The Shoah Between Memory and History

The Shoah Between Memory and History

From the Spring 1990 issue


The Tenth World Congress of Jewish Studies takes place almost exactly fifty years after the outbreak of the Second World War and the onset of events which led to the most terrifying catastrophe ever to befall the Jewish people. In a gathering such as this, bringing together scholars from so many areas of Jewish studies, this date could be commemorated from many perspectives. In the limited framework at my disposal, I shall try to raise some questions about the place of the Shoah in present-day historical consciousness, among Jews and in more general terms as well.

Before turning to the public discourse of historical consciousness, I would mention the importance of remaining aware of the dwindling but tenacious presence of this past in individual memory. Moreover, aside from individual memory and personal experience, a vast and complex domain of individual emotions about the Shoah and the Nazi epoch exists among Jews, Germans and many others. Its domain impinges upon the public discourse which, nonetheless, should be analysed as a subject on its own.

The very title of my presentation, “The Shoah Between Memory and History”, is meant to convey the main thesis: in the public domain, contrary to what has recently been argued by some Jewish and German interpreters1, the representation of the Shoah, although more widespread than ever, is nor crystallizing in the historical consciousness of the victims, as well as in general public discourse, into some monumental and mythical narrative; we are in fact dealing with a non-structured public memory. On the other hand, notwithstanding the considerable progress of historical research, we are facing limits to historical interpretation which seem to hinder the usual process of historicization (“a past that refuses to go away”). Thus, fifty years after the events, we are indeed facing a discourse on the Shoah which has become neither a set public memory nor an integral part of the historical interpretations of our epoch. My presentation will follow the successive stages of the argument as outlined above.


The Increase in Representations and the Failure of Public Myth

The major increase in references to the Holocaust from the late 1960s on, in the Jewish world and elsewhere, is a matter of common knowledge and massive evidence. Yet no enduring, compelling narrative of mythical dimensions seems to have emerged. This is particularly notable when one considers the Israeli attempts to establish an official representation of the historical significance of the Shoah or when one refers to the evolution of the same issue among American Jews and on the Western scene at large, as a result of the impact of the culture industry.

It has been argued that after a period of “confrontation” with the traditional symbolic world of Judaism, during Israel’s first years of statehood in which the Shoah was of minor importance, a second period started, in the late 1950s, witnessing the stage-by-stage creation of a “civil religion”, of which the Shoah became one of the central mythical components.2 However, there does not seem to have been such a clear-cut division between the two epochs, at least concerning the Shoah. From the late 1940s on, systematic attempts were made to insert the Shoah within a major traditional framework of interpretation, carrying new significance as a result of the creation of the state, that of “Catastrophe and Redemption”. This global framework was itself linked to an isomorphic historically specific representation, that of “Catastrophe and Heroism”. After some two decades, both mythical structures started to dissolve. Let me very briefly illustrate these various stages.

When in December 1949, ashes of the Jews exterminated in the camp of Flossenbürg were transferred to Israel, the Chief Rabbinate decided that these ashes should be buried on Mount Zion, on the Tenth of Tevet, the day of general mourning: it was suggested that this date should become the commemoration day of the Shoah. A symbolic pattern emerged, firmly structuring the Zionist-religious commemoration.

The Tenth of Tevet is the date on which the first siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar began and, in Jewish tradition, the beginning of the sequence of catastrophes marked by repeated destruction and exile. On the other hand, Mount Zion is, according to religious tradition, the burial place of King David. As King David is related to the Messiah (Ben-David), Mount Zion is fundamentally a site and symbol of redemption. In the decision taken by the Rabbinate we see the creation of an obvious symbolic pattern, a link between destruction and redemption. “At the Holocaust memorial site on Mount Zion,” said Rabbi Pinchas from Karlitz, “we mourn and grieve, bow and sit in ashes and at the same time we are resurrected and lift our heads”. By uniting both temporal and spatial metaphors, a unitary symbol-congruent tradition was being established. Implicitly, the catastrophe of European Jews is linked to the redemption of Israel, the beginning of the Messianic process. This pattern finds full expression in its secularized version.

