Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Absence of Closure

A recent article at HNN by Gustav Schonfeld begins in an interesting way:
Except for the year from May of 1944 to May of 1945, my life has been very satisfactory. However, that one year left an indelible mark upon my life, a mark which affects me still. It was the year my relatives and I spent in four Nazi German concentration camps: Auschwitz, Warsaw, Dachau, and Muhldorf.
Often, I think, people assume the Holocaust was a natural progression from ubiquitous, European antisemitism. I guess it's fair to say that it was, except that "ubiquitous" suggests that antisemitism was salient at all times. It wasn't.

Most Jews experienced the period from the late 19th century into the earliest part of the 20th as exceptionally tolerant for Jews. So today, when many Jews experience this period as exceptionally tolerant, a question ought to arise. Will this moment last?

But this question doesn't arise for those who don't understand the period leading up to the Holocaust. It's assumed that because today is a tolerant period that it is fundamentally different from times long past. But that difference is imagined. Anyone who has confidence that serious antisemitism is a thing of the past is simply ignorant of history.

This introduction at HNN -- and the title of Shonfeld's new book, Absence of Closure -- suggest a compelling reason for another survivor's memoir. The Holocaust cannot be safely sealed in the past.

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