Thursday, February 26, 2009

Distance and the Holocaust

(Photo of the electric fence at Sachsenhausen concretation camp by bsto.)

Last night I couldn't sleep after reading Tadeusz Borowski's short story within the eponymous book "This Way For The Gas Ladies and Gentlemen."

Having taking classes and written on both tragedy and comedy, I find it is the combination of the two that makes the most effective emotive impact. Regarding Holocaust literature, think Maus, by Art Spiegelman (who I will get to speak to in April). Anyway we can talk about dark humor another day.

...I couldn't sleep last night.

But honestly, I knew that I could have if I had really tried. I hadn't shed a tear. And it comes down to one thing:


Distance is our asset right now. Now is the perfect time to study the Holocaust. We--my generation--are removed enough to face the facts without being paralyzed or suffocated by them; we are far enough from Germany to avoid getting sick of seeing artifacts, evidence at every street corner. Even as I was affected by "This Way For The Gas Ladies and Gentlemen," I knew I could sleep.

Still, we are close enough to be touched by real survivors, to see a grandfather struggle to pronounce the word "Auschwitz" not because of his experience but because of what could have been his experience. We are close enough to know what the Holocaust really was.

Our generation, therefore, has the biggest burden to shoulder. No one-on-one interviews with survivors or first-hand witnesses. They will mostly be gone by the time we finish graduate school, certainly before we reach 40.

No. We will be the ones who delineate the canon, who write the policies, who adjudicate between representations and memories of the Holocaust.

It's a responsibility and an honor. But our time, of course, is flying by.