The secular version of commemoration followed the overall traditional pattern. When, in 1951, the Knesset chose the 27th of Nissan as Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Rabbi Mordechai Nurock, who headed the Knesset committee dealing with this issue, declared that the date was chosen to commemorate the heroism of ghetto fighters (it was the closest possible commemoration date to that of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising), as well as the massacres of Jews by the Crusaders, “forefathers of the Nazis”.3 The official date aimed, therefore, at memorializing values consonant with those of the new state, by linking Catastrophe and Heroism. Moreover, on a wider scale, it reinserted the Shoah in the historical sequence of Jewish Catastrophes leading to the redemptive moment of Israel’s birth. It was because of the death of the Six Million, according to Rabbi Nurock, that “we have been privileged to have our state".4 Finally, the date chosen inaugurates a series of three closely related commemorations: Yom HaShoah is soon followed by the Memorial Day for the Fallen in Israel’s Wars and, at sunset on that day, Independence Day celebrations begin and the traditional mythic patterns of Catastrophe and Redemption are forcefully reaffirmed.

The “Catastrophe and Heroism” interpretation—with its explicit public comments on the passivity of the large mass of Jews led to extermination “like sheep to slaughter”, the heroism of the few ghetto fighters and partisans, mostly belonging to the Zionist youth movements, and the collaborationist policies of the appointed Jewish leadership, the Jewish Councils—was questioned from the very beginning by religious circles,5 by some secular survivors6, as well as distinguished outsiders, such as the poet Natan Alterman.7 Nonetheless, it was accepted by the vast majority of the population. This particularly glaring ideological representation started crumbling with the Eichmann trial and subsequently faded out of the main public discourse. It is more difficult to point to the process which led to the dissolution of the “Catastrophe and Redemption” structure in which several factors should be noted.

First, the change of attitude of Israelis to the Diaspora and its Judaism (i.e., the disintegration of the “negation of diaspora” ideology inherent in pre-state Zionism, as well as in Ben-Gurion’s oft-repeated position during the 1940s and 1950s), resulting in a growing sensitivity concerning the very catastrophe of European Judaism as such, without necessary reference to its redemptive aftermath.

Second, the rise, from the mid-1970s and increasingly during the 1980s, of a new authenticity in testimonies and literature about the Shoah, daring to challenge socially-imposed codes of interpretation. “The individual sensibilities,” writes one of the foremost interpreters of this literature, “which had been rendered historically insignificant when juxtaposed with the socially ritualized codes, are now harnessed to an equally public enterprise of denationalizing memory and challenging exclusive claims to the inheritance”.8

Third, the use of new metaphors based on ideological tenets concerning the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians: the Arabs were compared with the Nazis and a “subversive” use of symbols appeared equating Jewish behaviour with that of the Nazis. In both cases, the politicization of symbols eliminated the metahistorical dimension of the early mythical narrative.

In other words, the more time passed since the extermination of the Jews of Europe, the less compelling the initial interpretive frameworks became for Israeli public memory.

I can only barely refer here to Jewish public memory of the Holocaust in the Diaspora, particularly in the United States. Again, however, no mythic narrative seems to exist. One should recall, first of all, how far the events of Europe were from American Jewish consciousness up to the very end of the war. It has been argued that since 1945, a mainly unexpressed, but nonetheless very keen awareness of what had happened in Europe was taking shape within American Jewry, particularly with the return of soldiers from Europe and with the arrival of Jewish survivors to their shores. Whatever the importance of this early change may have been, the dramatic turning points appeared in the 1960s, with the Eichmann trial and, subsequently, on the eve of the Six-Day War. During the same period, moreover, the bolstering of the Jewish identity, possibly as a result of the overall growth of the ethnic identity issue in the United States, expressed itself both in American Jewry’s rediscovery of its East European heritage and the closely related centrality of the Holocaust. What started to take shape in the 1960s found its full expression in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Much has been written about American Jewry’s instrumentalization and vulgarization of Shoah commemoration.9 This subject still awaits systematic inquiry. Yet in spite of simplistic commemorative endeavours, the functional misuse of the Shoah for Jewish identity-building and the blanket identification of present-day Diaspora Jews (particularly American) as “survivors”, no clearly structured mythical narrative emerges, possibly because such a narrative, by establishing a Europe-centred separate Jewish fate, would carry the risk of alienating American Jews from the society to which they wish so ardently to belong.

As for the culture industry, it is hard to know why it did not “discover” the Shoah before the 1970s, but it is clear why, once the initiative was taken, this past was so fully exploited: the nature of the events, the potential for emotional arousal, the possibilities for offering overpowering and simple messages, etc. Most probably, the evolution of the American Jewish scene and the culture industry are not entirely unrelated.

