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History Defiled

How the story of the Holocaust gets retold.

May 30, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 35 • By EDWARD ALEXANDER
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Later chapters deal with survivors who became major literary figures permanently bound to their horrific experience of the camps. Some of them, most notably Améry and Levi, became victims of Auschwitz long after they appeared to have survived it: They took their own lives. Perhaps they had concluded that the full truth of Auschwitz might never be known or, if half-known, would be distorted. They were particularly disappointed by the refusal of Germans to confront their past honestly, and they despaired over the resurgence of Jew-hatred in Europe, especially on the political left, which turned Holocaust images into the tool kit of the new anti-Semitism, the pariah people into the pariah state. They knew there would be virtually no retribution; they feared there would be no memory; but they rarely foresaw the possibility of a second Holocaust.

That possibility is, by now, what Goethe would have called an open secret: visible to all, yet recognized by few, like the German scholar Matthias Küntzel, an astute observer of Holocaust deniers in Europe and Iran: “Every denial of the Holocaust contains an appeal to repeat it.”

Edward Alexander is the author, most recently, of Lionel Trilling and Irving Howe: And Other Stories of Literary Friendship.

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