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“Holocaust Literature: Humanity Reborn”

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  1. Introduction
  2. Memory vs. history
  3. A strictly historical approach to the Holocaust
  4. Baring witness to the Holocaust
  5. Conclusion

If Holocaust literature strives to portray the paradoxical (the representation of the unrepresentable, the expression of the inexpressible), maybe it too is a paradox. Confessions of the unspeakable, the unthinkable in written word. And yet it exists, tangible, published. In memoir and fiction and essays, these expressions and representations brought to life by countless authors, countless survivors. The witnesses to apocalypse found. No, Holocaust literature is only a paradox when it is misunderstood, when the intentions of these authors, men and women like Primo Levi, Elie Wiesel, and Sara Nomberg-Przytyk, are mistaken for historical value alone. To represent the unrepresentable, to represent the Holocaust, would be paradoxical; but Holocaust literature only represents personal experience. The Holocaust in its entirety is inexpressible, beyond comprehension. But individual stories and the individuals themselves are not. We, the readers, who hunger sixty years later to understand the Holocaust, we are responsible for creating this paradox, for we expect the impossible from these texts. These works are pieces of human experience, maybe even pieces of humanity itself. Experience, not explanation. Holocaust literature is unique to each author, for each experience is unique, each story lived differently, told differently. In a sense, maybe the term ?Holocaust literature? is the paradox: it is literature instead about individuals transformed in the face of inhumanity's darkest hour.

[...] We can learn from history, but we better learn from experience, because experience provides the humanity that history often overlooks. We learn best from example, not from textbooks. And Holocaust literature is far from a collection of textbooks: it is the essence of humanity, translated into the written word. Like literature, we expect much from history. A beginning, a middle, an end; a time, a place, a plot. A climax, and most importantly, a resolution. But history is often sculpted afterward, molded into a timeline that makes sense. [...]


[...] he and others were saved by the hand of God to fulfill a duty. This duty, to write, to record, to ensure the immortalization of suffering. It may not be Divine plan, but still they feel an obligation. They are not writing for us, students in a classroom grappling with the impossibility of understanding a phenomenon too far removed. They write for those who understand that the Holocaust will never be understood: they wrote mostly for themselves. Not a selfish act at all, but an act of honesty. [...]

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