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» Holocaust and Holocaust-er. Gauging Evil, Comparing Notes.

Holocaust and Holocaust-er. Gauging Evil, Comparing Notes.

Holocaust and Holocaust-er. Gauging Evil, Comparing Notes.

Prejudice as Misrepresentation

Starting from a definition of the Holocaust as an organized activity for human life destruction, we consider that the major difference between the German and the Romanian versions of the phenomenon consists in the degree of rationality and consequent efficiency of the practical operations meant to assure successful accomplishment of this task.

Raul Hilberg (42-46) mentions the catastrophic international and national economic consequences of the Kristallnacht as well as the initiator’s, Joseph Paul Goebbels, loss of credibility and power within the Nazi party. Hitler’s negative response to this occurrence was motivated not only by his disdain for emotional anti-Semitism (gefühlsmässigen), expressed in its radical stage as “pogrom”. His own rational alternative (Vernuft), if applied by a strong and efficient government devising careful gradual elimination of the Jews, could really lead to the better operational final solution (Entfernung / Hilberg 47 44n). This design was in tune with a superior stage of economic capitalistic and state development of Germany, blatantly different from a then developing agricultural Romania, engaged especially emotionally [kikes even in official documents] in spontaneous anti-Semitic activity.

Consequently the Hitlerian Holocaust was a produce of modern bureaucracy (see an alternative possible explanation of the Arendtian “banality of the evil”) in “the high stage of . [Western] civilization” (Bauman 46). The West European high technology-enhanced death machine generated, in academic subsequent expert attempts at explaining and defining this machine, a dispersing critical discourse, a Foucauldian “discursive formation”, disuniting Western Holocaust memorial literature and consciousness from its East European Holocaust counterpart. Within the West European discursive area one expressed the Holocaust as technological evil incarnated, enacted through mass killing, bureaucratically detached adeptness and economic reifying strategy (the labor camps supported the modern German economy by using otherwise expandable Jewish enslaved manpower). Why did its East European tragic equivalent, Transnistria, play a debatable Cinderella role, less vocal and less thoroughly marked out than the Central and West European ones?

The East and Central European cultures have always had a peripheral status in the modern world mentality, motivated by low political education and sparse democratic experience standards. Irrationality, inconsistency and spontaneous, instinctual xenophobic activity, accompanied by traditionalist authoritarianism produced crude, “natural” versions of the Holocaust. In the international post bellum assessment process of WW II Nazi and nationally distributed anti-Semitic atrocities, the Cinderella discourse of the Romanian Holocaust, mostly located in Transnistria, did not really reach the Western discursive perception tuned to the larger than life western Holocaust discursive representation qua consumerist panoramic super-production. In this context we obtain two opposed versions of this catastrophic historical drama, a real event penetrated and imaginatively distorted by the two cultures’ discontinuous perceptions: one rational, highly technological and reificatory, the other emotional and patently naturalistic. The German perfectly tuned bureaucratic machine murdered Jews in a faster, cleaner and more economically satisfactory manner than the randomly emotional, inefficient Romanian one.

In the local Romanian authoritarian mainstream culture context the Western hushing and second-hand slotting of the East European Holocaust culture gave the Romanian historiography a reason to minimize the problem: the minimal Western acknowledgement of our Holocaust led to the erasure of the problem and the cleansing of national history. What is assessed as Holocaust in the West European applied discourse matches the magnitude and importance of a culture that has traditionally had access to the great stock of historical experience never experienced by the East European low key by-cultures often reverberating the original models of their Western master sources.

Here is a chart representing instances of the Western modern rationalist imagination at work as the mass murderous Nazi machine punisher versus the Romanian traditionalist, emotional imagination stirred process, using sheer nature as a human eliminator.


Eastern Europe camps incorporating East European Jewry (Romanian & Ukrainian)

Vicarious Nazism: Hitler via Ion Antonescu.

Natural rural habitat (deserted houses, stables in villages).

Modus operandi: natural spontaneous exterminator through hunger, disease, sudden impromptu individual/mass shooting.

Inefficiency: emotional destruction (anti-Semitism) e.g. the Jews marching towards camps in Trans. were spontaneously shot on the way there and never buried contributing to the epidemics that killed most of the prisoners, but also some of the guards.


Central Europe camps incorporating Western, Central, East European Jewry.

Original direct source of Nazism: Hitler

Artificial functional habitat: specially designed labor camps. Technology and architecture meant to punish the body.

Modus operandi: highly technological accurately manipulated/controlled killer: gas chambers and Zyklon-B.

Efficiency: rational anti-Semitism (Vernuft) e.g. The minute organization of the gas chambers technology, personnel and working schedules.

