Foreword by Joseph Polak for Holocaust Memories

Foreword for Holocaust Memories

 

This book, full of considerations of the unbearable, is haunted by a question posed, but never fully articulated by the author, along the following lines: How is it that I am so drawn to the Holocaust and its ensuing literature, especially as I was born so many years after 1945? Why am I somehow so intuitively familiar with it, with its darkness and its cold, its choiceless choices, its helplessness?

 

It is an amazing work not just for its considerable breadth and scholarship, but because in the enormity of its range, in its drive, in the unyielding brutality of its subject matter, the author never fails to write her essays with anything but the highest discipline and deepest scholarly calm. The book’s moral outrage, manifest on every page, is delivered between the lines, perhaps by its very thoroughness. Yet it also provokes a second disturbing question –what part of her soul seeks satisfaction, needs answers, from all this?

 

It has to do, it seems to me, with being raised in Romania, behind the iron curtain, in the shadow of what Stalin had wrought, his murders more numerous than Hitler’s, and from the helplessness that comes from living in a regime where your activities are not constrained by your own values but by those of Big Brother. There is humiliation that comes from having lived in, and thereby unwillingly acceded to, a morally-compromised society, and this humiliation, far from going away as the years move on, begs for resolution.

 

Claudia Moscovici is not the first scholar to face this challenge. Hannah Arendt left Europe when the maelstrom had already begun, surely offended, and ultimately deeply humiliated by her relationship not just with her teacher Heidegger, but with the intellectual heights of German culture that had so finely nurtured her, and that had in the end, so unforgivingly betrayed her.

 

Arendt, the subject of more essays here than anyone else, is omnipresent in this book. Moscovici is talking about her when she is ostensibly talking about Eichmann, she is talking about her when she speaks of Stagneth; in fact, I suspect that she is talking about Arendt whenever she introduces concepts of evil in every one of these essays, asking, without always articulating it –“Banality? –is this what characterizes evil? Really?”

 

Arendt attended a limited number of the sessions of Eichmann’s trial, and was always in the press room and never in the court room when she did, so it is not clear that she actually saw the man falsely claiming to be just following orders, nor certainly that she had the opportunity to study Eichmann long enough, like an artist gazing at his model, to judge him banal. Arendt, in a tasteless moment, chose to blame the victims (“sheep to slaughter”) of the Holocaust, rather than to excoriate the behavior of its key perpetrator (Eichmann). This is Arendt, I believe, coping badly with her own humiliation by the Third Reich and its intellectuals.

 

Not so our author, who it seems, has heard other, more mature voices. She manages to find in Arendt the closest understanding yet about how Auschwitz and the Gulag mirror each other, and learned from Arendt’s writing, if not from her example, how to talk about the two in the same breath without compromising and without diminishing either one.

 

The screen that portrays the horrors of the twentieth Century is fading more rapidly than its audience can bear. Claudia Moscovici’s book will go far to help keep it lit longer.

 

Rabbi Joseph Polak,

Author of After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring,

Winner of the 2015 National Jewish Book Award

Boston, December, 2016

 

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films

 

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction