Sunday, June 17, 2007

Tova Reich's "My Holocaust"

From a review in The Washington Post by Melvin Jules Bukiet:
An innocent eye -- if such a thing exists anymore -- might assume that this is shock for shock's sake, yet Reich is not trivializing. Precisely the opposite; she's writing about trivializing. ...

Serious and hilarious and utterly scathing -- no, lacerating; no, disemboweling -- My Holocaust takes no prisoners in its two short, bookended chapters and its two lengthy set pieces, one inside the museum's hallowed walls and another on a special donors' tour of Auschwitz. Reich knows this territory intimately; her husband, Walter, used to be the head of the D.C. institution she now pillories....

Throughout the book, Reich goes too far, a clear strategy to spark attention after reams of authentic or sanctimonious tears have drowned many people's capacity to feel genuine grief. Reich accomplishes this by turning tragedy into a farce of greed and phony redemption and cheap moralism in which "everyone wants a piece of the Holocaust pie." Still, Reich reserves her most brutal commentary for the so-called "universalists" who use empathy and spuriously heartfelt identification to exterminate the particular, historical tragedy of the Jewish people.

As usual, unknowing Maurice says it best. The purpose of the Holocaust is "to make lessons, of course, to make memorials mit morals." Yet there's almost -- dare I say it? -- faith at work in Reich's willful outrage. Faith that evil is at large in the world. Also faith that we're too stupid to see it for more than a blink in time. "Who," she cries, "would ever have imagined that this . . . would metastasize into a fatal plague of persecutees, an epidemic of victims, a pestilence of freelance and copycat Holocausts?"

Beneath the humor lies the pure fury that once animated thoughts about the original atrocity. Tova Reich is the master of fury's return.

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