Tuesday, March 22, 2011

On Non-Jews Using the Word "Holocaust."

Hieronymous Bosch. Detail from "The Garden of Earthly Delights."

May non-Jews use the word "Holocaust"?

Polish-American poet John Guzlowski, whose family members were victimized by the Nazis, considers the question. He writes:

"My mother wasn't an educated woman. She had no college, no high school even. She couldn't read the books that argue about who was and who was not in the Holocaust.

When I was growing up, she never said she was in the Holocaust. She wasn’t a talker, but she talked a little about what happened to her family. Her mother and sister and the sister's baby were killed by German Soldiers and Ukrainian neighbors. She had two aunts who died in Auschwitz with their Jewish husbands. My mother spent a couple years in a slave labor camp in Germany. There were Jews and non-Jews in her camp; people suffered and died there. She didn’t talk about any of this much, and when she did she didn’t use the word 'Holocaust.'

This changed as she got older. Toward the end of the 1990s, she started talking about how she was in the Holocaust..."


Read all of Guzlowski's essay here.

Czeslaw Milosz was apparently concerned that reserving the word "Holocaust" for Jews might mean a diminution of the suffering of non-Jews. In his Nobel Prize lecture, the Polish poet warned,

"For the poet of the 'other Europe' the events embraced by the name of the Holocaust are a reality, so close in time that he cannot hope to liberate himself from their remembrance unless, perhaps, by translating the Psalms of David. He feels anxiety, though, when the meaning of the word Holocaust undergoes gradual modifications, so that the word begins to belong to the history of the Jews exclusively, as if among the victims there were not also millions of Poles, Russians, Ukrainians and prisoners of other nationalities. He feels anxiety, for he senses in this a foreboding of a not distant future when history will be reduced to what appears on television, while the truth, as it is too complicated, will be buried in the archives, if not totally annihilated. Other facts as well, facts for him quite close but distant for the West, add in his mind to the credibility of H. G. Wells' vision in The Time Machine: the Earth inhabited by a tribe of children of the day, carefree, deprived of memory and, by the same token, of history, without defense when confronted with dwellers of subterranean caves, cannibalistic children of the night."

Read all of Milosz' lecture here.



A reader just sent me this link to a new book "The Treatment of Minorities in Nazi Dominated Europe." "Divide and conquer" is the theme. Review here.

1 comment:

  1. The question of the term Holocaust, and to whom it is to be applied (only Jews, or also Polish-gentile victims of the Nazis), revolves around the perceived uniqueness of the Nazi genocide of the Jews.

    I refer the interested reader to my extensive list of self-reviewed books on this topic. The list can be directly accessed by clicking on my name in this specific posting.

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