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Conscience and Memory Meditations in a Museum of the Holocaust cover
  • ISBN: 9780226424163
  • ISBN10: 0226424162

Conscience and Memory Meditations in a Museum of the Holocaust

by Harold Kaplan

  • List Price: $24.95
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Publisher: Univ of Chicago Pr
  • Publish date: 03/01/1994
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Prompted by the suicides of Jean Amery and Primo Levi, Harold Kaplan sought to ask what the Holocaust can be said to affirm even in the face of its overwhelming negation of meaning. "I wrote this book", he explains, "to translate the Holocaust out of the moral and intellectual shock which contemplates the alienation of humanity from itself. I wished to understand the 'crime against humanity' as a viable category of the moral reason. And l wished to respond to the written testimony of Holocaust victims and survivors as if the issue of their survival were present to us today". Kaplan simulates the response to a long visit to the new Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C., which, crucially for Kaplan, is sited in direct view of the Jefferson and Lincoln monuments, powerful symbols of humanist democracy. He insists the Holocaust be viewed not only in terms of personal ethics but modern political ethics as well: for Kaplan the affirmative legacy of the Holocaust is its focus on the dangers of nationalism, racism, and all forms of separatist group identities. It challenges the historicism, cults of power, and scientistic politics of our modernity. And it challenges the moral passivity and relativism that afflict people as they confront mass politics, whether in Western or Eastern societies. With the opening of the Holocaust museum, a debate has been sparked, one that reflects the larger debate over the Holocaust's "meaning", its translatability for ordinary human understanding. Some deny any possible response except that of overwhelming grief and horror. For others, the "lesson" of the Holocaust implies, in the words of Robert Nozick, that "mankind has fallen....Humanity has lost its claim tocontinue". As long as we have a civilization, the moral life of mankind and the political structure of human institutions will remain endlessly tormented by the Holocaust. That, Kaplan tells us, is the ultimate content of its "meaning", and is what makes the discussion of "meaning" much more than a mourner's symposium. After fifty years, the Holocaust is closer than ever as a determining crisis in human moral history. Great and small issues of conflict have survived the Cold War as well as the war against Nazism and Fascism. They are in large part aroused and maintained by the group chauvinisms of race, religion, and nation, and point to the need for an overriding loyalty, a humanism that crosses cultural and political barriers. The Museum itself, according to Kaplan, has become an impressive memorial to that principle, instructing the collective memory of this democracy and that of nations everywhere which aspire to civil existence. Out of its awful darkness the Holocaust throws the light of conscience for those capable of receiving it.
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