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HOLOCAUST STUDIES 

Reflections and Predictions 


Peter Hayes 



CENTER FOR ADVANCED HOLOCAUST STIDES 


MEI 






Holocaust Studies 

Reflections and Predictions 

Peter Hayes 


Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Annual Lecture 
November 15,2013 


The assertions, opinions, and conclusions in this occasional paper are those of the author. 
They do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 


First printing, January 2014 
Copyright © 2014 by Peter Hayes 


THE JOSEPH AND REBECCA MEYERHOFF ANNUAL LECTURE honors excellence in 
Holocaust research and fosters dissemination of cutting-edge Holocaust scholarship. Generous 
philanthropists, Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff of Baltimore, Maryland, provided support to 
organizations world-wide, focusing on Jewish learning and scholarship, music, the arts, and 
humanitarian causes. Their children, Eleanor Katz and Harvey M. Meyerhoff, Chairman 
Emeritus of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, endowed this lecture. 



Good evening, and thank you all for coming. Thanks, too, to the United States Holocaust 
Memorial Museum for the honor of being invited to speak here tonight. I particularly want to 
express my gratitude to two people: Director Sara Bloomfield, who is an alumna of 
Northwestern and who, I am proud to announce tonight, will receive an honorary degree from 
the university next June, and Nicole Frechette, who did much of the heavy lifting behind the 
scenes for this event. 

Those tha nk s said, please pennit me to begin with a confession. When I accepted the 
invitation to speak this evening on this topic, I may have been in the grip of hubris. Having just 
co-edited The Oxford Handbook of Holocaust Studies with John Roth—a task that involved each 
of us reading and emending each of the 47 chapters multiple times—I seem to have 
overestimated my command of what has become a vast and manifold subject. At least that’s the 
way things looked to me while actually writing this lecture. The pertinence of the phrase “the sea 
is so wide, and my boat is so small” occurred to me more than once over the past few months. 

And then there is that daunting final word in the subtitle, “predictions.” It’s my own fault, 
but in choosing it, I apparently forgot something that I’ve often had occasion to say: I am a 
historian, and the only thing I regularly predict is the past, which is difficult enough. The future 
is not my department, and assaying it is even more perilous. It is, I can’t help observing, full of 
what a fonner secretary of defense rather infamously referred to as “known u nkn owns” and 
“u nkn own u nkn owns.” Under the former heading—known unknowns, the things we know we 
don’t know—come the advances that specialists already see that we need, but that no one has 
managed to make. Peering ahead, it is hard to discern the forms these advances will take, but one 
can at least state the problems they will address. Under the latter heading come breakthroughs 
that juxtapose pieces of existing and new knowledge in entirely unanticipated and intuitively 


2 • HOLOCAUST STUDIES: REFLECTIONS AND PREDICTIONS 


persuasive ways, which is precisely why they seem like field-changers. Only their brilliantly 
creative authors can see them coming. 

Perhaps the distinction will become clear if I refer to two recent books that seem to me to 
epitomize each category and to demonstrate the vitality and potential of Holocaust studies. By 
singling out works of history, I do not mean to imply that my own discipline is where all or even 
most of the action is in this disparate field of study. I do believe that in Holocaust studies, 
historians have special responsibilities and duties, to which I will return toward the end of my 
remarks tonight, but right now I am merely taking my illustrations from the territory I know best. 

As an example of the first fonn of breakthrough book, the one that addresses a known 
unknown, that meets a long recognized but elusive desideratum, I think of Wendy Lower’s fine 
and brand-new work, Hitler’s Furies} For at least thirty years, scholars have sought ways to 
bring gender into the story of the Holocaust in consequential fashion, and a few works have 
achieved a measure of success in this regard, particularly in revealing distinct women’s 
responses to persecution. - Yet the goal remained unfulfilled until Lower’s remarkable book, 
which tells in breadth and depth the story of the involvement in the Holocaust of the more than 
half a million German women who served as secretaries, nurses, radio operators, receptionists, 
teachers, and the like in the occupied German East. Why does Lower succeed better than 
previous aspirants? Above all, because she found—and in some cases through interviews 
actually created—sources that most scholars did not know were present, and then she embeds 
these pieces of evidence into broader historical context. The result is a book that operates deftly 
and simultaneously at the micro and macro levels of experience, conveying German women as 
individuals yet as products of credible collective processes. Only someone steeped for decades in 
the study of the Third Reich’s barbarous eastern operations could have pulled this off. 