Whatever could be said in favour of useful vulgarization—in which astute critics such as Clive James have, even recently, found beneficial aspects—our question is whether this process indicates any pattern of reinterpretation which could be considered massively imposed. One could obviously argue that any stark opposition of Good and Evil contains the basic characteristics of the mythical rendition, but in this specific case, such a stark dichotomy does not create a sense of historical fallacy. Moreover, the search for endless nuances has sometimes a no less contrived and ideologically loaded quality as far as these events are concerned. In short, the simplifications of the culture industry mainly offend aesthetic and intellectual sensibilities, but no new mythical meaning is being produced by Universal Studios nor, for that matter, by Jewish centres commemorating the Shoah in Washington, Los Angeles or New York.


The Limits of Representation

The sharp rise in references to the Shoah over the last two decades has naturally drawn attention to the central issue of the limits of representing this past. At the very core of the problem of limits lies, so it seems, an ongoing cognitive difficulty which hampers easy linkage with commonly used historical categories, but mostly the permanence of a fundamental moral outrage linked to Nazism more than to any other modern historical event.

The permanence of the moral outrage is not the result of any pressure from either the victors or the victims, as could have been the case in the immediate post-war years. It may well stem from the belated remorse of a society which went to any length of compromise during the events themselves. As Jean Baudrillard recently wrote, we may be facing “a collective attempt to hallucinate the historical truth of evil . . . a desperate attempt to snatch a posthumous truth from history, a posthumous exculpation”.11 This “moral imperative” finds its other facet in the common reticence towards dealing with the Shoah or with Nazism in general, outside of certain accepted norms of aesthetic expression or intellectual discourse. This, however, sets the limits to the possibilities of representation of the Shoah.

In The Great War and Modern Memory (1975), Paul Fussell has convincingly shown that at the level of élite culture at least, the most significant mode of representation to have emerged from the “Great War” was the “ironic” one. Although Fussell’s examples are taken largely from the British literary scene, the same argument is valid for other European countries and literatures. The ironic mode is entirely consonant with modern sensibility and, in more ways than one, the contemporary conception of the absurd was an outgrowth of the “Great War”.

“The abridgement of hope”, so poignantly described by Fussell, may well be the fundamental characteristic of the ironic mode. It could, almost by definition, have been at the very core of the representation of the Shoah. This, however, was not and is not the case: in regard to the Shoah, the “abridgement of hope” is not adequate. The death of the bombardier in Catch 22 is recognizable; it is youth cut short, death unexpected. The long lines of Riga Jews marching to the execution pits do not belong to this experiential field. Irony as understood by Northrop Frye or Paul Fussell is inherently linked to a haphazard and absurd outcome of events. There was nothing haphazard about the “Final Solution”, once the extermination process started.

One could object that some of the preeminent literary renditions of the extermination of the Jews seem to belong outright to the ironic tradition: Tadeusz Borowski’s This Way for the Gas, Primo Levi's If This Is a Man, Aharon Appelfeld’s Badenheim 1939 and Dan Pagis’s “Poetics of Incoherence” (as it has been defined by one critic). However, a decisive argument could be made against the authenticity of the ironic voice even in these apparently manifest examples. First, all of these writers seem to express, if only in an undertone, the most urgent need of all, the bearing of testimony. “What will the world know of us, if the Germans win?” the Pole Tadeusz Borowski wrote during the war. Second, even if these writers reject the search for historical coherence and the soteriological message, they seem to use “incoherence” in a profoundly didactic way, to convey some message that cannot be defined, but the significance of which must be endlessly sought.

The overall representation of the Nazi era, and of the annihilation of the Jews in particular, tends therefore to flow back into a limited monumental-didactic mode—or, as we shall call it later in our historical interpretation, into an “exemplary” category—whatever the forms of this mode and category may be. This entails a dissociation from the plethora of expressions of the post-modern phase of contemporary sensibility or, more precisely, widespread “unease” in the face of such attempts: Hans-Jiirgen Syberberg’s Hitler, ein Film aus Deutschland is an example of the difficulties thus encountered.

At each level of expression, the same difficulties arise. In a recent lecture on Alain Resnais’s Night and Fog, Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah and Marcel Ophuls’s Hotel Terminus, Jay Cantor mentioned the difficulties of representing the horror on film. It runs the risk of neutralizing that very horror. Traces left by the victims which would lead to an immediate perception are mitigated by the unavoidable mediation of all the artifices of film rendition.

