Imagining the Holocaust
THROUGHOUT every facet of contemporary culture the Holocaust-the systematic murder of six million European Jews under Hitler-has become the particular image for the barbarism of our time, the modern paradigm of man’s inhumanity to man. As A. Alvarez wrote in these pages some twelve years ago, specifically about the impact of the Holocaust on literature, the concentration camps “have become symbols of our own inturned nihilism . . . in them, the language of our sickness was created.”* A corresponding effort to understand and explain the Holocaust has proceeded by analogy, pointing out alleged resemblances between what happened in the death camps and other atrocities that have occurred in modern times, or between the Nazi machinery of destruction and the real and sometimes imagined structure of modern life in general. In the same article Alvarez went on to suggest that the concentration camps of World War II were “a small-scale trial run for a nuclear war”; that they bore a resemblance to contemporary mass technological society with its apparatus for the annihilation of personal identity; and that an analogy between them and the general Angst of the postmodern age might be inferred from such texts as
Norman Mailer’s “The White Negro.’ Other apparent parallels to the Holocaust that have been invoked in recent years range from the Soviet prison camps of the Stalin era to the various civilian massacres committed during the Vietnam war.
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