My case in point with regard to the second category, a field-changing book whose 
contribution I and most other specialists did not anticipate, but which most of us instantly 
recognized as powerfully and productively recasting much of what we have thought about the 
Holocaust, is Tim Snyder’s Bloodlcmds, published in 2010. Snyder starts from a well-known but 
underappreciated fact, namely that 75% of the victims of the Holocaust lived within the prewar 
borders of three countries: Poland, Lithuania, and the Soviet Ukraine. He juxtaposes to that a less 
generally familiar but to historians of Eastern Europe well known fact, namely that these same 
places were the settings in the 1930s and again in the interval between 1939 and 1941 of 
enonnous carnage carried out at Stalin’s behest, most of it rooted in ethnic mistrust. And then he 
shows in heart-breaking detail what these two facts had to do with one another. 



Peter Hayes • 3 


The result is an excruciating tapestry of suffering, but also a spin of the interpretive 
kaleidoscope. The German assault on the Jews becomes part and parcel of a multi-dimensional, 
multi-sided vortex of ethnic animosities in a particular place. This not only decenters 
antisemitism as the driver of what happened and relegates it to being one among multiple causes, 
but also encourages a somewhat uncomfortable empathy with some of the non-Jews caught in 
the tragedy that the vortex created. Snyder is a careful, measured writer; even so, his argument, 
like many initial statements of a thesis, strikes some people as having overshot the mark. 
Nonetheless, there can be no going back after his book. Henceforth the study of the Holocaust in 
Eastern Europe, where it was for the most part played out, will no longer be two- or even three- 
dimensional—no longer seen as a story of relations between Germans and Jews or Germans, 
Jews, and the predominant local population—but rather as deeply embedded in the complicated 
and multivalent particulars of that time and place. 

So you see my problem with that promise to make predictions. The best new work often 
falls under either of two headings, works that address known problems in hitherto unanticipated 
fashion or works that identify wholly new problems that no one but the author had recognized. 
Given these difficulties, is it any wonder that I am going to take refuge for the next few minutes 
in the soothing comfort of the past in order to trace how far the field of Holocaust studies has 
come? 

II 

In doing so, I am going to start, in defiance of Lewis Carroll and Alice, not at the 
beginning, but at the end, with a glance at where we are now, or at least where one astute author 
placed us very recently. In 2005, in the epilogue to his brilliant book Postwar, Tony Judt 
described how far awareness of the Holocaust as a subject has come since 1945. The arc is 
dramatic. Judt traces the transfonnation of the assault on Europe’s Jews from a topic virtually no 
one wanted to hear about after World War II to one whose discussion has become, as he puts it, 
the required national “entry ticket” to the European Union, and whose occurrence is recognized 
as “the dark ‘other’ against which postwar Europe was laboriously constructed.” 4 Instead of the 
world of the 1950s and 1960s, when Primo Levi, Elie Wiesel, and Raul Hilberg had difficulty 
finding publishers, the world of the twenty-first century is one in which pertinent titles pour from 
the presses. We can all recite the milestones in this process, so there is no need for me to do so 
more than cursorily: The video ones include The Diary of Anne Frank, Exodus, Judgment at 
Nuremberg, The Pawnbroker, The Sorrow and the Pity, the TV miniseries Holocaust, Claude 
Lanzmann’s Shoah, and, of course, Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. Since the 1970s, the 
output of significant films arguably has slackened a bit, while that of books has increased 



4 • HOLOCAUST STUDIES: REFLECTIONS AND PREDICTIONS 


exponentially. I’m told that the Library of Congress now contains more than 16,000 titles on the 
Holocaust. Among them are the giant achievements that no one interested in the topic can do 
without—Hilberg’s volumes, Saul Friedlander’s Nazi Germany and the Jews, and Christopher 
Browning’s The Origins of the Final Solution —along with numerous affecting memoirs and 
fictional accounts, of which Viktor Klemperer’s I Will Bear Witness and the writings of 
Charlotte Delbo, Imre Kertesz, and Levi and Wiesel probably have had the widest reception and 
will have the longest shelf life. And then, there are this building and its location—and the similar 
edifices and placements in London, Paris, and Berlin—as testimonials to how central Holocaust 
studies have become to modern consciousness. 

