Representing evil after the holocaust

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One of the most contentious problems in post-Holocaust artistic and literary production has been the ethical implications of representing acts of radical human evil, or more specifically, the (in)humanity of the Nazi Other.  If “It is barbaric to continue to write poetry after Auschwitz,” as Theodore Adorno exhorted (85), then it is perversely blasphemous to engage in any aesthetic representation of the humanity of the Nazi perpetrators. For Adorno and many other critics, as Erin McGlothlin correctly points out, “writing about the Holocaust is synonymous with writing about the suffering of the survivors and victims, and the ethical questions of artistic representation of the Holocaust are thus exclusively a matter of how one might portray the experience of pain and anguish” (210). Anything else is construed as the ultimate betrayal of the memory of those who perished in the Nazi industrial genocide. As such, the perpetrators are excluded from imaginative artistic and literary production about the Holocaust and are generally constructed as absolutely, and incomprehensibly, evil. For David Hirsch, for example, the Germans were evil not only because they “extirpated the victims’ inherent moral sense,” but because “they, too, have lost their moral bearings, and are lacking in the moral dimension that would have made them human” ([Hirsch, ]94).

Framing the problem of the Other and evil, the Other as unequivocally evil, in terms that were drawn from pre-Holocaust ethics, however, proved to be insufficient in a post-Holocaust world. As John Roth argues, post-Holocaust ethics must be typified by an openness to the Other, even though Roth himself restricts the Other specifically to the defenseless and vulnerable victims (xv). But there is no imminent justification for excluding the perpetrator from the site of Otherness.” (126)

“The aporia of transmuting the humanity of the Nazi Other in post-Holocaust imaginative artistic and literary production has significant implications for young adult literature of atrocity. In the context of the increasing application, and interrogation, of trauma theory to children’s literature, for example, the emphasis again is on narratives of human pain and suffering, especially “under-represented histories and repressed sites of violence and suffering (Capshaw Smith 116). Although trauma critics of young adult literature of atrocity seem to agree that children should be exposed to the evil of the Holocaust, they still represent evil, in Elizabeth Baer’s words, as “nameless, faceless, and of obscure origins” (384). Both the evil and its perpetrators remain incomprehensible, outside the limits of human representation and understanding.” (127)

Ref: (emphases in bold green, mine) Jamil Khader (2011)  Humanizing the Nazi? The Semiotics of Vampirism, Trauma, and Post-Holocaust Ethics in Louise Murphy’s The True Story of Hansel and Gretel: A Novel of War and Survival. Children’s Literature 39: 126-143

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