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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 1 .


Problems Unique to the Holocaust
Harry James Cargas ed.

(Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1999)
198pp. Index. Hb.: 19.00; ISBN 0813121019.



This volume of fourteen essays is concerned with the ethical and moral problems raised by the Holocaust rather than historiographical issues of interpretation and comparison. It is a posthumous gift of Harry James Cargas, who was a familiar figure at the Annual Scholars' Conferences on the Holocaust and the Churches, as are the contributors. Their essays are diverse in nature and approach to a very varied moral landscape. Their common denominator might be said to be the concepts of ambiguity, dilemma, irony - terms explicit or implicit in all the essays.

Cargas was inspired to re-address the moral issues after reading Calel Perechodnik's Am I a Murderer? It is the story of a ghetto policeman who collaborates with German demands in carrying out round ups of his fellow Jews in order to save his family and himself; inevitably, he loses his wager and probably took his own life. The question in the title is the point of departure of almost all the contributors.

Steven Jacobs writes illuminatingly on how the Talmud handles the issue of the "pursuer," and compares its position to the responsa of rabbis in the dire circumstances of the Shoah. David Patterson examines the tragedy of pregnant women in the death camps, where "one is led to kill [the infant] not to destroy but to save [the mother]"(17). Susan Pentlin's "Holocaust Victims of Privilege" is an extended reflection on Primo Levi's concept of "the gray zone"; it is paralleled by Didier Pollefeyt's "Victims of Evil or Evil of Victims?" evaluating Victor Frankl's response to the camp situation. Charlotte Opfermann and Jack Porter probe the issue of suicide, arguing cogently that the dead were victims of murder rather than examples of suicide. Eric Sterling's "Indifferent Accomplices" is a fresh look at that perennial issue, the by-standers. Most engaging for me is Leon Stein's "Christians as Holocaust Scholars," namely, that the Shoah is not a purely Jewish matter, that in spite of certain difficulties and temptations they confront (these are addressed by Rev. Alastair Hunter on "Intruding"), Christians have made outstanding contributions to Holocaust historiography. Cargas himself is exemplar, as is John Roth, in "Reflections on Post-Holocaust Ethics." Stephen Feinstein's scintillating essay shows, despite the famous dictum of no poetry after Auschwitz, that "Art After Auschwitz" continues on a prodigious scale, seeking in its media to depict the reality of the Shoah and preserve its memory.

A most valuable book: It deepens our perception of the moral enormity of the Holocaust.


Professor Frederick M. Schweitzer
Manhattan College, Bronx, NY 10471




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