READING THE HOLOCAUST by Inga Clendinnen

READING THE HOLOCAUST

KIRKUS REVIEW

paper 0-521-64597-2 A trenchant collection of essays intended to forge the human connections necessary to begin the move toward a full understanding of the Holocaust. Clendinnen critiques the notion that the Holocaust is a unique event that falls outside the boundaries of normal history; it was, she notes, perpetuated by members of 20th-century Western society like ourselves. While she recognizes that the Holocaust presents particular difficulties of representation, such as the relative scarcity of survivors able to tell their stories, the failure of words to communicate human suffering, and the impossibility of communicating the experience of those rendered mute or murdered, she insists that we can come to understand this episode in human history through the unglamorous techniques commonly employed by historians and biographers. Rather than the search for general causes and flashes of intuition, she stresses the need for the piecing together of contexts, the establishing of sequences of actions, and the inferring of the likely intentions behind those actions from our knowledge of the individuals involved and our general stock of knowledge about human motivations. Her approach stresses the absolute necessity of understanding both the victims of the Holocaust and those who perpetrated it. She demands a historical accounting not only of those orchestrating the “final solution,” but of the regular soldiers, the police brigades, and even the Sondercommandos, the camp prisoners, mostly Jews, who supplied much of the labor to keep the camps running. The impulse to think of the Nazis as beyond comprehension and to confuse understanding them with identifying with them, yields the dangerous possibility that their actions will be understood as merely idiosyncratic. Although she draws heavily upon literary voices, such as Primo Levi and Charlotte Delbo, Clendinnen suggests that the Holocaust can best be understood through historical writing. An important step toward an honest encounter with one of the great horrors of our past. (7 photos, 1 map, not seen)

Pub Date: March 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-521-64174-8
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Cambridge Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1999




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