Routine atrocities

August 27, 2015

In reviewing Debarati Sanyal’s Memory and Complicity: Migrations of Holocaust Remembrance (Books, 6 August), Robert Eaglestone summarises and endorses her argument that “the memory of the Holocaust enables other memories of oppression and violence to appear”. The clearest example of this is apparently the Alain Resnais documentary Night and Fog (1955), “the landmark film on the Nazi Genocide”, which “was about the extermination of the European Jews, but also, allegorically, about the vicious French colonial war in Algeria”. The point about the “multi-directionality” of Holocaust remembrance would have been more accurately made if it had been acknowledged that Resnais’ great film is not about the Holocaust as currently conceived. That narrative became dominant only in the 1960s after the Adolf Eichmann trial and the publication of Raul Hilberg’s The Destruction of the European Jews. There is no mention of “genocide” or “Holocaust” in Resnais’ film, and only one use of the words “Jew” or “Jewish”. This occurs in a list of future inmates of the concentration camps – “Burger, a German workman, Stern, a Jewish student from Amsterdam, Schmulski, a shopkeeper in Krakow, Annette, a schoolgirl in Bordeaux”. The emphasis falls on the many different nations represented in the camps rather than on Jews as the principal victims. This makes it easier for Resnais to imply connections between the Nazi atrocities and subsequent historical events but sets his film firmly apart from most Western narratives since the 1960s (the Soviet Union had always minimised the Jewish dimension).

Rowland Wymer
Emeritus professor of English
Anglia Ruskin University

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