Ref. :  000001888
Date :  2001-10-02
Language :  English
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Shoah

Shoah

Author :  Reyes Mate


In so far as ‘globalisation’ represents in its most optimistic predictions the realisation of the universalist dimension, and where this dimension failed in the first project of the Enlightenment, to link ‘globalisation’ and the Shoah consists of writing universality in relation with the Shoah. This relationship acquires an existence and consolidates itself in the fact that there is a pre and a post Shoah. The universality of the Shoah consists in the end of one time and the opening of another. Its universalist force paradoxically lies in the singularity of this event, in the way that it constitutes a compulsory referent for new political, ethical and esthetic projects, whatever they be.

Much has been written and argued about the singularity or the uniqueness of the Shoah. It is certain that it is not in a qualitative denomination of the assassinated nor in a quantitative comparison of its dead with those of other wars, but in its exemplarity and in its capacity to be used as an example for signifying evil or suffering, at a moment when it may be of importance to think of the world or to want to change it. The Shoah is exemplary for the following reasons: in the first place, in the extreme singularity of the assassination, it was about making all the Jews disappear, using an elementary system which went to the point of destroying even the ashes, of a process of total extermination which left no trace behind it, no witness, not even a corpse so that Humanity wipes out all memory of it. In the second place, the Shoah represents an exceptional case of absolute evil, the absolute character of evil: a whole people was killed for the simple fact of being Jewish, and not for having done this or that, but for being or for having committed the crime of being born Jewish. It was like a general mobilization of freedom against innocence. In the third place, is the total implication of genocide that makes it unique. Such an atrocity was possible because, even before its physical liquidation, Europe had undertaken a metaphysical elimination of the Jew, expelling him, with the indifference, or even the complicity of the rest of the world, from his condition as a man. Finally, despite all these approximations and those that we could still imagine, the Shoah continues to remain incomprehensible, and it is not possible to explain clearly why freedom made such a decision.

The singularity of this event questions the good faith and the rationality of all project of earlier or contemporary civilisation. Indeed, such a project of civilization was at the origin of this barbarism, or it was its accomplice, or it was indifferent to it. If we do not wish to renounce the humanity of Man, we must project civilization from the Shoah, which means realizing the consequences of this break in History. To think post-Shoah means to substitute memory for the concept, a memory which is firstly that of the victims.

As far as politics is concerned, to think post-Auschwitz proposes taking the concentration camp as the location of modern politics. The camp is this location of ‘state of exception’ where rights are suspended and man rests literally abandoned and condemned to a bando (order of murder, without trial, executable by anyone), reduced to the nudity of life. Kafka had anticipated this when he described the reduction of man to animal. And it is only by discovering this reductive animalisation to which we are submitted by the political system that we could speak of an ‘alternative politics’.

Moral reflection flies entirely in the face of a ‘crime against humanity’. But we should not only understand it as a crime which cannot be legally prescribed or which cannot be erased from consciences, but as an attack against the humanity of man. The same thing happens with the humanity of man as with nature: there are some attacks which produce irreversible devastation. In the same way that in the case of the Shoah, certain qualities of Humanity were seriously ‘attacked’ of definitively destroyed. We have finished with the classical or Enlightenment theories according to which we are born as moral subjects. The humanity of man is a conquest and human existence does not guarantee its salute. The secret of humanity comes back to the victims, to the muselmen (in camp slang, that meant the final moment of physical and moral degradation of man), amongst whom, despite an inhuman situation, resides the question of humanity whose response allows us to arrive at the port of humanity. In the man who has become waste dissimulates an absolute demand that converts him into this ‘other’ to whom we have an absolute responsibility if we want to become men ourselves.

‘Can we still write poetry after Auschwitz’? Adorno’s rhetorical question caused a deep interrogation over what art and beauty meant after the horror of the gas chambers. To this Paul Celan, a survivor closer to the extermination camps than Adorno, replied that yes, it was possible, but on the condition that the refusal to ‘aesthetise’ is married to the obligation to remember. This dual demand is consolidated in a work of art which renounces the aesthetic recreation of this past of death (as did, for example, Schindler’s list) and chooses to make the experience of suffering real (as is the case with the Claude Lanzmann film Shoah).

We said that the force of universalisation of the Shoah resides in the paradox of its singularity, which allows us to use it as an example or model of barbarism for the contemporary conscience. But what does it really mean? Why is it so exemplary in relation to other barbaric situations, the atomic bombs on Hiroshima or Nagasaki, Central African genocides or massacres in the former Yugoslavia? Simply in the fact that if truth be told, it let suffering speak. We can now separate thought and pain, theory of justice from the experience of injustice –in a word: from suffering. We broke with the Western idealism which since Plato thought that the truth of this world, of its problems and conflicts was found beyond experience, in the world of ideas. We are the concentration and extermination camp survivors, which means that nostalgia for times gone by is forbidden, as well as the innocence or irresponsibility of he who never had anything to do with that. The Shoah is a wakeup call which warns us that barbarism has not ceased to occur in our history, even when it has hidden under a make up of grandeur, rationality or morality.


(On the same problem or on connected issues we recommend the following article in Spanish by a different author : ¿Enseñanzas de la Shoah?)


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