On the plane to
I gave them the example of how the late Simon Wiesenthal invented, without any basis in fact, the notion that the Holocaust constitutes the murder of 6 million Jews and 5 million non-Jews.
I have just finished reading Samuel Kassow’s magnificent book, Who Will Write Our History? I had posted a superlative review of the book a few weeks ago. The review is absolutely accurate. The book is an outstanding contribution not just to our history of the Holocaust and a stellar exploration of how history – even in the most dire circumstances – can and should be preserved.
We wanted the simplest most unadorned account possible of what happened in each shtetl and what happened to each Jew [and in this war each Jews is like a world in itself.] Any superfluous word, any literary exaggeration grated and repelled…. It is unnecessary to add an extra sentence.
In late 1942 Ringelblum wrote, what are our “goals? A photograph of life. Not literature but science.”
Another member of the group, Menakhem Mendel Kon, wrote in his diary in the fall 1942: “I consider it a sacred duty for everyone… to write down everything he has seen or heard from others about what the Germans have done….It must all be recorded without a single fact left out.”
As Kassow demonstrates so forcefully, these people wanted: objective scholarship that avoided apologetics, bitter accusations, and blatant emotions. This, they believed, was the best way to serve the nation.
In short, matters were bad enough without making them seem even worse.
Rachel Auerbach – one of only 3 survivors of Oyneg Shabbes wrote in her memoirs:
The mass murder, the murder of millions of Jews by the Germans is a fact that speaks for itself. It is very dangerous to add to this subject interpretations or analyses. [That] can quickly turn into hopeless hysteria or endless sobs. So one must approach this subject with the greatest caution, in a restrained and factual manner…
An anonymous resident of the ghetto scrawled in margin of questionnaire on German-Jewish relations: Facts!
Many things made this week gratifying for me but chief among them was the way in which the participants were willing to be receptive to my push that they stick to the facts and not base their impressions on “romanticized” or “mythologized” versions of history.
It was tough teaching at times but it was, I am convinced, well worth the effort.