Howard Jacobson: 'A feelgood Holocaust exploits the dead and demeans the living'
It once felt impious just to mention Auschwitz. Now, 75 years after its liberation, the death camp has spawned a literary subgenre – and Hitler is in Oscar-nominated comedy Jojo Rabbit. Are we betraying the dead?
We think of understanding as our greatest gift, and language as our greatest means of expressing it, but it was Primo Levi – author of If This Is a Man, the finest of all accounts of life in the camps – who warned against “understanding” the Nazi project to eliminate the Jews, as though it were susceptible to rationality. It might be that the deep bedrock of the soul is a better place to house what defeats reason than the printed page or the cinema screen.
For many who survived incarceration and torture, Appelfeld’s silence became a way of being, without consolation or salve. The idea of cure, let alone transfiguration, belongs to a later generation of Holocaust excavators, those who had not experienced for themselves but wanted to speak as though they had, either to berate those they felt hadn’t learned its lessons or simply to profit from it in some way – peddling kitsch being the most profitable.THE GUARDIAN