Week 1: Major Topics/Concepts: Modern antisemitism, Industrialization, Emancipation, Acculturation, and Assimilation.
"People will not be heard in the future unless they speak in short bursts of truth."
~Saul Bellows, 1984~
I'm going to try to do that today. Please remember that I am not here to debate, argue, discuss, or interpret the Holocaust. This is a series of reflections upon a course I took on the Holocaust; this is to say that these are personal reflections which are meant to help me (and perhaps, you too) process my experience with, and relationship to the course itself.
I hope you will follow me just below the
squiggledoodlethingey fold, where I will give you a review, some reflection of my first week in this course, and perhaps even a touch of enlightenment into the realities of life.
By the end of the first week of the Coursera course on the Holocaust, I had reviewed every segment of the lectures, the books, the film, other external resources, my fellow students in discussion fora, the course staff and professors, and a few of my friends.
I felt purely exhausted; wrung out. My entire being had somehow gotten involved in this learning experience. I learned a lot, but not what so much I imagined I would learn. The course descends almost from the first moment into what is a deeply moral issue. Deep moral questions arose as the week progressed.
I was interested in trying to connect pre-war Germany with the Germany before WWI. I did that. It wasn't terribly difficult, but it was terribly revealing. As it turns out, the marshal ideologies of Germany, Teutonic nations, and the presence of such potential embarrassment for the European continent are as clearly delineated as night is to day.
Without night, you can neither truly understand or appreciate the daytime; we need them both. The situation in which pre-war Germany found itself was dire, by any reasonable explanation, and especially politically and economically. What is sometimes lost in the debate is that these were conditions which Germany created primarily itself, and failed to deal with in the better (or even best) interests of its own people.
Antisemitism was not invented by pre-war Germany. It was, however used to a great precision to apologize for a failed government that, according to the National Socialist Democratic Party (Nazis) desperately needed changing. This is a point which cannot, must not be ignored.
Remember that the first concentration camp at Auschwitz brought political dissidents, the "sexual deviants and other sexual criminals", and the first of the educated elite who opposed removing the Kaiser from government into one central, concentrated point--away from German society, in Poland. There were very few Jews involved as the experiment began. This was after five consecutive elections which could not form a coalition or national government. It is instructive to note that, at this time, there were a significant, although by no means a majority number of Nazi members in the legislature of the German people. There were, however, enough.
Plans were being drawn. An ideology of hatred was already being employed. There was, for the Nazi party, only one possible person to lead the nation: Adolf Hitler. It could not be said that nobody knew what Hitler stood for, or what his intentions were. He wrote them down in 1925! This is not, generally a book I recommend, but if one is to understand the Holocaust, one must surely at least to attempt to come to some understanding of the author of it. In that regard, the volume is much more than instructive. While poorly written, it does divulge the heart, mind and soul of Adolf Hitler as he sat in Landsberg Am Lech, Fortress Prison.
We were given two challenges as this course began. From Professor Baumgarten, we were wished "good luck" as we plunged into the search for the answer to one question:
"How could this happen?"
Did this, in fact happen?
I have always believed my father, who was once a soldier of the American Army in Europe, saving democracy one step at a time while occasionally "condescending to help George Patton save the world." He told me it happened. He said he was an extermination camp liberator. He showed me pictures. Not the terrible and horrific pictures we know today, mind you. His one and "always" picture was of him standing beside a gate with the words "Arbeit macht frei" across the top of it. I knew my Father for all of the time of my life he lived in it. I only saw his face as it appeared in that picture when I had to inform him that my Mother had just died. Or when I had to tell him my Sister had just died. Or when I told him that his own Mother had just died. That's how I know. The look, in every instance, was the same terribly horrified, unspeakably sad face in that photo. He told a few stories, but was much more inclined to talk about the liberation of Paris (single-handedly, of course). Ghosts of Omaha Beach would not been seen in his countenance until we attended together the 50th Anniversary of Normandy. I saw that face then, too.
I had all that coming into a course which wished me luck. I would need it. In all the time of my Father, I didn't understand. I didn't come to this course looking to see, or understand my Father. I came to try to, as it turns out, understand his face in that photo. To say that the photo spoke volumes is a vast understatement. At his request, the photo album from those days was cremated with him upon his death. I kept his journals, and diaries, and there was a portrait of him from the war in our living room which had been "purchased", he said "with two pounds of coffee from an artist in a little Parisian cafe".
Dr. Peter Kenez tells us in this first week that there is no way to truly understand the Holocaust unless we at least attempt to deal with Germany, and the Germans. At one point in a colloquy shared during lecture Kenez tells Baumgarten "You deal with the Jews. I deal with the Germans." This was not the potential firebomb it may first appear to be. It was precisely this combination which made the first week of this course so much larger than any course I have ever encountered.
The two, each with their own discipline and objective narrative brought us into a very strange place, indeed. From Kenez and "the spiraling descent through madness" that he told us was necessary for historical accuracy, through Baumgarten's invocation of Yehuda Bauer's ": Chapter 1: Who Are The Jews?", Nechama Tec's personal memoirs in "Dry Tears", the poetry of Dan Pagis:
Written in Pencil in the Sealed Railway-Carand the film "Image Before My Eyes" (a not-so-good travelmix.com review digitally recorded)....
By: Dan Pagis
here in this carload
I am eve
with abel my son
if you see my other son
cain son of man
tell him I
The overall "object to be sought" by our instructors was to try to contend with the entire notion of "representation", what it might mean "to pass". By the end of the week, I reported that I only had questions...many more questions. I felt as a Martian attempting to learn Greek from an earthling. I was not told, informed, encouraged to continue the course. This would have been a truly awesome time to escape the velocity I felt gathering within my mind. I could have. I did not.
As a mystery writer, there is something inside of me which always seeks to know the "why" of a thing. I'm told that is what makes me a good educator, as well. I had never before encountered any moment that just simply could not be understood. I had never been so deeply affected by the literary works of others.
It is true that I did want more. But, what would become profoundly clear to me--very shortly, is that I did need more of this course. Suddenly, it wasn't even about my Father's face any more. It was about my life. This is a subject of which many words have been written, yet for me this is a subject with much I do not understand.
I hoped the next week might bring some enlightenment to me. I would not be disappointed, but I would come to regret my wish.
The series begins here.
The series continues here.
I would like to publicly thank The University of California-Santa Cruz, Janice Laznier, the Helen Diller Memorial Foundation, and the School for Jewish Studies for the honor of including some of my words from this series in a future volume of the longest running Journal on Jewish Literature studies in the country: "Leviathon Jewish Journal", their magazine.
UPDATE: If the Federal Government shuts down, take a guess at one of the affected Agencies: http://www.ushmm.org/...