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Chicago professor's new book on Americans and the Holocaust heaps criticism on Deborah Lipstadt: He makes the "shoah-business" argument, Novick cites her work as an example of the santification of the Holocaust.

The Holocaust in American Life
by Peter Novick, Eric Chinski (Editor)

List Price: $27.00 • Our Price: $18.90 at a glance You Save: $8.10 (30%)

Hardcover - 320 pages (June 1999)

Houghton Mifflin Co (Trd); ISBN: 0395840090

Quote from the Book


 THE same ambiguity, the same confusion and uncertainty, characterize general American discourse about the Holocaust. Americans are exhorted that they must "confront" or "remember" the Holocaust, but what is it exactly that they are to confront or remember? This isn't a matter of different interpretations or different theories but of what event we're talking about.

It's a truism -- Philosophy 101 -- that we never directly encounter events, only representations of events, which offer different versions of events. The more highly charged the event, the more evocative it is, the greater the incentive to become invested in different versions of it.

An illustration. No text from the Holocaust is more often quoted than Martin Niemoller's confession of his moral failure during the 1930's:

  • "First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist -- so I said nothing.
  • Then they came for the Social Democrats, but I was not a Social Democrat -- so I did nothing.
  • Then came the trade unionists, but I was not a trade unionist.
  • And then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew -- so I did little.
  • Then when they came for me, there was no one left who could stand up for me."

Time magazine, Vice President Al Gore, and a speaker at the 1992 Republican Convention follow "The Encyclopedia of the Holocaust" in moving Jews from last to first place: "First they came for the Jews."

Time, Gore, and the Republican speaker omitted Communists and Social Democrats; Gore omitted trade unionists as well. All three added Catholics (not on Niemoller's original list.)

Catholics are also added to the version of the quotation inscribed on the Holocaust memorial in Boston, a heavily Catholic city. The US Holocaust Museum preserves the list and order intact except for prudently omitting Communists. Other versions include homosexuals on Niemoller's list.

(The quotation has been invoked for causes ranging from Jewish settlement in the West Bank to freedom of the insurance industry from government regulation.) [*]

* Original footnote:

Murray Greenfield offered this analogy "First they asked for Gasza/Jericho. I didn't live there, so I agreed. Then they asked for Judea/Samaria ... [....]"

The Massachusetts Association of Life Underwriters updated the quotation this way: "They came first for the disability market and I didn't speak up because I didn't sell disability insurance. Then they came for the nongroup health insurance market ... " [....]

Hugh Hefner invoked the Niemoller quotation as a warning that the banning of Playboy from 7-Eleven stories was the first step in the destruction of the First Amendment. [....]

"The Holocaust in American Life", Houghton Mifflin & Co., 1999, Boston, p. 220-221, 337-338

Now see the scholarly debate in The Chronicle of Higher Education
"Do Americans obsess over the Holocaust? Has the focus on the Holocaust distorted scholarship and our understanding of history, and our perception of other atrocities and war crimes?"
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