By avoiding the use of visual documentary material, that is, by omitting the representation of the inside of barracks and the walls of the gas chambers, by concentrating on the “Final Solution” explained as a process, the most minute elements of which are endlessly documented through the testimony of witnesses, Claude Lanzmann may have avoided these dilemmas. Like historian Raul Hilberg, he has given us an extraordinary sense of “how”; like Hilberg, he has left us wondering about the “why”. As for the representation of the “how” the question remains: should we hear only the indirect testimony or should we see the scratches of nails on the concrete of the gas chamber walls?

Finally, beyond visual representation, arises the problem of language as such, the core of paralysis in the face of this past. I do not wish to refer again to Adorno’s oft-quoted statement on poetry after Auschwitz. Suffice it here to recall the approach forcefully expressed by George Steiner in his Language and Silence and taken up again in his recent “The Long Life of Metaphor: An Approach to the Shoah”. “It may be,” Steiner writes, “that the Shoah has eradicated the saving grace, the life-giving mystery of meaningful metaphor in Western speech and, correlatively, in that highest organization of speech which we call poetry and philosophic thought. There would be a just logic and a logic of justice in such eradication."12

Steiner chose Paul Celan’s poems to illustrate the ultimate boundary which the Jewish poet unavoidably reaches in his confrontation with this past. These limits cannot be trespassed. Steiner moves to what cannot but be defined as a theological level: the dialogue with a mute God, the one (“no-one” in Celan’s terms) who did not speak “out of the death wind” cannot cease or disappear.13 Many are those who may hesitate to follow him on such ground; out of desperation, the dialogue may well cease, disappear, or be drowned altogether by the growing noise of the merely spectacular.


The Obstacles to Historical Interpretation

The limitations which weigh on the literary and artistic representation of the Shoah reappear in the domain of historical interpretation. Here, however, a strong disclaimer has to be inserted before presenting an outline of the argument. First of all, the reconstruction of the factual background of the “Final Solution” is growing rapidly and our knowledge of complex processes and linkages concerning the unfolding of the events steadily increases. Second, for many historians, the questions which will be raised here are probably not real issues; for them, a full historicization of the “Final Solution” has more or less been achieved and, whatever moral issues may remain, the historical problems are finding their solution. But there are major interpretive difficulties in the historical domain.

The “Final Solution” like any other historical phenomenon, has to be interpreted in its historical unfolding and within the relevant historical framework. A priori, therefore, we should be dealing with this epoch and these events, as we would with any other, considering them from every possible angle, suggesting possible hypotheses and linkages. But, as we know, this is not the case and, implicitly, for most, this cannot be the case. Nobody of sound mind would wish to interpret the events from Hitlers’ viewpoint. Even the “interpreters” in the neo-Nazi lunatic fringe do not try to justify the “Final Solution”; they deny its very existence. And even in regard to far less extreme positions, there is a sense of self-restraint about the available interpretive repertoire.

This situation does not and could not stem from ideological “orthodoxy” imposed by a group. What could have been argued for the years immediately following the war—the existence of an overall consensus imposed by victors and victims alike—could certainly not be argued today. Thus the inevitable conclusion is that the historian feels, in this case, that there are some non-defined but clearly felt limits to interpretation. This very perception of limits—as various as it is compelling—may indicate that we may be facing an exceptional situation where historical analysis calls for a fusion of moral and cognitive categories.

The questions raised by such limitation of interpretive strategies by such apparent ethical restraint of historical analysis can be better defined by some examples.

First, does a phenomenon such as the “Final Solution” allow for any kind of “emplotment”, does it foreclose certain narrative modalities? Or does it escape the grasp of plausibly persuasive narrative representation altogether?

Second, any discussion of the “Final Solution” must confront the moral issue. Hence, a problem arises with the application of certain new interpretive strategies. Is it possible to embrace such strategies and yet avoid moral relativism? Can one—to raise another issue—write the history of the science produced by experiments made on human beings in Nazi camps or can one use the results of such experiments as elements in the ongoing, normal scientific discourse?14