What has happened in the space of only the past thirty-five years, I maintain, is a radical 
shift in historical optics. In 1945, and for several decades thereafter, the Holocaust did not stand 
out in popular or historical memory from the general destructiveness and carnage of World War 
II. To some degree, especially in Europe, the inattention was self-serving, as claims that “we all 
suffered in the war” and refusal to recognize the extremity of what had been done to Jews 
allowed non-Jews to downplay their passive and active collusion in it. The “Vichy Syndrome” 
hardly was confined to France, though it was most mendacious there. But, the inability to see the 
Holocaust in high relief was also an authentic product of the massive shock that World War II 
administered to Europeans. After all, thirty-six and one-half million of them had died from war- 
related causes between 1939 and 1945, over half of them civilians. At least fifty million 
Europeans had been made homeless. By 1943, thirty million inhabitants had been uprooted and 
transplanted, and that was before the Red Army’s advance toward Berlin set millions more in 
motion. The Nazis had pillaged on a scale never before seen, so much so, in fact, that what they 
plundered from non-Jews, including from the national treasuries that fell into German hands, was 
at least nine times greater than what they stole from Jews. As the war came to an end, 
transportation collapsed almost everywhere under hails of bombs and shells, food supplies 
slumped, currencies became worthless, workplaces went dark, infections spread, and a return to 
prosperity appeared inconceivable. Moreover, when that return came, it did not happen 
overnight. Amidst seemingly endless devastation and suffering, many people simply could not 
recognize the distinctness of the Nazi onslaught against the Jews. 

Nowadays, the rubble is not only long gone, but also forgotten. Imagining Auschwitz in 
1944 is easier than imagining Cologne or Coventry in that year for the simple reason that 
Auschwitz remains, though not exactly as it was, whereas the wreckage of Europe’s cities lives 
on only in faded photographs. As recently as twenty years ago, when I lived in East Berlin 
shortly after the fall of the wall, I could walk along the Oranienburgerstrasse and see buildings 



Peter Hayes • 5 


still pockmarked from the street fighting of April and May 1945. Today this is one of the 
trendiest and glitziest parts of a revived capital city. Is it any wonder that the current optic is the 
mirror image of 1945? My students, along with most interested younger people nowadays, 
cannot fathom the enormity of World War II because what the Nazi regime did to the Jews now, 
thanks, in part, to the cultural products to which I’ve referred and to museums like this one, not 
only stands out from, but also literally overshadows everything else that happened between 1939 
and 1945. 

So, the triumph of the Holocaust, and thus of Holocaust studies, has been its recognition 
as an injustice of distinct and instructive importance almost worldwide. My classes fill at 200 
students annually, and so do the classes of my colleagues in the U.S. and Europe, whatever their 
size. Museums long deferred now get built; reparations that people sought in vain for fifty years 
now flow; deniers still babble, but they also now risk punishment in court; and resentful 
complaints about “the Holocaust industry” and “Shoah business” scarcely dent the general 
consensus that the murder of the Jews was the emblematic crime of an extremely bloody 
twentieth century, the very heart of darkness in the “age of extremes.” 

Along with this achievement has come a string of subsidiary ones of great importance. 
Three stand out from my admittedly partial vantage point. First, Holocaust awareness and study 
have made an enonnous difference to the political culture of the country I have spent most of my 
life studying. The Holocaust is an unavoidable memory in Germany, above all in its capital city, 
where everything from paving stones to street signs to subway steps to plaques on houses and 
public buildings to vertical granite pillars in the city center calls attention to the viciousness that 
Germans meted out in the name of racial purity. The shameful recollection of the brutality of 
one’s ancestors is now embedded in Germans’ Verfassungspatriotismus, their “constitutional 
patriotism.” To remember in humility is regarded as the best protection, not only against 
repetition, but also of democracy. The German parliament meets annually on the anniversaries of 
Crystal Night and the liberation of Auschwitz to hear meditations on those events and their 
continued relevance. Take a moment to consider the significance of that. How many nations 
memorialize their most shameful actions like this, let alone annually? How many nations, 
including my own, would be better places if they did? 

Second, the growth of Holocaust awareness, now sustained by Holocaust studies, has 
contributed greatly to an under-noticed phenomenon of tremendous importance that is not 
confined to Germany. Many people worry today that antisemitism is on the rise and lament that 
Holocaust studies have done little to stem this supposed trend. I don’t agree with either 
perception, at least with regard to the Atlantic world, but I want to make a slightly different point 



6 • HOLOCAUST STUDIES: REFLECTIONS AND PREDICTIONS 


here. Holocaust studies have done a great deal to foster anti-antisemitism. Within the European 
Union and North America, making overtly biased remarks or actions toward Jews disqualifies a 
person or party from being taken seriously or deserving a hearing. The Hungarian government is 
right now learning how costly flirting with antisemitism can be. This is a tremendous 
improvement upon the world before 1945. For some perspective on how far we have come, 
consider the contrast between the poisonous atmosphere whipped up following financial scandals 
in late nineteenth-century France and Germany that involved a few Jews and the complete 
absence of such agitation in the United States following the financial meltdown of 2008, in 
which quite a few Jewish bank leaders played a central role. To students of antisemitism, the 
silence was deafeningly welcome, as it was a demonstration of the salutary constraints on ethnic 
generalization that knowledge of the Holocaust has helped engender in this society. 

