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Surprising and distressing

image: Letters headerResponding to an article by Peter Novick, author of The Holocaust in American Life, an excerpt from which appeared in the June-August/99 Magazine, two readers have provided a letter to the editor carried in the October issue with the head "Holocaust as political industry." Their assertion that "perhaps what is truly unique about the Holocaust is the ability of its exploiters to preemptively silence their critics" is belied by the very appearance of their own letter in the Magazine. What is really surprising, and distressing, is that these graduates of the University are not embarrassed and ashamed even to have sent in such correspondence.

Full of cracks about "wealthy and influential American Jews," "Israel-firsters," and a so-called "Holocaust industry," their letter is permeated with bigotry-laden stereotypes and seethes with hostility. Though they may claim that views like theirs rarely see the light of day, such notions are common in the publications and Internet sites produced by conspiracy-driven anti-Semitic hate groups scattered through the land.

Apparently limiting themselves to Professor Novick's article, the writers say that he "stops short of asking who invented the Holocaust in the first place. Who decided to...transform genocide into a political weapon and fund-raising tool?" As it happens, Novick's book implicitly does ask questions of that sort, if in a less gross fashion. And at least in its subtext it answers them in a way that anticipates the letter writers' objectionable view that the American public has been manipulated by people with a parochial agenda.

In the post-cold war environment, with more and more information available to scholars, journalists, and governmental investigators, increasing attention is being given to the Holocaust as a central event of the waning century. Sadly, as the efforts to better understand that event and to come to grips with its moral implications accelerate, there are those like the writers of the October letter who seem compelled to use the occasion to malign the motives and principles of the very group that was a particular target of Hitler and his henchmen. Unintentionally, they prove, pace Professor Novick, that there are indeed lessons to be learned from the Holocaust.

Michael C. Kotzin, AB'62
Highland Park, Illinois

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