Novelist Takes Aim at World of Holocaust Commemoration
My Holocaust, By Tova Reich (HarperCollins)
Reich is no stranger to the world of Holocaust commemoration — indeed, no stranger to the twisted tale of the Carmelite sisters of Auschwitz. When, in 1989, a group of protesters scaled the fence surrounding the convent, which at that time was located on the grounds of the death camp itself, they were led by her brother Rabbi Avi Weiss — or “that crazy spiderman rabbi,” as one of the novel’s characters calls him. The author is also the wife of Walter Reich, who served as director of D.C.’s Holocaust museum from 1994 to 1998. His departure came in the aftermath of a public relations disaster set into motion by a botched attempt to have Yasser Arafat visit the institution. Though the invitation was said to have been initiated by the museum’s then chairman, Miles Lerman, it seemed as though Reich was made to take the fall.
“My Holocaust” is clearly an attempt to settle some old scores. Yet, while there are similarities between Lerman and Messer — as there are ties between Messer’s chief aide, Monty Pincus, and historian Michael Berenbaum — it would be a mistake to see Reich’s novel as a simple roman à clef. The book is far more than the story of a couple of boobs trying to run a museum. It is, rather, a much grander indictment, an indictment of an entire universe of groups — Catholic, Mormon, German, Polish, Japanese, African American, Native American, Palestinian, feminist and more — all looking to claim their own little slice of Holocaust victimhood. Despite parallels to real-world entities, this is a work of the imagination, through and through.
But the fact that she’s writing fiction does not in any way diminish the force of Reich’s sting. She doesn’t just skewer her subjects; she puts them on the grill and chars them. ...
Such is the apotheosis of suffering, Reich seems to be saying, a theology as un-Jewish as it is impracticable. And yet, despite her critiques of the Holocaust business and of the countless hangers-on trying to claim their piece of it, Reich doesn’t seem to offer an alternative to the thorny questions of just how to preserve properly the memory of the 6 million and just what connection the Holocaust has to other atrocities, past, present and future. Then again, maybe her answers are so simple as to be staring one right in the face. Maybe the Holocaust has no connection to history’s other horrors, and maybe the 6 million should be allowed to just rest in peace.