To the Editor:
The enthusiasm for The Memory of Justice seems to reflect a lack of discernment, notwithstanding Marcel Ophuls’s opinion [Letters from Readers, March, in a discussion of Dorothy Rabinowitz’s “Ophuls: Justice Misremembered,” December 1976]. The average moviegoer comes away from the film with the impression that the crimes of the German Nazis were just another case of man’s inhumanity to man, perhaps escalated through sophisticated technical means, but basically part of the same phenomenon. This is the misinterpretation which threatens to rob us of Auschwitz’s ghastly lesson. True, throughout history, genocide has been perpetrated, and it is not even necessary to look as far away as Armenia, or Biafra, or Vietnam—the American Indians are near enough. But as staggering a figure as is the six million, as fathomless a number for our minds, this is not the problem on which to focus our attention. It is the character of the extermination of the Jews by the Nazis that was without precedent.
First, Japan, Algeria, and Vietnam were in a state of war, so that although the ruthlessness of the killing of civilians was dreadful, it must be pointed out that the civilians belonged to a belligerent country. Such was not the case with the Jews. Nothing can even remotely justify the cool, calculated murder of 1,800,000 children.
Second . . . what made the crimes of the Nazis unique and unspeakable was their systematic—whether swift or long-drawn-out—degradation, debasement, and defilement of what makes man man. The relentless attempt at breaking man’s self-respect, at undermining and finally annihilating his humanness, to the point of robbing him of dignity in death—this is the unforgivable sin. Such dehumanization is the intrinsic evil, it attacks the very root of human life. Therein lies its difference from other genocides, a difference of unparalleled importance and one which contains an ominous warning for us today. . . .
New York City
Dorothy Rabinowitz writes:
I thank Claire Huchet-Bishop for her letter, but the notion that the German attempt to exterminate Jewry was different from other genocides because of the means that were used is, I fear, far from the central significance of the Holocaust. The cold-blooded murder of three-quarters of the Jews of Europe is itself sufficient to establish the uniqueness of the event, and its difference from those other tragedies of war, famine, and belligerence which the world is pleased to call genocide.