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

Psychopathy and Totalitarianism: A Review of Conquest’s The Great Terror

Psychopathy is usually analyzed as an individual psychological phenomenon. As we’ve seen, the term describes individuals without conscience, with shallow emotions, who are able to impersonate fully developed human beings and mimic feelings of love, caring and other-regarding impulses to fulfill their deviant goals: be that stealing your money,  stealing your heart or both. This phenomenon becomes all the more toxic, and dangerous, when such individuals rise to national power and manage to create totalitarian regimes ruled by mind-control, deception, lack of individual and collective rights and freedoms, and  arbitrary displays of power.

Psychopathic, or at least seriously disordered rulers, such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Ceausescu show what happens when (their) pathology spreads to a whole country. Given that psychopaths are estimated to be, at most, only 4 percent of the population, it’s difficult to imagine how they manage to rise to positions of authority over more or less normal human beings to impose a social pathology in every social sphere: from education, to the police force, to the juridical system, to the media. Few books explain this strange and extremely dangerous political and psychological phenomenon better than Robert Conquest‘s classic, The Great Terror. This book traces both Stalin’s rise to power within the ranks of the Bolsheviks and, concurrently, the spreading of the totalitarian system like a fatal virus throughout Soviet society (and beyond).

The book also exposes the underlying lack of principles even among seemingly ideological rulers like Joseph Stalin. When it suited his purposes, Stalin strategically oscillated siding with the left wing of the communist party (Trotsky, Kamenev and Zimonev) or the right of the Bolshevik party (Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky), turning each side against the other, to weaken them both and consolidate his own power. He surrounded himself with equally ruthless, unprincipled and sadistic individuals who did his dirty work–Yakov, Yagoda and Beria–placing them in positions of power in the NKVD, or Secret Police.

Stalin engaged in arbitrary displays of power, sending tens of millions of people to their deaths in prison or labor camps. Even his army leaders weren’t spared. In a very poor strategic move that showed he cared more about acquiring total control than about his country’s victory, Stalin decimated the ranks of his army elite right before the war against Hitler, when the Soviet Union would have needed them most. Nobody was safe from the gulag; nobody could maintain ideological purity. Anybody could be accused of deviationism from communist principles at any time.

Totalitarianism is a pathological system imposed upon an entire country or area. Like a disease, it spreads through the healthy aspects of society. It conditions even ordinary human beings, through the inculcation of fear and through brainwashing, to lose their conscience, their empathy and their humanity. Robert Conquest’s The Great Terror is a testament to human corruptibility. This magnificent book will continue to remain historically relevant  for as long as we allow disordered individuals to have power over us, our families and our social institutions.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction