean Lacouture, who has been a Cairo correspondent for France-Soir and a foreign correspondent for Le Monde. He had long wished to set up a meeting of this sort, Lacouture writes, and he hoped "more than anything else to show that a lively exchange of views is more fertile than a fight to the death."
Despite this hope, Lacouture expected that he would be called upon often to "cool off the atmosphere or even to stop fights." That such intervention turned out to be unnecessary pleased him very much. The argument, indeed, does not appear to have been very heated, let alone bloody. And it ended, also, not with a bang. There was a last, lengthy statement from Hussein. Then Friedlander, asked for his concluding remarks, responded simply that he had nothing more to add. At this point Lacouture brings the curtain down with a flourish. "How can I convey the significance of that silence?" he asks. It "proved to us all that our meeting had not been in vain." But Friedlander, in an afterword, goes on to interpret his own silence. What he had really meant, he says, was that there seemed no further point in repeating arguments which had already been gone over several times and he was in fact expressing disappointment at the failure to establish a genuine dialogue or to achieve real understanding.
It would appear, then, that the "fertility" of the meeting was finally questionable, and it is difficult in the reading to uncover any promising seeds of fruitfulness. There is in fact little movement, first to last, and the speakers exit pretty much as they entered. They leave behind no hint of a mutually acceptable accommodation, nor have they added much to the prevailing public knowledge. What the book does do, however, is to present a view of the ideological battlefield and of the arguments lined up on either side by these particular types of protagonists. From this standpoint, the debate is worth examination.
We find, at the outset, that the discussion proceeds from some significant assumptions which appear to be held on both sides. One of these assumptions is that there was no important conflict between Arabs and Jews—indeed, no pertinent Arab-Jewish history at all—before modern Zionism. The opening remarks on "The Past," therefore, go back to a point roughly around 1945. That young Maoists can date the world from the day they were born is not surprising. What is odd is that a history professor should let them get away with it. In any event, ignoring the last two thousand years of the history of the Jewish people in the Middle East and in Palestine gives Hussein the freedom to launch the customary assault upon Israel as a foreign body in an Arab world and a country without "authenticity." To all this, Friedlander responds only with some gentle probing. Were Arab perceptions, perhaps, not quite as Hussein described them? Might something more be said about Egyptian attitudes? Just a few small corrections of fact.
Friedlander makes no attempt to stand up to these first hard-hitting charges against Israel, though they are of course the heart of the matter. Certainly he does nothing so shrill as to suggest that the "original sin" may have been the thirteen centuries of Arab oppression of the Jewish people within as well as outside its homeland. Insofar as silence denotes acquiescence, Friedlander concedes the intruder status in the Middle East into which Hussein has cast Israel and the Israelis. It is a vital point, and round one obviously goes to the Arabs.
A second underlying assumption of the debate is that the only significant imperialism in the Middle East has been European. One of Hussein's major contentions, from which several others flow, is that Arab problems stem uniquely from European imperialism and that the Arabs' primary need therefore is to cast out all Western influence. This tells only a small part of the story, of course. For all but one century or so of the past twelve or thirteen centuries, the prevailing empires in the Middle East have been Arab, Egyptian, and Turkish. Under these Muslim imperialisms, the Jews also were a subject people, they also were exploited, and in addition they suffered from the extra burdens and humiliations of official religious discrimination and local fanaticism.
Nor were the Jews in the Muslim countries, and the Jews similarly afflicted in Christian countries, able except in meager numbers to take refuge in their own homeland. Muslim imperialist policies had consigned Palestine to a backwater of empire, badly protected, left to raiding nomads and avaricious administrators and economic and physical decay. For their own imperialist reasons, for example, the Mamluk rulers of the 14th-century Egyptian empire deliberately destroyed the harbors and the fertile coastal plains of Palestine and made that area the desert that it remained until the 20th century.
On the subject of imperialism, incidentally, Lacouture adds an interesting comment. "Personally," he says at one point, "my argument for the legitimacy of the State of Israel is largely based on this resistance to a colonial force. It is this struggle for liberation, rather than the struggle of Judah Maccabee, that justifies Israel's existence in my mind." Lacouture's words hang somewhat in midair, and it seems that he is referring to the struggle against the English. What is significant, however, is that for him, as for so many others today, a national-liberation movement requires an oppressive imperialism nearby to give it legitimacy. The many centuries of Arab, Egyptian, and Ottoman imperialism and the accompanying oppression of the Jewish people in and out of Palestine would therefore seem to have some usefulness as an argument in support of Israel's claims. Friedlander gives no attention to this history, nor does he challenge the most sweeping Arab implications about European imperialism and its impact upon the various peoples in the Middle East. It is another major strategic advance for Hussein, and one from which he is able to mount attack after attack upon Israel as merely the servant and symbol of the West in the oppression of the Arab.
Finally, both Friedlander and Hussein ignore altogether the many hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees who since 1940 have fled from Arab countries. These indigenous Middle Eastern peoples, who can with full semantic propriety be called Jewish Arabs, today make up a majority of the Jewish Israelis. To all our speakers, they are invisible.
It is therefore possible for Friedlander to assert that "for the Israeli man in the street the Arabs … were somewhat mythical figures before the 1967 war." It is therefore possible for Lacouture to say that in the last few years the Arabs have "accepted the permanent presence of the Jewish people in the Middle East. In some sense, this was a step forward…." It is therefore possible for Hussein to talk about a "fresh and progressive attitude" among Arabs which gives the Jews "a place in Palestine as a distinct community for the first time." And later Hussein is able to advance as "new" and "innovative" the idea of a Palestine made up of "a Jewish community, a Muslim community, and even a distinct Christian community."
Hussein is in fact describing the organization of the old Muslim empires. Within them, and in Palestine, the Jews were always recognized as distinct communities with some limited degrees of autonomy. Indeed, from the point of view of Middle Eastern history, Israel can be viewed as a coming together of these historic Jewish communities into one self-governing whole. However, it must be remembered that these millets, as they were called, suffered consistently from the exploitation and discrimination and threats of an assertive Arab majority. Hussein's new and innovative idea, therefore, is in reality merely a return to the old Arab imperialism. The Arabs will agree, he offers, to recognize the Israelis as a millet if the Israelis will submit once again to the political limitations and the economic restrictions and even to the "cultural adaptations" which an Arab majority will see fit to impose. "Our starting point," states Hussein imperiously, "is not what is acceptable to Israel, but what is required by the Arabs." This may be questionable Marxism—but it is certainly orthodox Islam. Has Hussein never heard of the Covenants of Omar? What is even more to the point, has Friedlander never heard of the Covenants of Omar? He doesn't mention them, either.
Friedlander's defense of Israel comes from other quarters. He asks, first of all, for understanding of "the constant, living bond between the Jewish people and the land of Israel." He speaks of the Jewish religion, and Jewish prayers, and "an aspiration that is literally almost two thousand years old."
It would be interesting to know why Friedlander thought that these two young Arabs—either as Marxists or as Muslims—could be expected to be responsive to Jewish religious sensibilities. One would think that the record would lead to quite the opposite conclusion. Marxism and Islam, as religions, and each in its own way, have asserted a dogmatic and historic precedence over Judaism and, in fact, a moral imperative to triumph over it. Since Friedlander makes plain that he had hoped to establish some common base of understanding with the Arabs, one must wonder why he chose this approach. It failed, of course.
Friedlander also strives for recognition by Hussein of the problems of Israeli security and the preservation of Israeli independence. To this he can get no response which is not ultimately negative. Hussein will only discuss rights, and these only, he says again and again, in the context of the Middle East and its traditions. In this context he clearly does not believe that Israel has a right to independence. He insists upon "the need to replace the old language with a new one, to speak of natural and inalienable rights instead of the balance of power and systems of security…. The Arab peoples reason in terms of fundamental rights," he repeats.
Therefore, if Friedlander has not vigorously and effectively defended the fundamental, natural, inalienable, and historic rights of the Jewish people in the Middle East, if he has not forcefully attacked the Arabs for their historic as well as more recent denial of those rights, upon what ground does he stand in demanding Arab recognition of the security of the State? Yet he rests his case simply, at the end as in the beginning, upon a brief statement of the religious bond alone.
For the rest, the book contains much dispute about such matters as who did what in 1967, and who thought what in 1973, and who said what in 1920. There is much lengthy discourse about politicians and people, terrorism and borders, Zionism, Jerusalem, and plans for peace. Only in some lesser sense can one call the book a dialogue; the contacts of perception and purpose are tangential at best.
The two young Arabs are altogether self-righteous and arrogant, given to torrents of numbing radical rhetoric and such a passion of theory and dogma that the real world fades into abstraction and all compromise becomes heresy. They speak in the name of an Arab people whom they paint larger than life with humiliations, agitations, frustrations, and a feverish intensity of needs and demands and revolutionary visions. All other peoples are blocked from view, and the Israelis become shadows and symbols, virtually without a reality of their own.
Friedlander, outnumbered and out-talked, is tolerant, didactic, defensive, and finally weary. He has no appetite for ideological battle. His goal is to achieve some degree of pragmatic understanding, but without really digging into the root assumptions of Arab theory and mythology. Above all, he does not wish to present the Arabs with a bill from the Jewish past. Apparently he does not wish to make them feel guilty. Thus, for example, he discusses the Holocaust, but makes no mention of any Arab massacres or persecutions of the Jewish people. In particular, he says nothing about the sad centuries of Jewish poverty and impotence and exploitation under Arab domination in Palestine. He is apologetic, and therefore defenseless, and in this he demonstrates all too well the ideological weakness of that "liberal current of thought" which he represents.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1814
SOURCE: "Alone in the World," in The New York Times Book Review, July 15, 1979, pp. 1, 27.
[Elon is an Austrian-born Israeli journalist, historian, and novelist. In the following positive review of When Memory Comes, he discusses Friedländer's struggle with identity.]
Saul Friedländer was born "in Prague at the worst possible moment, four months before Hitler came to power." In this harrowing, deeply moving memoir [When Memory Comes]—one part the Gothic tale of a Jewish orphan alone in Nazi-occupied France preparing to become a Catholic priest, the other part the diary he kept many years later in Jerusalem—he undertakes an evocative voyage into his past that is likely to leave many a reader shaken. This is not really a holocaust tale. Saul Friedländer knew nothing of the holocaust until afterward. He knew only a childhood whose calm was continually being shattered, the pieces falling away, picked up and arbitrarily reassembled into new patterns. He tells his tale in wonder, then awe—at how it all happened, that in 10 years he changed his identity four times, his religion twice, his name five times.
He was born to an "assimilated family" that knew little of its Jewishness. His Czechoslovak nanny Vlasta took him to "a great many churches"; only later, as an adult, did he learn of Prague's synagogues. As a young man after the war he became an ardent, militant believer in the Zionist remedy to Jewish insecurity; that Zionism was not necessarily a remedy he also discovered only at a much later date. All this, coupled with the fact that when his parents perished he perceived only vaguely what was happening to them and to him, could not have made this voyage into the past any easier.
"When knowledge comes, memory comes too, little by little," he says. "Knowledge and memory are one and the same thing." Friedländer has spent most of his adult life as a historian and political scientist. His books include Pius XII and the Third Reich, Prelude to Downfall: Hitler and the United States, 1939–1941, History and Psychoanalysis and Kurt Gerstein: The Ambiguity of Good. Among the many articles he has written are those dealing with psychohistory and the analysis of the Nazi mind. Perhaps with his increasing intellectual forays into the world of Nazism and the world that collapsed before he knew it has come the need and the ability to look into his own experience as well.
He was born Pavel Friedländer in 1932. The first rumblings of upheaval sounded before he was six, when he was shunted into an English-language school in Prague where he remained for a short time before the family fled to France in the wake of Hitler's march into Czechoslovakia. In Paris he became Paul Friedländer, and while his parents struggled to find a new livelihood, he was placed in a boarding "home" at Montmorency, his first encounter with a "traditional" Jewish atmosphere. He was terrorized, tied to a tree and beaten by the earlocked and yarmulked Yiddish-speaking children who had fled Eastern Europe and thought him a "goy," because he was different.
When the Germans marched into France, the family fled southward to Néris-les Bains, near Orleans. The next two years gave the boy "the impression of being a happy period … all three of us were together again. Better still, we were crowded together in the intimacy of a tiny dwelling." The boy went to a French school in nearby Montluçon.
In July 1942 the roundup of foreign Jews begins. Panicking, his parents place him in a nearby Jewish boarding school, a move that he cannot fathom even today. The inevitable happens. The children over 10 were the first to be taken away by the gendarmes of Vichy. The younger ones ran into the forest before the gendarmes returned the following day. "I didn't sleep. I had not the feeling of danger, quite the contrary: the warm breeze, the rustling of the trees, the wispy clouds that from time to time drifted across the stars filled me with a sense of well-being."
A friend of his parents returns him to Néris, where, only a few days later, his final memory of family life takes place. He is placed in the hands of Madame M. de L., a local patrician who has befriended the family and responds to his mother's plea. "In my despair I am turning to you," Friedländer's mother wrote to Madame de L., "We have succeeded for the moment … in saving our boy…. I beg you, dear madame, to look after our child and assure him your protection…. I have complete confidence in your goodness and understanding…. [Our] fate … is now in God's hands…. If we must disappear, we will at least have the happiness of knowing that our beloved child has been saved…. We can no longer exist legally…." His parents make a futile attempt to cross into Switzerland, are turned over by the Swiss to the French gendarmerie, who send them off on a train bound for Auschwitz. The 9-year-old Paul Friedländer is turned over (at the urging of Madame M. de L.) to the strictest of French Catholic disciplines, the school of Saint-Béranger, where he becomes Paul-Henri Ferland and embraces another self.
"As I entered the portals of Saint-Béranger, the boarding school of the Sodality where I was to live from now on, I became … Paul-Henri Ferland, an unequivocally Catholic name to which Marie was added at my baptism, so as to make it even more authentic, or perhaps because it was an invocation of the protection of the Virgin, the heavenly mother safe from torment, less vulnerable than the earthly mother who at this very moment the whirlwind was already sweeping away … I passed over to Catholicism body and soul."
Today, looking back, as he tries to picture the world of the Sodality, it is unreal, nothing remains, it has turned to dust, and yet, "perhaps I … now preserve, in the very depths of myself, certain disparate, incompatible fragments of existence … like those shards of steel that survivors of great battles sometimes carry about inside their bodies." His embrace of Catholicism was apparently total. But in 1946, as the result of an interview with Father L., as the 14-year-old was about to enter the Jesuit seminary at Saint-Etienne to prepare for the Catholic priesthood, Paul Friedländer reemerges. Father L. asks, "didn't your parents die at Auschwitz?" and, discovering the boy's ignorance, explains what has happened and what anti-Semitism has wrought.
He now becomes the ward of a Jewish family in Paris, where he enters a lycée, discovers Communism but embraces Zionism, not by way of a "renewal by contact with buried emotional levels," but rather "as a result of logical argument, of a simple line of reasoning … the essential pieces of a puzzle that heretofore had made no sense were falling into place. For the first time, I felt myself to be Jewish—no longer despite myself or secretly, but through a sensation of absolute loyalty … something had changed. A tie had been re-established, an identity was emerging."
"People often told me I looked sad. I was not really sad, but I would sometimes fall into a sort of depression, and even though my plans for the future were apparently clear cut … I was all alone in the world." A few weeks before he is to complete his baccalaureate, the boy runs away from his foster home and from France on an illegal immigrant ship bound for Palestine. He is fired by a dream of "communion and community." This, too, was to fail; as he sets out to meet his new fate he changes his name again, from Paul to the Hebrew Shaul, and then again to Saul.
"It is impossible to know which name I am," he writes today, "and that, in the final analysis, seems to me sufficient expression of a real and profound confusion." The confusion, and its pain, is the main theme of this voyage. One wonders at the courage that made him embark upon it. He cannot be searching for roots. He knows that any he might have had were effectively destroyed when he was 6 years old; those that he might have found in Israel, one gathers, seem to have eluded him to this day. His complicated and contradictory relationship with Israel, albeit that he is now the father of three Israeli children and divides his year between his home in Jerusalem and his posts as professor of history at the universities of Tel Aviv and Geneva, becomes clear as he travels back and forth in time and place, juxtaposing the past against a discordant present.
In Israel, the feeling of being an outsider was in him from the beginning: "I was as full of admiration of my seventeen-year-old friends, those 'born in Israel,' as Tonio Kröger (in Thomas Mann's novella) was of blond Hans Hansen or blonde Inge Holm—and for the same reasons…." And yet, after the first flush had worn off, "the enthusiasm of my early days in Israel began to dwindle, certainly, giving way, little by little, to a contradictory vision…. What lay behind this growing contradiction between a basic faith and the more and more problematic aspects of daily life?… What is the point, the invisible line beyond which the imperfections of everyday life come to undermine the very meaning of the undertaking?"
It was to a spiritual home that the young man finally came to rest. He spent a year "outside of time" in Sweden, in 1957, with an uncle who had become director of an institution for mentally-ill children. In an encounter with two of them—perhaps the most forceful scene in the book—their powerlessness became, confusedly at first, then clearly, an obsessive symbol, a provocation that opened doors for him that would never close. In his uncle's library he discovered the works of Martin Buber—On Judaism, Tales of the Hassidim and The Legend of the Baal-Shem. He
read and reread them several times, and as the result of being in a foreign country, and of a certain solitude too, I felt … the hidden grace of this secret world of Hassidism. But, more than this, for the first time I began to feel a clear difference between my identification with Israel, which for a time at least seemed to me to be superficial and almost empty of meaning, and a feeling of my Jewishness, certain aspects of which appeared to me in this unusual setting to be suddenly endowed with a new, mysterious, powerful, magnificent dimension.
This is not the story of parts merging into a whole. The parts remain Pavel, Paul, Paul-Henri-Marie, Shaul—each a separate entity carrying its own meaning. The sum of these parts that became Saul somehow still eludes the author, but these fragments will haunt the reader.
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SOURCE: "Between Paris and Jerusalem," in The New York Review of Books, Vol. XXVI, No. 16, October 25, 1979, pp. 3-4.
[An American journalist and critic, Wieseltier is the literary editor of The New Republic. In the following review of When Memory Comes, he examines the ramifications for contemporary Jews and Israelis of the struggle for Jewish survival since World War II.]
On June 11, 1942, Heinrich Himmler demanded 100,000 Jews of France, for Auschwitz. Pierre Laval agreed in July to turn over 10,000. This would "cleanse France of its foreign Jewry": the deportations, Laval insisted, would take only Jews from Germany and Central Europe who had sought refuge in the Unoccupied Zone. The roundups began at once. Switzerland sealed its frontiers. "We cannot turn our country into a sponge for Europe," the Swiss Minister of Justice announced. Jews who stole across were promptly returned to their fate. Among these were Jan and Elli Friedländer of Prague. They later perished, as planned, at Auschwitz. In Britain Herbert Morrison, the Home Secretary, entertained a proposal to admit at least the children of Vichy's doomed Jews. The Foreign Office, however, balked. Sir Alexander Cadogan, Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, observed that "it seems to me wrong to support bringing children to this country at present." Among these children was Jan and Elli's ten-year-old son, Pavel.
Pavel Friedländer survived the war. He had been baptized, becoming Paul-Henri Marie Ferland, and was harbored in the doctrinal gloom of a Catholic seminary in the Indre, where he gladly quit the storm outside for the church, and for its calming certainties. Paul-Henri Ferland was no longer a victim:
The simple unquestioning faith drummed into us was … the one I needed…. I had passed over to Catholicism, body and soul…. I felt at ease within a community of those who had nothing but scorn for Jews…. I had the feeling … of having passed over to the compact, invincible majority, of no longer belonging to the camp of the persecuted, but, potentially at least, to that of the persecutors.
The boy who had been fascinated by the tales of the Maccabees his father told on Hanukkah now adored the Virgin and Pétain, the Savior of France. In time France was delivered from its savior. The war ended, but no family returned for Paul-Henri. The seminarist was preparing for his novitiate when a charitable priest, pausing beside the church altar, told him about Auschwitz.
And so, in front of this obscure Christ, I listened: Auschwitz, the trains, the gas chambers, the crematory ovens, the millions of dead…. For the first time I felt myself to be Jewish—no longer despite myself or secretly, but through a sensation of absolute loyalty. It is true that I knew nothing of Judaism and was still a Catholic. But something had changed. A tie had been reestablished, an identity was emerging, a confused one certainly … but from that day forward … there could be no doubt: in some manner or other I was Jewish….
He was Pavel again, the impersonation was ended, but he did not know who Pavel was.
Pavel had been born in 1932 into the assimilated Jewish bourgeoisie of Prague. Jan Friedländer's book plates displayed a score by Chopin set within a Star of David, an emblem of an honorable delusion. "Judaism as a religion had completely disappeared" from Pavel's family, Friedländer writes, and the filaments of tradition that had randomly come down to him could not make up the Jewishness for which he was renouncing his ecclesiastical haven. "Had I been born of a 'really' Jewish family I would at least have had coherent memories…." The troubled orphan moved to Paris, where he lived with Russian Jews, and among them found
instead of reserve and carefully controlled emotions, and the apparent coldness [of my background], a noisy exuberance, very soon carried to extremes; instead of the almost total absence of a Jewish tradition, an atmosphere saturated with Jewish emotions, allusions, customs, mannerisms.
From his guardian Pavel first learned, in 1946, of Eretz Israel.
The restitution of Pavel Friedländer's Jewishness eventually took the form of Zionism. For Pavel, as for many of Europe's other surviving Jews, Zionism was now "a simple line of reasoning": a state was required. From the autumn of 1947 Pavel made of Zionism "the most important thing in my life." When his Socialist Zionist group refused to arrange his passage to Palestine, Pavel joined Betar, the militant youth movement of Menahem Begin's Irgun, and ran away to Marseille, to board a ship carrying arms to Begin's underground. The ship was the Altalena.
Sailing from Port-de-Bouc on June 11, 1948, the Altalena was still at sea when the first Arab-Israeli truce went into effect. The Irgun command refused to turn over the ship's ammunition; David Ben-Gurion correctly recognized a threat to his young government, and ordered the vessel attacked. Israeli forces on the coast opened fire, the ship burst into flame, twenty people died. On June 21 the Altalena docked in Tel Aviv. What remained of the Irgun was disbanded. Menahem Begin went into opposition, and the humiliation of this defeat still rankles. Pavel went to Nira, a farming village near Natanya, and became Shaul.
In the bright early days of the state, Shaul studied Hebrew, danced horas, and tried to do his part. But still,
Should I confess that since the beginning I had nonetheless had vague, confused, intermittent feelings that something was missing?
He would wander to the sea to read Fromentin—"I thought I was thus affirming, for myself alone, the permanence of a culture that remained the only one that mattered to me." In the army he worked on "my secret masterpiece," a map of the Paris métro, reconstructed from memory in Jaffa. "I was a person divided," an aesthete beached in the cruel Levant. Nor was that all. "I was becoming more and more aware of the future dilemmas, almost impossible to grasp, of this first period [of Israel's history]." There appeared social, political, cultural contradictions. The dream began to disappoint. Shaul understood that dreams often do; but still there remained a question:
What is the point, the invisible line, beyond which the imperfections of everyday life come to undermine the very meaning of the undertaking?
Shaul Friedländer became a distinguished historian at Hebrew University, an authority on the near-Final Solution. He joined with members of left-wing groups who tried to save the Jewish state from the more ruinous consequences of nationalism, and sought out Arabs who would talk about peace. He buried students killed in the wars. He returned to teach in Europe. But all this he did as Saul, his last and most appropriate name. Saul: midway between Pavel and Shaul, between Paris and Jerusalem, between the burned-over world to which he fell heir and the slowly dimming society he chose to serve.
The most remarkable feature of When Memory Comes is its composure, an elegance that is unnerving. Friedländer describes his experiences in lean, graceful sentences; his language seems armored (even more formidably so in the French) against the dissolution it describes. Yet dissolution triumphs. The pieces of memory do not cohere: When Memory Comes is a significant work partly because of this failure. Friedländer's life remains disrupted, despoiled of its dreams; not least because of the honesty with which he has attempted to discover what the death of the Jews might mean.
For understanding Auschwitz, grand patterns of historical explanation have been proposed. Auschwitz has been attributed to the evolution of European societies, economies, and political systems; to the contest between culture and instinct, and the development of the demonic as a force in the modern world; to the psychological consequences of unprecedented dislocations; to the contradictions of Jewish life in the Diaspora; and to the inevitable eruption of the anti-Semitism that had polluted Europe for centuries. It has even been ascribed to the resentment of the West at the introduction of conscience by the Jews—this is George Steiner's cranky contribution. The speculations continue to proliferate. Friedländer knows them, but it is not as a historian that he has produced this book. He has put aside the conventional logic of historical explanation, and does not even tell his own story in sequence. He inserts pages from his Israeli journal into the account of his childhood, and these seem abrupt and intrusive. Even the structure of his memoir thus seems disconsolate; he refuses to impose narrative order upon his account of the catastrophes, because their victims cannot believe in their necessity. They may be given causes but never reasons.
The author of When Memory Comes knows that memory is not history. Memory's objects and gestures are not quite past, and they are not yet interpreted. Memory is the accurate record of the partial, private, passive character of experience. Thus what is gained from memory is incomplete, and it is all the more illuminating, because memory is the consciousness of things and events that have not yet disappeared completely into knowledge—the panic in the eyes, the halt in the whisper, the flavor of the slop, the stench of the smoke. Such are the memories with which Friedländer has tried to heal the terrifying gaps in his life. Memory makes parting impossible.
Friedländer's book is, I think, a major document of Jewish bitterness in this century. American Jews can learn something from its bitterness, for they tend to be much too enthusiastic in their sorrow. When one considers the states of spiritual exaltation into which some American Jews are cast by "the Holocaust," it almost seems necessary to remind them that the disaster might better not have occurred. Six million dead are no occasion for pride, only for rage, and that rage is missing. The extermination of Europe's Jews has become a "growth experience" for too many Americans.
And the struggle in Israel as well. About this, too, American Jews take too much pride too soon. How many are aware that the Israel which fires their imaginations is dying, and not at the hands of Arabs? Friedländer writes on this matter with rare candor. For the melancholy argument of his book is that, if things did not work out for the Jews in Europe, they are not exactly working out for them in Israel either: "The peace initiatives are going to bring to light the hidden contradictions of our society," Friedländer wrote after Sadat's visit to Jerusalem:
the will to reach a settlement, certainly, but also territorial ambitions; the will to compromise, but also the belief in a particular and decisive right to the land of Eretz Israel; the will to return to normal, but perhaps also an inability to accept what is normal.
He faithfully reports the gathering uncertainties of Israeli society, and soberly concludes:
I have done my best in these pages to avoid any sort of strictly political reflections. It is nonetheless true that political decisions now dominate our lives and will determine the future of all of us. If we must one day take up arms again, not to defend what must be defended at all costs, but because we will not have been able to accept compromise at the proper moment, what today is only a temporary situation will have then become the very essence of the gravest of dilemmas, the very essence of tragedy.
Throughout his life, Saul Friedländer has seen one nation's triumphant convictions quickly become another nation's oppressive facts. This often happened to the Jews, and it has happened to the Palestinians. Friedländer, who escaped the Nazis and fought the Arabs, has the courage to say so. Instead of offering hoarse and unthinking support, which serves mainly General Sharon and his army of chiliasts, American Jews committed to Israel would do well to consider, as Friedländer has, the reality of the Palestinians. "The permanence of the Jewish world," he writes, "but the permanence of the Arab world too."
Friedländer is without illusions (unlike many other doves). He recalls an exchange in Geneva with an impassioned young Palestinian from Ramallah. To Friedländer this seemed "a beginning of possible contact, a first step toward brotherhood." Two years later the same Palestinian masterminded the massacre at the Munich Olympics. There are Palestinians who must be met only on the battlefield. But Friedländer believes there are others as well, and that—when they finally come forward—Israelis must be prepared to honor their national needs. There are 750,000 Palestinians on the West Bank who wish to govern themselves, and for Israel's sake they had better.
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SOURCE: "Selfhood and Resistance," in Commonweal, Vol. CVII, No. 13, July 4, 1980, pp. 406-08.
[In the following excerpt, Jacoby offers a review of When Memory Comes, outlining the many changes in Friedländer's life and perceptions of himself, the past, and Israel.]
In 1942 Pavel Friedlander's parents began to sense that the circle was closing in, and that as foreign Jewish refugees living in Vichy France, they could be certain of nothing in the future. They arranged for their son to be put in the care of the nuns of the Catholic Sodality. Rechristened Paul-Henri—an unmistakably French and Catholic name—the Czech boy passed the war years at Sodality boarding schools, unaware that his parents were deported and eventually killed at Auschwitz. In writing When Memory Comes, an elliptical, meditative account of his childhood and his decision to go to Palestine in 1947, Friedlander is trying to come to terms with his feeling that he lived "on the edges of catastrophe … not so much a victim as—a spectator."
But even in the safe and ordered world of the nuns, the boy was troubled by a strange "melancholy apathy." He sleepwalked and was unable to make friends. He became feverish and, deciding to let himself die, waded into an icy stream. When he recovered, his memory of his parents had faded. He buried himself in his studies, a seamless school routine, the certainties of the Catholic faith. When the resistance fighters arrived in August 1944, the nuns and their charges mourned the passing of Marshal Pétain; Paul-Henri stayed on at the school, studying to become a Jesuit priest. But then his unexplained moodiness returned—a growing, paralyzing fear of death that isolated him from friends and prevented him from working. He had never heard of Auschwitz and seemed to have forgotten that he was a Jew; he vaguely assumed that his parents had been delayed, perhaps by illness or quarantine, in coming to find him at the school. It was some months later, after a conversation with a Jesuit who might have become his teacher, that he realized they were dead: "For the first time, I felt myself to be Jewish." By 1947, when he left France for Israel, he was prepared to fight for the Zionist cause.
Looking back during the summer of 1977, Friedlander returns again and again to the "necessary defenses" that protect us from our own suffering. He writes of "the extraordinary mechanism of memory" and its power to conceal "the unbearable." He mentions a study done by a friend of children's perceptions of death: when young Israelis were shown a picture of animals fleeing gigantic flames—an image that terrified Swiss children—many of them saw only animals playing together. And he himself says very little about the Nazis: there is a single rapid glimpse of Treblinka, a description of another friend's film. It is a single bright flare of the horror that remains hidden in the rest of the book. But even as he recalls the film, he is struck by the incongruous "soft spring sky, in Rome" where one survivor talks of Auschwitz. Friedlander has no fascination with horror. His experience has made him reticent, and he knows the danger of self-pity and of taking pride in one's own suffering.
But he also knows that he cannot deny his memories, not even the unthinkable ones that seem "buried once and for all." He looks back over the interrupted pattern of his life—a series of abrupt and thoroughgoing shifts of identity, as he moved from Prague to Vichy France in 1939, then in 1946 from the Sodality school to the Jewish quarter of Paris, and less than two years later to Israel. And yet for all the changes, he is struck above all by the "imperious resurgence of the past" that he first recognized as a child unable to sleep in a convent dormitory and then again when he decided to go to Israel with a group of Betar, the youth movement associated with the Irgun guerrillas.
He was determined not to become a passive victim—not to repeat the mistake of his parents who died, he suggests bitterly, for a Jewish identity they had denied in trying to live as if they were French or Czech. He also had a personal score to settle: now, some three years after leaving the Sodality school, he would "prove" that he was Jewish by fighting "alongside all the Jews who are dying in Palestine." He left for Israel "to answer violence with force … Only within the framework of the state could we answer violence with force."
But if the "logic" that led him to embrace Zionism as a high school student in 1947—"Didn't we have to abandon our role as victims?"—seemed coherent enough, it was in part because Friedlander did not yet know what Zionism would mean for Palestine. He and the other young Betar sailing from Marseilles to Tel Aviv on the cargo ship Altalena had been prepared to fight for no less than "both banks of the Jordan," even if that meant subverting the 1947 UN Partition Plan and the official policy of David Ben Gurion's government.
Thirty years later, Friedlander is concerned with the sacrifice of lives and the expulsion of the Arabs who had been living in Palestine. He recognizes "the permanence of the Jewish world, but also the permanence of the Arab world too—now face to face." More disturbing though are the fundamental contradictions in the Zionist project and what he sees as the character of the people who have been drawn to it. Long troubled by the inflexibility of official Israeli policies, it is in 1973 that he first understood that "our intransigence was based on principle."
He circles back again and again to the troubling Israeli habit of unquestioning loyalty to the nation and its ideals. He recalls the Jews that he met in Paris: "they move forward with passion, but also blindly," drawn by a "vision of the group." Many Israelis too, he finds, are guided by a traditional sense of identity: "Since the beginning of its history, this people has seen itself as alone and surrounded by enemies." They are unable to "believe in peace."
Writing at the time of Sadat's first visit to Jerusalem in December 1977, Friedlander is more uneasy than jubilant: more than ever, this was a time to ask why the pursuit of security had led again and again to war. "The peace initiatives are going to bring to light the hidden contradictions in our society."
Finally it is the contradictions in his own feelings about Zionism that seem most vivid, and most unsettling in When Memory Comes. He doesn't deny the need he once felt to take up arms. More than anything, though, Friedlander would like to believe in peace—and unlike many Israelis he is prepared to make the necessary compromises.
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SOURCE: "Separation and Survival," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4066, March 6, 1981, p. 250.
[Pryce-Jones is an Austrian-born English novelist, biographer, and historian. In the following review of When Memory Comes, he addresses the lasting effects on Friedländer of having lost his parents to the Nazis.]
Forty years have passed since the events described in Saul Friedländer's infinitely sad and haunting memoir [When Memory Comes]. His parents separated themselves from him in Hitler's Europe; they died, he lived. The fear of being abandoned still rises in him. What experience, or history itself, has taught him is this fear, fear in its pure state, more terrifying than successive encounters with death. Forty years on, he has become a well-known professor of history in a university in Israel and can look back on what happened with a scholar's knowledge of causes and effects, weighing evidence and motive, using all the resources of language. None the less past and present are one: the professor who mentions his wife and three children and who now and again reflects on contemporary Israel and its predicament, is also the child who reaches out to parents lost to him for reasons never ultimately understandable. Here perhaps is some generalized metaphor for human loneliness, and it is also a concrete and very moving expression of what it is to be Jewish.
Friedländer begins with the words, "I was born in Prague at the worst possible moment, four months before Hitler came to power". His father Jan was vice-president of a large German insurance company in Czechoslovakia, and a man whose timidity or reserve made him repress his deeper passions and turn to books and music. "I will always regret not having had enough naturalness and spontaneity as a child to take the initiative, leap up onto my father's lap, and throw my arms around his neck." Saul's mother Elli came from a family who owned a textile factory at Rochlitz, in the Sudetenland. Winter images of Rochlitz remain; its pine forests and snows—"my mother turns around, a pair of skis on her shoulder, slender and beautiful, with a radiant smile and a face glistening with cold".
The Czech nurse Vlasta took him on Sundays to hear the military band at the castle, and on to church. Judaism meant nothing to the Friedländers, who were assimilated; bourgeois aesthetes in a civilized city with no inkling of the future. A holiday visit to Palestine in 1937 did not influence Elli to emigrate while it was still possible, and after the journey her younger brother even turned away from Zionism to anthroposophy.
Their first flight was in March 1939, to Brno, where they ran into the invading German army and were redirected back to Prague. Their second flight soon followed, across the Reich to Paris. "We have little money and are not earning any at all. That does not mean that I am sitting around waiting for death, not ours at any event. We must manage to survive"—so Jan wrote to a friend a month before the war. The six-year-old Saul, then called Paul, otherwise Pavel in Czech, was sent for six months to a Jewish school. Orthodox children bullied him and made him a Jewish outcast among Jews; they were avenging themselves upon him for what the gentiles had done to them. In June 1940, as Paris and the north of France were occupied, the family left on a third flight, to the tiny spa of Néris-les-Bains in the Allier, in the Vichy zone.
"Often my father foundered in a sort of wordless sadness". He tried to learn cheese-making but he was ill, tortured by a stomach ulcer. "What could my father have done? Nothing depended on him now. A safer hiding place depended on the good will of others, as did fleeing the country. Rebellion had no meaning for the few scattered Jews who saw the vice closing. Whom could they attack? The Néris gendarmes?" Several local people were kind, even heroically kind, and among them was Madame L. de M. who consented to act as a godmother.
By the summer of 1942 the Vichy government was concluding arrangements with the Germans for the deportation of the Jews from France in accordance with the Final Solution. Requested to remit his sovereignty over French citizens who were also Jewish, the Vichy government prevaricated before reaching the compromise that foreign-born Jews would be deported first, from occupied and unoccupied zones alike. Children were not to be spared. Under German direction, the French bureaucracy and police forces would carry out the operation. Panic-stricken, the Friedländers placed their son in a Jewish children's home near La Souterraine in the Creuse. The very next morning, the gendarmes arrived with trucks to take away all children over the age of ten. "A woman entered, looked at all those youngsters about to depart, raised her hand to her face, and suddenly collapsed." After a night spent out in the local forest with all the other children under ten, Saul was fetched back to Néris.
Distraught, the parents agreed to a plan of Madame L. de M.'s, that the boy should be hidden in the nearby town of Montluĉon, in a strictly Catholic boarding-school which in the book is called Saint-Bérenger. He was given the assumed name of Paul-Henri Ferland, and he had to be converted. Some sixth sense warned him that if he was separated from his parents, he would never see them again. He ran away, finding them in a Montluĉon hospital where they were temporarily seeking refuge. "Could I be dragged away from them a second time? I clung to the bars of the bed. How did my parents ever find the courage to make me loosen my hold, without bursting into sobs in front of me?"—the image remains of a child walking away in the soft autumn light between two nuns dressed in black.
The parents' last flight was into Switzerland, but they were caught there. A notorious sergeant by the name of Arretaz handed them back across the French border, and so to the Germans. A final letter from Elli to Madame L. de M. said that they had been misinformed: parents with children were allowed into Switzerland; the presence of their son might therefore have saved their lives. What condemned them to die as Jews was perhaps the very outlook which enabled them without qualms to let their son become a Catholic. The milice came looking for the boy in Néris, but Madame L. de M. threw them off the scent; she was herself Jewish, had they known.
Saint-Bérenger specialized in forming potential Jesuits, and it was Pétainist and antisemitic. Paul-Henri Ferland willed himself to die, but he could not: he became a server at mass, he made his solemn communion, eventually he supposed he had a vocation. The war was over before he was informed of the essential facts. A Jesuit was to give him special instruction, and led him into a candle-lit church where, out of justice, and charity perhaps, he spoke at length. "I listened: Auschwitz, the trains, the gas chambers, the crematory ovens, the millions of dead…. For the first time, I felt myself to be Jewish—no longer despite myself or secretly, but through a sensation of absolute loyalty." (Incidentally the newly appointed Archbishop of Paris, Monseigneur Jean-Marie Lustiger, had also as a boy been placed for the sake of survival in a Catholic school, where he carried through to the priesthood. His mother too was deported and killed.)
Paul-Henri Ferland, that apparition of despair, vanished, but Pavel was beyond recalling, and there was to be more delay and distress before the real Saul Friedländer could emerge. Adopted by a Jewish guardian in Paris, he attended the Lycée Henri IV and was in contact with Zionist organizations. The state of Israel came into existence, and he took his chance to emigrate, absconding from the Lycée. Even then, the ship he sailed on was the Altalena, which was beached off Tel Aviv with its cargo of arms for the underground Irgun, and where it was seized, with loss of life, by the official army of the new state.
"What blindness led them from mistake to mistake to the very end?" The question can be asked of the parents but no answer is expected. They were as vulnerable as everyone else to the encompassing madness and violence. No blame or blindness specially attaches to them, and after all their son was kept alive by the expedient they adopted. The details of the horror which engulfed them were singular, but their form of death was common to so many—Jews, Saul Friedländer writes, "obey the call of some mysterious destiny".