The Two Ruths: Transnistria vs. Birkenau

Two memorial narratives incorporated these major differences in the discursive structures of the two Jewish Ruths, victims of the two Holocausts at the age of girlhood, both located today, almost symbolically, in the democratic republic of the U.S.A.: Ruth Glassberg, born in Czernowitz, Bukovina, a victim of the Transnistrian criminal hodgepodge of disease and utter inhuman neglect, and Ruth Kluger, barely escaping the murderous proficiency of Auschwitz.

Two Ruths, in neighboring pre-war East and Central European Eden, nominally referenced by the homonymous Book of Ruth as Moabite great grandmothers (Saint Matthew's Gospel) of King David out of whose family Jesus Christ was born, reach their teenage dawn in the hellish exile of the Holocaust, a reinforced modern version of their namesake’s deliberate biblical exodus to Bethlehem. Both are ethnic revivals of the biblical Ruth as Jews in a foreign land become a much cherished home until the Romanian, respectively Nazi, Holocaust.

With Glassberg the narrative manner resembles the classical strorytelling of a Bildungsroman, where memory turns the author into the protagonist of a series of events shaping her personality. The traditional, pre-modern attitude of the memoirs as an illustration of pedagogical life patterns (happy childhood, experience starting with disturbance of pastoral harmony, growing through space drifting from ghetto through Transnistria camps to Bessarabia, Romania, Cyprus, Israel, Austria, Israel, Columbia, United States) is exposed in her classical book.

Her life before the Holocaust in native Czernowitz reveals an intimate, homely duplicate of Vienna: “The architecture, the fashion, the culture and the language suggested a feeling of Gemütlichkeit (cosiness). It was a small scale replica of Austrian culture – a miniature Vienna.” [Glassberg 54] The minor culture facsimile of central culture (the Austrian-Hungarian Empire) incorporated minor Romanian and Ukrainian cultures.

With the first pogrom in Milie, her grandparents’ home town, initially an Eden of pastoral rural atmosphere and idyllic human relations, and the deportation one represents the Holocaust beginning as Catastrophe, as literally (Old Greek katastrephein a dramatic “overturn” of harmony.

In general, the camp experience meant death by neglect, a nature provoked demise, the opposite of the technological one, the carefully and bureaucratically provided destruction performed by the Nazi Holocaust. The Jews were exposed to hunger, coldness and disease. The frozen open fields replaced the gas chambers. Typhus substituted Zyklon-B. A sad fairytale cliché was applied here: the unwanted children were taken to the forest to die out of exposure to wild life.

The villages and Ukrainian collective farms where the convoys stayed overnight had to shelter the deportees. Practically this meant the abandoning of the Jews to the hands of fate . The Romanian authorities did not assume any responsibility concerning the upkeep and the feeding of the Jews in the . camps. (Ancel 77)

The Romanian official documents stated innocently: “ . In the appointed location the Jews will be left to live on their own and may be used for agricultural or any other work.” (Barbul 50) In the ghetto camp of Bershad, were the Glasbergs were interned, “the camp contained approximately twelve narrow, unpaved, streets, two larger main streets, and a few hundreds low clay huts. Here were to find shelter 20.000 people – often just enough room to sit.” (Glasberg Gold 109). Typhoid fever, total lack of medicine, will kill Ruth’s whole family (brother, mother, father) and most of the Bershad deportees.

After the liberation the memoir protagonist evolves through political and geographical-historical vagaries: as a Communist in Russia, as a Zionist in a Cyprus British camp and Israel, freed from ideological commitments in Columbia and the United States. In this existential ethnically enriching journey she integrates and then surpasses the typical post-Transnistrian routes: Israel and/or back to Romania.

America, the final democratic home, will offer her both personally and ideologically the open space necessary for remembrance: out of the previous Communist and Zionist engagements, in a “no man’s land” ethnic area, the memorial return to the roots of her individual self is possible. She could be just a Jew, the difference accepted and endorsed, within the generous multicultural version of the New Canaan. However, the solidity of such a concluding, irrevocable status necessitated a return to roots and attempts at an explanation of her present self’s generating horrors.

In her visit to Romania she finds out that one ideological repressive construct, Communism, based an o diffuse network of power, replaced the preceding one, Nazism, without really taking stock of it. The visit to Milie reveals the wiping out of any sign of the pogrom. The Milie locals play the innocent and blame “deus ex machina” agents (the Benderovs, the mountain bandits led by Bendera), for fear of the Soviet authority. The visit to the Bershad Jewish cemetery, next to which is gloriously located the village garbage dumping area, proves even less respect for the accusatory remembrance of former local inhumanity and Jewish sufferance. There is an old ruin of a monument, a slight and offending memory of the past and the present local perception of Jewish ethnicity. However, significantly, Ruth can see everywhere monuments celebrating the Soviet soldiers fallen during WW II. There is a bitter end to this memorial of a Holocaust never really understood and honestly assumed by Communist Romania.

