WARSAW (AP) The memorial museum at Auschwitz has launched a Facebook page hoping that the popular social-neworking site will help it reach young people around the globe and engage them in discussions about the former Nazi death camp and the Holocaust…
It had to happen. The Holocaust is now on Facebook. From enormity into classroom discussion topic. It's the standard modern metamorphosis. Awe has given way to science, horror to the antiseptic dissection of it. Modernity means trivialization.
Now we have Holocaust Studies. Just as we have American/Black/Jewish/Women's/ Middle East Studies. Have you noticed? The addition of Studies to any discipline has a way of ending it as a discipline. And marks its beginning as … what? Fad, obsession, ceremonial observance, group therapy? All of the above and vaporous more?
The process is familiar by now. It happened long ago to the Holocaust. Something singular, ineffable, monstrous … is turned into nothing distinctive, quite discussable, almost cut-and-dried. The pain too deep to be voiced, all the pity and sorrow and shame and anguish have been transmuted into … what, exactly? Another pseudo-science? College major? Genocide like any other? Call it Holocaust 101.
It's the inescapable, modern way: demystification. The greatest mystery cannot survive being talked to death. So we get Holocaust Day the way we have Black History Month. It is observed mainly for ceremonial purposes, or political ones, or just out of a sense of duty that became rote long ago.
We know something should be done, we know this all must be studied, none of it forgotten. But our attention wanders. How many times can we be told the same thing without its paling? And it is no longer possible simply to contemplate it in silence.
Oh, silence may still be possible in theory, but not in practice. Silence is the one service all our modern, sophisticated, wondrous, interconnected technology does not permit. Our consumer culture can produce a new gizmo a minute the Next Big Thing we all must have. But not silence. And not the whole constellation of things that go with it: reflection, reverence, privacy, solitude, contemplation, awe. All that is so yesterday.
Instead we get the Holocaust on Facebook, and for perfectly practical, useful educational reasons. The Holocaust had its own page on YouTube by last year. Now we know it is important that we talk about it far more important than anything we might have to say about it.
There's no explicit law against silence, but there might as well be. Presidents want to have a Conversation About Race, but what they have to say about it is … we forget. But we know something can't be important unless we talk about it, preferably in a group, soulfully, like guests on Oprah.
How long have I been reading/talking/arguing about the Holocaust? I grew up with it. There were countless Zionist rallies, letter-writing campaigns, angry editorials in the Jewish press, Israel bond sales, fiery speeches by mesmerizing orators, scholarly articles and books. … Till it all turned from horror into industry. From history into talking points.
Studies of the Holocaust now abound, some of them solid ones. There was Gerald Reitlinger's pioneering "The Final Solution." And then Lucy Dawidowicz's later "The War Against the Jews, 1933-1945." Though that particular war scarcely ended in 1945. Just look at the United Nations today.
The best of the scholarly studies may be the slimmest: Richard Rubenstein's "The Cunning of History." More a meditation than a history, it doesn't deal with how the Holocaust was carried out but why it happened why it was the consummation of modernity. The author could have taken as his motif Max Weber's definition of modernity: rationalization, bureaucratization and the disenchantment of the world.
That prescient, early 20th-century German sociologist could not have foreseen the Holocaust, but he described with uncanny precision the ideas that made it inevitable.
The Holocaust was not a discontinuity in the history of Western civilization, but its natural progression. Secularization, social Darwinism, the idea of surplus populations, totalitarian ideology, the modern all-powerful State, technocratic organization, the theory and opportunity all came together at one point: 1933-45.
At that point evil became mundane, ordinary, routine, a step up the career ladder. Call it the banality of evil, as Hannah Arendt did in a flash of insight. Now we're to get the Holocaust on Facebook. Now we can all chatter about the unspeakable.
Through the years, I would read the books, attend the seminars, listen to the professors, argue about the Nuremberg Trials and the supposed German character, change my mind and back a dozen times, get sick of the whole thing, then return to it. Till silence opened like a refuge.
When I was a child, I felt as a child, heard and saw as a child. One day I think it was a Sunday afternoon I heard a scream. I thought it came from the back of the house, but it filled every space. Loud, piercing, unending. It had no start, no rise or fall. It just kept on. With no change in pitch or tone. Unhuman. At first I thought it was a siren. I thought it would never end. Then it did. And things went on. I didn't think about it. I knew it was a grownup thing.
It was my grandmother. Some fool of a visitor had mentioned the rumors abut what was happening in Europe to her. She had left her other children there. And grandchildren. In Paris and Warsaw. But after that endless moment, I never heard her scream again. Or laugh or cry. Or complain. Though she hadn't had an easy life. To this day, after all those books and seminars and the Museum of the Holocaust, after all that talk and now Facebook, I can't think of a saner response to the Holocaust. A scream. Then a lifelong silence.
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