Fifteen years old, an orphan, he believed that it would be possible to find hope, heroism, a natural ending. In this mysterious destiny in its new shape, Israel. Discovering the Bible and his teachers, sitting on a village bench watching open-air films, talking to Herr Cohen and Herr Nehap, survivors from Czechoslovakia, he saw himself as part of a miracle, even if at first he used to creep away alone to read Fromentin's Dominique on the sands.
A year caring for mentally ill children in Sweden showed him that suffering is one and indivisible. Friends and students die in the wars. The only Palestinian prepared to debate with him publicly proves to be one of the organizers of the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. His research as a historian takes him to Germany, where Grand Admiral Doenitz gives him his word of honour that he never knew about the extermination of the Jews—so much for the word of a German Grand Admiral. Vlasta, his old nurse, writes him a letter when he publishes his well-known book Pius XII and the Third Reich; they meet and he learns that she had spent the war in Prague bringing up the children of a German general. Look where he may, he is confirmed in his view that his destiny as man and Jew will be no different simply because it happens in Israel—there is hope, there is heroism, and there is also the fear of being abandoned.
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SOURCE: "Nazism and Yearning," in The New York Times, May 28, 1984, p. 37.
[Lehmann-Haupt is a Scottish-born American critic and novelist whose reviews frequently appear in The New York Times. In the following favorable review of Reflections of Nazism, he briefly summarizes Friedländer's arguments supporting his main contention that Nazism remains a dangerously fascinating phenomenon.]
"Gentlemen, in a hundred years still another color film will portray the terrible days we are undergoing now," said Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Propaganda Minister, apropos of a film he was discussing in 1945. "I can assure you that it will be a tremendous film, exciting and beautiful, and worth holding steady for. Don't give up!"
It is Saul Friedländer's contention in Reflections of Nazism: An Essay on Kitsch and Death that the film Goebbels foresaw is, figuratively speaking, already playing, only four decades after his prediction. It is playing in the form of cinema like Hans-Jürgen Syberberg's Hitler, a Film From Germany and Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Lili Marleen; in novels like Michel Tournier's Ogre and George Steiner's Portage to San Cristóbal of A. H. and in nonfiction works like Albert Speer's two volumes of memoirs and Joachim C. Fest's biography Hitler. He doesn't have to mention hundreds of other popular works, such as the Broadway musical Cabaret or the television mini-series Holocaust, or the fascination with Nazi artifacts available in mail-order catalogues.
"Nazism has disappeared," Mr. Friedländer writes, "but the obsession it represents for the contemporary imagination—as well as the birth of a new discourse that ceaselessly elaborates and reinterprets it—necessarily confronts us with this ultimate question: Is such attention fixed on the past only a gratuitous reverie, the attraction of spectacle, exorcism, or the result of a need to understand; or is it, again and still, an expression of profound fears and, on the part of some, mute yearnings as well?" Mr. Friedländer—who teaches history in Tel Aviv and Geneva and is the author of Pius XII and the Third Reich, Kurt Gerstein: The Ambiguity of Good, and a memoir, When Memory Comes, among other books—suspects the latter to be the case: that the continuing fascination with Nazism represents an unconscious yearning.
The times may not be ripe for a revival of Nazism; in Mr. Friedländer's view, neither the socioeconomic nor the political conditions exist for such an occurrence. But "the psychological dimension" is another matter, and that dimension he sees latently present everywhere. The creators of works imbued with that psychology need not even approve any aspect of Nazism; in fact, they invariably condemn it. But the psychology of yearning is present nonetheless, and Mr. Friedländer means to anatomize it.
What exactly is this psychology? If I may distill: It is the resolution of certain extreme contradictions—being and nonbeing, death and sentimentality, genocide and esthetics, to name but a few that Mr. Friedländer confronts in his dense but endlessly provocative essay. Nazism reconciled these opposites in a variety of now familiar ways—through its use of spectacle and language, for instance—but most of all through the persona of Adolf Hitler, whom Mr. Friedländer characterizes as a Mr. Everyman, a bourgeois gentleman (of the four major World War II leaders the one we have come to know most intimately) marching us off into the void.
This psychology is now being revived wherever Mr. Friedländer looks, even in works that ostensibly seek to condemn or exorcise the experience of Nazism. Joachim C. Fest ponders Hitler's greatness, albeit in the form of a rhetorical question he answers negatively. Hans-Jürgen Syberberg seeks to purge through self-examination in Hitler, a Film From Germany, but in the process he subtly shifts the issue from a moral to an esthetic one.
Revisionists on both the right and the left seek to remove the goal of genocide from the heart of the Nazi program, almost as if the intention, although an unconscious one, were to free the figure of the Jew to play a less time-specific role as the villain in the drama of capitalism. "Modern society and the bourgeois order are perceived both as an accomplishment and as an unbearable yoke," Mr. Friedländer writes. "Hence this constant coming and going between the need for submission and the reveries of total destruction, between love of harmony and the phantasms of apocalypse, between the enchantment of Good Friday and the twilight of the Gods.
"Submission nourishes fury," he continues. "Fury clears its conscience in the submission. To these opposing needs, Nazism—in the constant duality of its representations—offers an outlet; in fact, Nazism found itself to be the expression of these opposing needs. Today these aspirations are still there, and their reflections in the imaginary as well."
It is a much-needed thought-provoking thesis that Mr. Friedländer has offered in these pages, however sketchily I may have summarized it here, and however obscure the author's illustrations may seem to an American audience. It is worth the effort to grasp in all its subtlety what Mr. Friedländer is trying to say. For, as he concludes, "We know that the dream of total power is always present, though dammed up, repressed by the Law, even at the risk of destruction. With this difference—which perhaps tempers, or on the contrary exacerbates, the apocalyptic dreams: This time, to reach for total power is to assure oneself, and all of mankind as well, of being engulfed in total and irremediable destruction."
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SOURCE: "Under Hitler's Spell," in The New Republic, Vol. 191, No. 3637, October 1, 1984, pp. 40-1.
[Mintz is an American nonfiction writer and educator who has written extensively on Hebrew literature. In the following positive review of Reflections of Nazism, he examines Friedländer's thesis that the "fusion of kitsch and death" is constitutive of both the original and contemporary fascination with Nazism.]
Since World War II a fascination with the prurient details of Nazism has been a staple of American adolescence. In the "adult" world of pornographic pictures and films, the sadistic possibilities of Nazism have long provided the raw material for a hard-core industry of major proportions. But not until recently has Nazism surfaced into the mainstream of contemporary culture, not just as a subject for middlebrow entertainment but as high art. The phenomenon is not to be confused with Holocaust literature. In Hans Jürgen Syberberg's Hitler, a Film from Germany, George Steiner's novel The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H., and in films and books by Michel Tournier, Luchino Visconti, Joachim Fest, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and Albert Speer, the murder of the Jews and others is entirely eclipsed by a fascination with the spectacle of Nazism and, specifically, the personality of Hitler.
This phenomenon is the subject of this tightly argued essay in cultural analysis by Saul Friedländer [Reflections of Nazism: An Essay on Kitsch and Death]. He is not up to a vulgar intellectual form of Nazi hunting, nor does he see in recent American and European culture a cryptofascism waiting in the wings. The phenomenon is more paradoxical. The declared aim of these films and books is to unmask and exorcise the evil of Nazism by probing its sordid corruptions. Yet despite these ideological intentions, Friedländer argues, the aesthetic effects are quite otherwise. The spectacle of Nazism constitutes so lush and compelling a field of images that fascination edges over into absorption. It is in these charged images and associative emotions—"an activity of the imagination that cannot be reduced to the usual distinctions between right and left"—that Friedländer sees the formation of a new "discourse of Nazism." By speaking of discourse as the French speak of it, as the latent message of the language of a work rather than its declared intentions, Friedländer proposes to get beneath politics and ideas to a psychological dimension which constituted the secret of the attraction of Nazism in its own time, and which—this is the point of Friedländer's critique—is the same attraction that can be felt working at the heart of recent books and films about Nazism.
The attraction of Nazism, Friedländer argues, was based on an unprecedented fusion of kitsch and death. Kitsch, which you know when you see it but is notoriously difficult to define, is the effect created by the presence of good taste in the absence of taste, the presence of art in ugliness. In kitsch, art is adapted to the majority's ideals of harmony and order, and extreme situations are neutralized and turned into a sentimental idyll. The seduction of Nazism lay in its applying kitsch to death. In contrast to Marxism, which looked to a future of golden tomorrows, the Nazis' debased romanticism harbored a nostalgia for the premodern past, an age in which purity is achieved by fire and the hero remains faithful unto death. Nazi leaders never felt more exalted than when they solemnized the death of their heroes in elaborate funeral spectacles, complete with torches, pyres, and flaming wheels. But the death the Nazis were in love with was not real death but kitsch death, "not death in its everyday horror and tragic banality, but a ritualized, stylized, and aesthetic death, a death that wills itself the carrier of horror, decrepitude, and monstrosity, but which ultimately and definitively appears as a poisonous apotheosis."
The figure of Hitler himself represents the distillation of this phenomenon. On the one hand, Hitler's persona was enveloped in kitsch: a petty bourgeois Everyman, living in domestic serenity with Eva Braun and his dog Blondi, and joking with his comrades-in-arms. On the other hand, he was a man transfixed by the possibilities of mass death and by the spectacle of destruction and apocalyptic conflagration. He appeared as both the sentimental human being and the blind force launched into nothingness. For Friedländer, it is the "coexistence of these two aspects,… their simultaneous and alternating presence" that indicates the true source of Hitler's spell.
Friedländer senses the return of this spell today. The ostensible aim of the recent reflections of Nazism in the arts is a kind of exorcism: the belief that the evil will be purged by vividly evoking its full demonic force. Hans Jürgen Syberberg claims that his Hitler, a Film from Germany
is precisely about this Hitler within us…. In the name of our future, we have to overcome and conquer him and thereby ourselves, and it is only here can a new identity be found through recognizing and separating, sublimating and working on our tragic past.
Friedländer sees in this enthusiastic confrontation a more dangerous evasion: a neutralization of this past and a concealment, voluntary or not, of what in this past has become unbearable. This artistic commitment to total representation involves re-evoking the phenomenon in all its compelling perversion—in a sense, re-experiencing the spell. Once the attraction has been reconstituted, the original ideological impulse makes little difference. What remains active is not the awareness of horror, but the fascination.
The endless and indiscriminate piling up of stunning images in Syberberg's film, for example, is a sign that the filmmaker has himself been engulfed by the phantasm he sought to exorcise. The reader of Steiner's novel experiences a similar unease when the Hitler figure is exploited to do some fancy probing of the cosmic symbiosis between good and evil and given a mischieveous monologue of gripping virtuosity. Although Visconti's film The Damned proposes to expose decadence, the gorgeousness of its two big scenes, the SA massacre and the marriage-suicide of Sophie and Freidrich, serve instead to savor the orgiastic paroxysm and ecstatic terror. In each case, Nazism is allowed to become an aesthetic field whose rich opportunities for arresting images and entrancing rhetoric cannot be passed up. The result is "indiscriminate word and image overload on topics that call for so much restraint, hesitation, groping." And the phenomenon becomes so engrossing that it leads as well to a revisionist distortion of the facts: Truffaut's The Last Metro and Fassbinder's Lili Marleen give the impression that there was almost general opposition to Nazism and collaboration, inside the Third Reich and in France. The murder of the Jews as a central activity of Nazism is also moved to the periphery of dramatic focus.
There is a bit of dazzle in Friedländer's own writing. Friedländer's voice speaks with so much persuasive force in this well-translated volume that one can lose sight of the fact that it remains an essay, not a study based on demonstrated arguments, but a brief, allusive attempt to put forward a thesis. Moreover, Friedländer's assertion that the appeal of Nazism derives from the fusion of kitsch and death, as brilliant as it may be, remains largely unsusceptible to proof. The thesis is embroiled in the problems of the nature of literary and artistic perception, in the difficulties of reconstructing the psychological response of people living in an earlier period. Friedländer attempts to get around this obstacle by positing a correlation between how we—in truth, how he—responds to representations of Nazism in films and novels in our own time, and how the actual followers of Nazism responded in theirs. This is a useful technique but it remains a speculative one.
When Friedländer digresses from the arts, he has some perceptive things to say about the evasions of social science. The economic explanations of the rise of Nazism by Marxist historians are oblivious to the fact that the destruction of the Jews was against the economic self-interest of the Reich. The theory of totalitarianism, the key proposed by liberal social scientists, similarly spirits away the essential relationship of Nazism to anti-Judaism; even in the kind of scholarship you would imagine to be unimpeachable, a documentary account of an extermination presented by a researcher from the Yad Vashem Memorial in Jerusalem, Friedländer finds a detached use of bureaucratic language which effects a neutralization of the horror. Now Friedländer admits, as a practicing historian and political scientist himself, that in dealing with Nazism some form of evasion, given the unspeakable nature of the subject, is inevitable. Aside from exposing the more self-deluding forms of exorcism, all he can propose to men of good will is an interpretive vigilance, a self-awareness that continually inquires into motives and effects.
Friedländer's impasse has something to do with his severing the question of Nazism from the question of the Holocaust. Nazism connotes the world of the victimizers; and the Holocaust, the world of the victims. About the Holocaust there are a number, in fact a growing number, of accomplished works of the literary imagination in several languages. Their artistic achievement depends precisely upon their avoiding the world of the Nazis, with its pull of pornographic fascination, in favor of the inner spiritual world of the victims. The Hebrew writer Aharon Appelfeld, perhaps the most impressive talent now addressing the Holocaust, goes so far as to make the exclusion of the enemy the ground principle of his fictional enterprise. Friedländer knows this literature, and the perceptive criticism of it; and in a brief book there is a usefulness in making separations. Still, in the contrast between the successes of Holocaust literature and the failures of the artistic reflections of Nazism, there is a message to be read. It is a message not only about which story deserves to be told, but which story, in the end, can be told.
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SOURCE: "The Horror and the Words," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4672, October 16, 1992, p. 10.
[Cheyette is an English literary critic, nonfiction writer, and educator who has written extensively on racism—particularly anti-Semitism—in literature. In the following review of Probing the Limits of Representation, he discusses some of the major issues confronting historians and other writers who seek to account for Nazism and the Holocaust.]
In recent trials of neo-Nazi publishers who "deny" the existence of the Holocaust, the historical record was dismissed by their defence lawyers as "mere opinion" and their denial was claimed as no less legitimate than other accounts of the Final Solution. Probing the Limits of Representation—which began life in 1990 as a conference at the University of California, Los Angeles—examines the implications of a historical relativism which reduces history to opinion and rejects the testimony even of those who witnessed Nazi atrocities. The initial focus of this work is on the influential theorist, Hayden White, who for the past two decades has postulated what he calls an "inexpungeable relativity" when selecting a particular "historical narrative" to represent the past. The implications of this relativism for our understanding of Nazism and the Final Solution are explored by White in his essay, which in turn is opened up to scrutiny in the early chapters of this volume. Should there, White asks, be restraints on the kinds of "stories" used to represent the horrors of Nazism and, if so, how should these narrative limits be conceived? Do we need a critical language which privileges one type of historical or literary "truth" over another? As many of the other essays make clear, these are not just academic issues, but they are important for the "historians' debate" or Historikerstreit in Germany and, in general, for popular and literary accounts of the Holocaust.
Not that this volume addresses particularly new areas of interest. Its editor, Saul Friedlander, has long been concerned with the creation of an authentic historical memory as opposed to the baleful mythologizing of the Final Solution which he, along with many others, has written against. Friedlander has also intervened effectively in the German "historians' debate" in the 1980s and has frequently warned against the absorption of the Holocaust into conventional modernizing historiography as well as Hayden White's supposed post-modern relativism. In a deliberately tendentious introduction to this volume, he argues that it is the "reality" of modern catastrophes—and not the self-conscious application of post hoc narratives—that generates the search for a "new voice" through which the Holocaust can be better understood. But Friedlander's reclamation of an "allusive or distanced reality" as an "adequate" representation of the Final Solution is less than persuasive. One might equally want to argue that the overwhelming sense of uncertainty and inadequacy in many survivor memoirs undermines the belief in a truth-producing "reality". Friedlander is well aware of this but, in the end, relies on a sense of the gulf between aestheticizing fictions and historical facts.