In more general terms, limitations of the approaches to interpreting the “Final Solution” place the historian in an essentially insoluble dilemma between the ideal of a value-free scientific discourse and the sense of unavoidable moral constraints. This set of difficulties is compounded by the variety of general historical theories which take this apparently exceptional situation into account and aim nonetheless at inserting the “Final Solution” into a convincing explanatory framework. It is beyond the scope of this presentation to consider these various attempts and show their limitations. At this level of analysis, as far as the historical contextualization of the “Final Solution” is concerned, the simplest argument is not that such concepts as “totalitarianism” or “fascism” seem inadequate, but, obversely, these concepts are far better suited to the particular phenomena they deal with, once the “Final Solution” is not included. The only global historical interpretation which seems to “fit” is the most traditional one: the incremental effect of an ever-more radical antisemitic factor. But even those historians whostill remain close to this view have to admit that due to the very nature of Nazi antisemitism and the “Final Solution”, “the question of continuity becomes problematic”.15

The overall gist of these difficulties has recently been expressed in a remarkably clear way by one of West Germany’s leading historians, Reinhart Koselleck:

I consider that the history [of the “Final Solution”) is confronted by demands that are moral, as well as political and religious, and which altogether do not suffice to convey what happened. The moral judgment is unavoidable, but it does not gain in strength through repetition. The political and social interpretation is also necessary, but it is too limited to explain what happened. The escape into a religious interpretation requires forms of observance which do not belong either to the historical, the moral, or the political domain. In my thoughts on this issue up to the present day, I did not manage to get beyond this aporetic situation. In any case, these considerations point to a uniqueness which, in order to be determined, creates both the necessity of making comparisons as well as the need to leave these comparisons behind.16

Finally—and this may be the decisive issue— the historian does not find a convincing element of relevance when he tries to consider this specific past from the point of view of the present. In a recent essay, the Bielefeld historian Jérn Risen writes that “history is the mirror of past actuality into which the present peers, in order to learn something about its future”.17

This general definition of history and historical consciousness seems to fit any major phenomenon, certainly one which still has a hold on our emotions or our interest, one which seems to be existentially relevant: the two world wars, the Bolshevik Revolution, the French Revolution, industrialization or modernization in general, fascism in its most global aspects, and so on. Present-day life, one could suggest, may be better understood in the light of these phenomena and, possibly, we still consider each of them as relevant to our future. Not so with the “Final Solution”. From the perspective of our historical consciousness, this past teaches us nothing comparable with the very enormity of the event; apparently, it does not help us to understand the present-day world or the future of the human condition, except that we know, since “then”, that such an event took place within modern industrial society. It does not seem to teach us anything about modern industrial society as such, in spite of linkages established between modernity and the attempt at total extermination. A priori, the “Final Solution” raises many questions concerning modernity, but either the linkages are kept at such a level of generality that they are irrelevant or the contradictions become insuperable.18

The issue of relevance could, however, be set in a more complex way if, following Rüsen, we accept the successive appearance of various categories of historical consciousness in their relation to moral values: the traditional, the exemplary, the critical and the genetical. Let us leave the traditional category aside, as irrelevant for modern societies. The exemplary category implies the existence of “timeless rules of social life, a timeless validity of values”; the critical category aims at “breaking temporal wholes” and at “establishing value criticism and ideology critique as important strategies of moral discourses”. The latest category, the genetical one, views the changes as such, the open-endedness of possible developments as the very condition for the ongoing moral relevance of historical consciousness.19

According to this typology, one could argue that the way I previously set the problem of non-relevance of the “Final Solution” carries an implicit reference to some sort of “exemplary” category, whereas the critical and genetic categories are today the only significant ones.

There can be no doubt about the unavoidable present-day centrality of these last two categories, but it is precisely from this perspective that the “Final Solution” seems to stand out in its opaqueness. What critical revision of values could take place in this case? What could be the ideological revision? What could be the relevance of change as such, given the constant presence of the unsolved riddle of this past?

In the second of his ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’, Walter Benjamin writes: The past carries with it a temporal index by which it is referred to redemption. There is a secret agreement between past generations and the present one . . . Like every generation that preceded us, we have been endowed with a weak messianic power, a power to which the past has a claim. That claim cannot be settled cheaply.20

As I have attempted to show, in Benjamin’s sense of historical redemption, we may be confronted with an insoluble paradox when facing the extermination of the Jews of Europe: on the one hand, the memory of these victims is more present than ever in our historical consciousness; on the other hand, both the representation of the events and their interpretation are facing limits which may well be inherent in the very nature of this crime. In these terms, our redeeming powers may well be paralysed.

There is, however, an indirect relevance of the Shoah which cannot be avoided. It seems to me that the memory of the Shoah imposes upon us the duty of a moral vigilance keener than ever before, because of our awareness of the existence of a potential for “radical evil” within human society.

This moral vigilance is of particular importance for our people, especially at a time when we are confronted with gruelling moral challenges. How could the memory of the Shoah fail to constantly remind us that there is no higher duty than the respect of human dignity, of human freedom and of human life?

If we do remember this injunction and act upon it, it may well be that, notwithstanding the fact that our “weak messianic power”, in Benjamin’s words, will not redeem an irredeemable past, the very memory of that past will help us to keep a human face.


[1] Yosef Haymn Yerushalmi, Zakhor. Jewish History and Jewish Memory (New York, 1989(, 9.96; Adi Ofir, “Al Chidush Hashem”, Politika, no. 8, June-July 1986; Martin Broszat, in Martin Brozsat and Saul Friedländer, “A Controversy about the Historicization of National Socialism”, New German Critique, no. 44, spring-summer 1988

[2] Charles Leibman and Eliezer Don-Yehiya, Civil Religion in Israel: Traditional Judaism and Political Culture in the Jewish State (Berkeley, 1985)

[3] For these various quotes, See Saul Friedländer, “Die Shoah als Element in der Konstruktion Israelischer Erinnerung”, Babylon. Beiträge zur Jüdischen Gegenwart, no. 2, 1987

[4] ibid

[5] ibid

[6] ibid

[7] Natan Alterman, Al Shtei Hadrachim, Dapim min Hapinkas, ed. Dan Leor (Tel Aviv, 1989)

[8] Sidra Dekoven Ezrahi, “Revisioning the Past: The Changing Legacy of the Holocaust in Hebrew Literature”, Salmagundi, no. 68-9, autumn 1985-winter 1986, p. 270

[9] See for instance, Jacob Neusner, “A ‘Holocaust’ Primer”, National Review, 3 August 1979; Leon A. Jick, “The Holocaust: Its Use and Abuse Within the American Public”, Yad Vashem Studies, vol. 14 (Jerusalem, 1981); particularly, Robert Alter, “Deformations of the Holocaust”, Commentary, February 1981

[10] Clive James, “Last Will and Testament”, New Yorker, 23 May 1988

[11] Jean Baudrillard, “Hunting Nazis and Losing Reality”, New Statesman, 19 February 1988

[12] George Steiner, “The Long Life of Metaphor: An Approach to the Shoah”, Encounter, vol. 68, no. 2, Februry 1987, p. 61

[13] ibid

[14] Some aspects of this issue were discussed at a conference held by the Centre for Biomedical Ethics at the University of Minnesota in May 1989

[15]  Owo Dov Kulka, “Critique of Judaism in European Thought: On the Historical Meaning of Modern Antisemitism”, Jerusalem Quarterly, no. 52, autumn 1989, p. 130

[16] Letter to the author, 26 June 1989

[17] Jorn Riisen, “The Development of Narrative Competence in Historical Learning—An Ontogenetical Hypothesis Concerning Moral Consciousness”, History and Memory: Studies in Representation of the Past, vol.1, no. 2, November 1989

[18] If the Nazi reaction to the threat of modernity was the dream and realization of a racial utopia from which all racially different—inferior—harmful elements would be eliminated, then persecutions and extermination of the “harmful” elements within the domain belonging to the Volksgemeinschaft are indeed explainable in terms of this mad logic. But how should one interpret, in such a case, the fact that the various “asocial” and “inferior” elements were left untouched outside of the limits assigned to the Volksgemeinschaft (homosexuals and the mentally ill were not shipped to camps or killing installations from France, Greece or Poland), whereas one specific group was hounded to the most hidden recesses of the whole continent in order to be exterminated? And if the fear of Bolshevism and its annihilation practices—the most radical “social therapy” engendered by the rise of industrial societies and modernity—were at the root of the Nazi exterminations, one wonders why the first victims of annihilation were not the Communist political prisoners in concentration camps, Communist resistance fighters caught by the Germans all over the continent, etc. In short, the “Final Solution” can only be very indirectly linked to the very real upheavals and anxieties created by modernity, and this not without the prism of antisemitism.

[19] Rüsen

[20] Walter Benjamin, “Geschichesphilosophische Thesen”, in Illuminationen. Ausgewiihlte Schmiften (Frankfurt, 1961), pp.268-9 (English translation, Iluminations (New York, 1969), p.254)