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Excerpt from The Culture of Make Believe

Holocaust Is Not Unique (p. 564)

From chapter "Holocausts"

I think often of a conversation I had several years ago with a friend who’s a longtime environmental activist. She’s Jewish. She’d been down to visit her parents in Florida, and, while there, had gone to a theater to see Schindler’s List. It had been a disturbing experience for her, she’d said, because, afterward, “All these blue-haired old Jewish ladies came out shaking their fists and saying, ‘Never again!”’ When she’d said this to me, my friend had made a quick, almost reflexive motion with her head, as though trying to clear her brain from some grave confusion, or clear her mouth from some bitter taste. She’d said, “Don’t they realize it’s ongoing?”

“They’ve probably never heard of the U’Wa,” I said.

“The U’Wa?” she replied. “Except for the football team they’ve probably never even heard of the Seminóles, and they’re living on Seminole land.”

By pretending that the Holocaust (capital Hto distinguish it from all the others) is Unique (capital U, because, of course, every holocaust is unique) we get to isolate it, pretend it was an aberration, a single incomprehensible act of unparalleled evil committed by a nation inexplicably in the thrall of a monstrously and, somehow, charismatically insane individual. We get to pretend that it was not an inevitable consequence of a way of perceiving others and of being in the world.

I used to wonder at the vehemence—even violence—with which some people insist that the Holocaust is Unique. There’s an obvious answer, which is that Jews—as a whole—are White. They’re civilized. They believe in Production. They even have flesh-colored skin. All of which is to say that they’re people, as opposed to the others whom we kill—the indigenous of Africa, Europe, Asia, the Americas, Oceania, and the islands, as well as the poor the world over (and, most especially, the nonhumans)—who do not worship Production, and who therefore are not people in the fullest sense, and who, therefore, under the rules of civilized intercourse, can be eradicated with impunity. So, of course, there would be a tremendous sense of betrayal. We are, in a sense, killing our own. Brother killing brother. Brother killing sister.

There’s more to it than this, though. It’s crucial to the perpetuation of our culture that we perceive the Holocaust as Unique. This accomplishes much the same thing as pretending the KKK was not a true grassroots organization, and as pretending the essential cessation of lynchings in the United States manifested a collective racial epiphany. It allows meaningful analysis to stop, or, better, to lead us away from ourselves, so we can spend endless years dissecting some distant other—What if Hitler had been successful at painting? Did he contract syphilis from a Jewish woman?—we can blame for this otherwise unfathomable series of atrocities. This shunting of attention is necessary if we’re going to continue to live the way we do. Don’t look. Don’t see. Don’t tell.To pretend the Holocaust is Unique is to allow us to not question our own way of living, to not question our own innocence. It allows us to pretend we share no motivations with the perpetrators, pretend we share no cultural imperatives, no code. It allows us, one and all, to be good Germans in the larger ongoing holocaust of the planet and of its inhabitants. It allows us to continue to be decent White men. It allows us to remain civilized. It allows us to avoid being cursed by Noah, our patriarch. It allows us not to have to walk alone and afraid into the wilderness.