Probing the Limits of Representation is at its best, however, when these issues are not discussed in the abstract but are applied to particular historical or cultural contexts. Christopher Browning's essay on "perpetuator history", which opens the volume, is a model of its kind. Browning starts with an account of the German Reserve Police Battalion 101 which massacred thousands of Polish Jews in the summer of 1942. His painstaking reconstruction of one such atrocity on July 13 highlights the dangers in postulating an unbridgeable distinction between self-evident facts and subjective assumptions. By taking the reader through the choices that he had to make as a historian—in relying on eye-witness accounts of those who committed the massacre—Browning demonstrates convincingly that virtually every "fact" that he deduced was "an act of interpretation". His nuanced article qualifies both an extreme relativism and the fear that any history written from the viewpoint of the oppressor simply "normalizes" the unspeakable. And yet, by the end, such nuances are disappointingly subsumed into a rather crude vocabulary which sums up as "all too human" the murderousness of Battalion 101 and the evasive disposition of some of the reserve policemen.
It is a pity that social and political theorists of the range and quality of Perry Anderson, Martin Jay and Dominic LaCapra are, in this work, reduced to writing close textual commentary. The unnecessarily high level of self-referentiality and repetition in Probing the Limits of Representation seems to be an unforeseen consequence of including those who are "not the usual interlocutors in discussions of the Holocaust". The focus for discussion tends to be either other essays in the volume or an already well-documented group of German quasi-revisionist historians such as Andreas Hillgruber and Ernst Nolte. It is particularly frustrating that none of the four essays which refers to Hayden White discusses James Young's Writing and Rewriting the Holocaust (1988), the only full-length application of White's theories to a variety of Holocaust texts. Much less forgivable is the extraordinary omission of Zygmunt Bauman's seminal Modernity and the Holocaust (1989) in the five essays that examine the relationship of "modernity" to the Final Solution.
Friedlander is, to say the least, rightly suspicious of turning the Final Solution into an unproblematic object of academic study. He emphasizes the inexplicable nature of "the horror behind the words" and, above all, the impossibility of accommodating Auschwitz within, say, the modernizing theories of Jürgen Habermas or the post-modernism of Jean-François Lyotard. The last group of essays, which deal with the question of "aestheticizing" the Holocaust, are particularly strong in that regard. John Felstiner and Sidra Dekoven Ezrahi give an account of the domestication of Paul Celan's poetry in post-war Germany which, they argue, reflects in miniature the need to assimilate that which Celan shows is unassimilable. Anton Kaes's discussion of Hans-Jürgen Syberberg's controversial Hitler—A Film from Germany (1978), similarly throws into unfortunate relief the more abstract discussions of post-histoire that precede this chapter. And Geoffrey Hartman's final, humane meditation on his imagined Borgesian "Book of Destruction" points to a new kind of writing about the Holocaust that, for the most part, this volume is only able to postulate.
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SOURCE: "The Uses of the Holocaust," in Partisan Review, Vol. LXI, No. 4, Fall, 1994, pp. 700-04.
[In the following excerpt, Young discusses some of the ways Friedländer and the other contributors to Probing the Limits of Representation address the difficulties of writing about the Holocaust.]
"The history of the Holocaust sits uneasily amidst other events of its time," Michael Marrus wrote in The Holocaust and the Historians. "How do we write Holocaust history? Since by writing it, we automatically locate it within some tradition, some epoch, how do we choose one? Is it only Jewish history? Or German? Is it European or more generally Western?" To which we might add, is it part of World War Two history, or in the words of another historian, Lucy Dawidowicz, a separate "war against the Jews"? Do we tell it from the perspective of the perpetrators, the victims, or the bystanders? As becomes so very clear … every telling creates a variant Holocaust. Only together do they begin to constitute a total history of events….
Friedlander has has been widely revered for his powerful and self-revelatory memoir, When Memory Comes (1978); now he has assembled the proceedings of a mammoth conference he organized at UCLA into a weighty volume [Probing the Limits of Representation: Nazism and the Final Solution], devoted to the theoretical limits and possibilities of Holocaust representation. Dozens of distinguished speakers gathered from around the world, most of them in Friedlander's words "not the usual interlocutors in discussions of the Holocaust."
Though painfully aware of the potential unseemliness in turning the Holocaust into so much grist for theoretical mills, however inadvertently, Friedlander also writes that he could not ignore the essential conundrum at the heart of any historian's enterprise: the need to establish a stable truth of events in a decidedly unstable literary medium. He takes as his starting point the debate between Hayden White and Carlo Ginzburg. White has argued long and persuasively that insofar as historical texts are subject to the vagaries and indeterminacy of narrative, literary metaphor and the conventions of emplotment, they cannot establish perfectly objective, universally true history. Ginzburg vehemently rejects this view of history, arguing passionately against the kind of historical relativism it breeds, especially if it fails to distinguish between "true interpretation and lies." White rejoins that he is not arguing for a history that blurs the distinction between real events and imaginary ones, or that allows one to deny that events have taken place at all. Rather, he believes that "when it comes to apprehending the historical record, there are no grounds to be found in the historical record itself for preferring one way of construing its meaning over another." Ginzburg answers (in Friedlander's paraphrase) "that even the voice of one single witness gives us some access to the domain of historical reality, allows us to get nearer to some historical truth." Carlo Ginzburg first seeks to taint White's argument with what he regards as fascist theoretical antecedents, and he tries to sustain his attack through a series of neological leaps, as unlikely as they are breathtaking. A putative coup de grace comes with his conclusion that if taken to its logical extension, White's argument would finally have to regard even the narrative of Holocaust negationist Robert Faurisson as true. As deftly written and rhetorically persuasive as it is, Ginzburg's essay is not a pretty thing to behold.
Throughout his own illuminating essay, it becomes apparent that Friedlander himself is torn between what he knows as an academic historian, as a critic of historical narrative, and what he feels must be made explicitly clear: the absolute facticity of these events. He is torn between the necessary breach dividing history as it happened and history as it is told. Finally, he is also torn between his scholarly obligations to the rigorously scientific, occasionally ponderous working-through of these issues and his own strong impulse to de-mystify the Holocaust through lucid and accessible narratives like When Memory Comes.
While most essays that follow tend toward the ponderous side of this equation, several of these are also elegantly written and conceived. The contributions by Christopher Browning, John Felstiner, and Geoffrey Hartman offer themselves as models of lucidity and brilliant insight, intellectual rigor and accessibility. After introducing his essay with a chilling description of events from the German Reserve Police Battalion 101's bloody part in the Final Solution, Browning proceeds to examine how and why he has told history this way, what consequences for understanding this kind of history holds for us. To this end, he examines both the necessity and repulsiveness of "perpetrator history," what it means to descend into the psychologies and everyday lives of the killers—not as a singular alternative to the victims' history, but as a complement to it, all toward a fuller history of events.
Likewise, the meditations by Felstiner and Hartman lay out in clear-eyed prose the daunting difficulties, the multiple ambiguities and complexities of Felstiner's translation of Paul Celan's masterpiece, "Todesfuge," and Hartman's attempt to add to the "Book of Destruction." By walking us through the myriad choices a translator faces, each one an interpretive act, Felstiner offers an eloquent model of critical self-reflexivity, even as he makes and stands by his own choices. Hartman's own essay on "The Book of Destruction" closes the volume with an erudite and sparkling reflection on the very possibility of such writing, its place (or placelessness) in postmodern culture. "We want to say," Hartman writes, "'It is inconceivable,' yet we know it was conceived and acted upon systematically. We continue to harbor, therefore, a sense of improbability, not because there is any doubt whatsoever about the Shoah as fact but because what we lived through, or what we have learned about, cannot be part of us: the mind rejects it, casts it out—or it casts out the mind."
This kind of history-telling has both immense rewards and risks. By returning these horrible events to the human times and places in which they occurred, such history becomes humanly, if not divinely, accountable. At the same time, this kind of writing suggests that we, and no one else, are also accountable for both the histories we write and the conclusions we draw from them.