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The Fragility of Empathy after the Holocaust

jan peczkis|Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Fragility of Empathy after the Holocaust    
The title of this book is misleading. It makes the reader suppose that this book is about how the moral capital of Jews, caused by gentile sympathy because of the Shoah, is slipping away. Instead, this book is not about that at all. Instead, it rehashes the standard fare of books of this type.


Author Carolyn J. Dean suggests that the constant exposure of people to the Holocaust, far from creating and sustaining a “Never Again!” atmosphere, actually dulls them to violence and to the suffering of others. However, isn’t desensitization a characteristic of modern mass media IN GENERAL? (For instance, wasn’t the constant featuring of homosexuals, on TV, part of a strategy of desensitizing the general population to it?).

The author goes further. She suggests that, in a sense, the media portrayals of the Holocaust have become a sort of pornography (p. 22)—in that they both titillate the viewer (to see the violence), and then end up dulling the viewer (to violence)—in much the same way that pornography causes both short-term titillation and long-term desensitization in sexual matters. As an example, she cites Jerzy Kosinski’s THE PAINTED BIRD, which had been widely criticized as a “pornography of violence”. (p. 24).


Author Carolyn J. Dean features the ideas of Daniel Goldhagen, who suggested that Germans as a whole share complicity in the Holocaust (pp. 45-on), even though only a small fraction of them were actively involved in it. However, exactly the same could be said about collective Jewish complicity in the crimes of Communism, even though only a small fraction of Jews were actively involved in it.

The author (p. 80) repeats the canned complaint that the people of Poland, Ukraine, Japan, etc., see themselves as victims and not victimizers while, just as predictably, exempting the Jews from this same standard.


Interestingly, the author touches on Jewish influence (even dominance) in Weimar Germany. She comments, “And he [Daniel Goldhagen] also ignores the gains Jews made in Germany before 1933 and the tremendous social and cultural status they enjoyed; thus he implied that they remained willfully blind to the virulent hatred all around them.” (p. 48). [But hasn’t it been elsewhere suggested that Jews sometimes have a blind spot about legitimate gentile objections to their conduct?]

The fate of German Jews varied. Most of those German Jews who were married to German gentiles ended up surviving WWII. (p. 83).


The title of this book does not convey, to the reader, the extensive attention that the author pays to the relationship of Nazism and homosexuality. (pp. 107-on). Dean also puts it in historical context. For instance, during a series of famous 1906-1909 trials against some of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s advisors, leading Jewish sexologists such as Magnus Hirschfeld accused these advisors of homosexuality. (p. 116).

Interestingly, author Carolyn J. Dean (p. 188) cites Dagmar Herzog and his SEX AFTER FASCISM. Herzog showed that the notion of the Nazis being sexually repressed did not emerge until after 1966, and was a retrospective fantasy about Nazism. She also contended that Nazism challenged strict bourgeois morality while paying lip service to middle-class sexual conventions.
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