Ruth Kluger’s memoir is modernist through obsessive self scrutiny and postmodernist in its relativization of history and anti-narrative collage discourse. We offer as an illustration the following ironic rendition of the WW II American “victor” undermining the camps liberator fetish:

My mother, determined to try out her English, walked up to the first American uniform in view, a military policeman directing traffic, and told him in a few words that we had escaped from a concentration camp. Since I knew no English, I couldn’t understand his answer, but his gesture was unmistakable. His put his hands over his ears and turned away. (Kluger 149)

The demythologizing process presumed a genuine respectful and understanding attitude towards the Holocaust:

I used to think that after the war I would have something of interest and significance to tell. A contribution. But people didn’t want to hear about it, or if they did listen, it was in a certain pose, an attitude assumed for this special occasion; it was not as partners in a conversation, but as if I had imposed on them and they were graciously indulging me. The current raze for oral history and interviewing harbors a related flaw of one-sidedness, even though the interviewer is doing the imposing: he or she contributes nothing except an implied superiority to suffering. Beware the kind of awe which easily turns into its opposite, disgust. For we like to keep the objects of both emotions at arm’s length, in instinctive revulsion. (Kluger 94)

Instead of narrating, as her Romanian counterpart, the picaresque adventures covering international traveling, she bends over the map of her ego and treads along its intricate avenues. (While Ruth Gold’s book is strewn with maps and pictures documenting her story like a traveler’s diary, Kluger’s volume contains no documentary picture or drawing). Her relationship to a father presumed to have been executed by the Nazis, a presumption painfully confirmed and historically documented, is thoroughly analyzed. Her complicated, adverse relation with a supposedly paranoid possessive mother, dramatizes Kluger’s intense existential Holocaust and post-Holocaust experience. Musing on gaining ethnic identity as a response to Nazi persecution she reveals the same preoccupation for existential status:

Now that my tentative faith in my homeland (Austria) was being damaged by daily increments beyond repair, I became Jewish in defense. Shortly before I turned seven years old, during the first week of the German occupation, I changed my first name. I had been called Susi, a middle name, but now I wanted the other name, my first name, the Biblical name (Ruth) . under the circumstances only a Jewish name would do. Nobody pointed out to me that Susanna is as much a part of Holy Scripture as Ruth is. Bible reading wasn’t a pastime of ours. (Kluger 42)

As a matter of fact, the very process of gaining ethnic awareness and identity started as soon as Nazism invaded the streets of Vienna. It included the obligation (1941) of wearing the Star of David. This moment of reconstructing identity is charged with a sense of urgency: “I can’t say that I was unhappy about that star. Under the circumstances it seemed appropriate. Let them see who we were.” (Kluger 48).

Stages of acknowledgement of the technological-bureaucratic panopticum of punishment and suffering revealing the Final Solution are gradually exposed. Theresienstadt (Czech: Terezin, called then a ghetto, considered today a concentration camp) represented one of these phases. It is sarcastically defined by Kluger as “the stable that supplied the slaughterhouse” (Kluger 70), and further explained :

The children’s barracks . had numbers: L410 and L414 . the Czech children into the first building, and the German speaking into the second . L414 is the only one of my many addresses which I have never forgotten. (Kluger 74).

Ruth Kluger’s Holocaust experience is less geographical and picaresque then Glassberg’s. Her outer Birkenau experience is barely mentioned. As a subject and construct of modern and postmodern Western culture, she focuses on inner darkness and self becoming, skeptical and cautiously analytic about the political, ideological colossus of democracy and individualism called the American republic. More updated and “correct” than her Transnistrian sister in suffering, she takes lucid and critical distance from her liberator. The multicultural Promised Land, based on the idea of natural morality and self-reliance, burdened by a contradictory historical load of Indian victimization and African-American enslavement, refuses a complete and in-depth acknowledgement of the Holocaust debasing of human identity and its modern consequences.

Kluger’s war hero husband wouldn’t let his wife talk to his students about the concentration camps (as this was her personal experience): sarcastically she compares her husband’s perception of this initiative as a sort of soul striptease. Denuding man’s soul, decently imagined as dressed in spirit and ethics, would not be acceptable in a high middle class Puritanical intellectual environment: “We were like cancer patients who remind the unafflicted that they, too are mortal.” (Kluger 182-3)

Works Cited

Ancel, Jean. Transnistria. Bucuresti: Atlas, 1998.

Barbul, Gh. Le IIIe Homme de L’Axe. Vol.1, Paris : Ed. de la Couronne, 1950

Bauman, Zygmunt. Modernity and the Holocaust. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Gold Glasberg, Ruth. Timpul lacrimilor secate. Memoriile unei supravietuitoare. Trans. Catalin Patrosie, Eugen Hriscu. Bucuresti: Hasefer. 2003

Hilberg, Raul. Exterminarea evreilor din Europa. Trans. Dina Georgescu. 2 vols. Bucuresti: Hasefer, 1997.

Kluger, Ruth. Still Alive. A Holocaust Girlhood Remembered. New York: Feminist Press, 2001 .

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