Third, among Germans and among the historians who study them there and elsewhere, 
the enormous research strides of the past thirty years have wrought a decline in excuse-making. 
Among historians, the once popular concept of “functionalism” presented the crimes of the Nazi 
state as products of an infernal competitive spirit that operated like a ghost in the Nazi machine 
to drive it onto ever more destructive paths. This sort of abstraction was always—though not 
always intentionally—a sophisticated fonn of exculpation, and it is now definitively the wave of 
the past. It has given way to the subtle analyses of the mental worlds of perpetrators 
(Taterforschung) produced by Michael Wildt, Harald Welzer, and Thomas Kuhne and to what 
Neil Gregor has called aptly the “voluntarist turn” that emphasizes the breadth and enthusiasm of 
most Germans’ participation in the injustices of Nazism. 5 Though I thi nk the current swing of the 
pendulum in the latter respect has been too wide, it is nonetheless preferable to the apologetics of 
the 1950s and ’60s. They are not dead, of course. One can still encounter them in Bernard 
Schlink’s The Reader, albeit more so in the written than the cinematic version, and in some of 
the defensive reactions, including Schlink’s, to the recent report of the Historians’ Commission 
on the complicity of the German Foreign Office, in which I took part. 6 But, overall, the state of 
analysis and reflection is infinitely more subtle and penetrating than in the infancy of Holocaust 
studies. The prevalence, indeed ubiquity, of Primo Fevi’s concept of “gray zones” is eloquent 
testimony to this. 

Ill 

Even victories have costs, and so it is with the study of the Holocaust. With visibility can 
come vulgarization, with ubiquity, reductionism. Paul Fevine has noted a growing “gap between 
scholarship and public memory” about the Holocaust and called it a veritable “clash between 
‘town’ and ‘gown’.” 7 Michael Marrus observes, “as acknowledgement of the significance of the 



Peter Hayes • 7 


Holocaust has increased globally, an unfortunate accompaniment has been a loss of respect for 

o 

detailed knowledge of what actually happened.” Historians seem doomed henceforth to do with 
the Holocaust what they have to do with every subject: patrol the boundaries of accuracy and 
debunk the misconceptions and simplifications. To quote Tony Judt again, “Impossible to 
remember as it truly was, [the Holocaust] is inherently vulnerable to being remembered as it 
wasn’t.” 9 

Levine noticed the gap because he was writing about Raoul Wallenberg, so venerated a 
figure that I’m speaking tonight in a building located on a street renamed in his honor. In 
researching Wallenberg’s actions, Levine was struck by how little most people knew about their 
origins, more specifically how seldom people appreciated that his deeds in Budapest were the 
culmination of a two-year-long process by which Sweden gradually had extended the reach of its 
diplomatic protection to ever wider groups of Jews threatened in Europe. For all his heroism, 
Wallenberg initiated almost nothing; he applied the tools that his predecessors had developed in 
the forms of protective documents and residential placards. Indeed, the most effective of those 
tools was neither his nor even a Swedish invention; the Schutzbrief, the official-looking but 
bluffing protective letter, was the creation of Carl Lutz, the Swiss vice-consul in Budapest 

I have developed an hour-long lecture called “The Holocaust: Myths and 
Misconceptions,” which concentrates on nine widely held beliefs that historians constantly 
encounter and try—largely futilely—to correct when they address lay audiences. Some of these 
are variations on the fallacy of post hoc, ergo propter hoc, if a development followed another, it 
must have done so because of that other. For example, many people insist, against overwhelming 
evidence to the contrary, that antisemitism played a decisive role in bringing Hitler to power, and 
that Hitler planned to murder the Jews from the day he took office, if not from the day he entered 
political life. Some of the myths are tenacious expressions of wishful thinking, such as the view 
that the Allies could have done much to impede the killing once it began or that the Jews 
themselves could have reduced the death toll significantly if they had resisted more or at least 
acquiesced less in German demands or that the killing of the Jews undermined or seriously 
impeded the German war effort. And some of the myths are just elaborations of half-truths into 
full ones, such as the view that the slave labor system was propelled by corporate greed or that 
most perpetrators of the Holocaust escaped punishment after the war or that the Holocaust was a 
product of modernity, even though the killing places were extraordinarily primitive and the 
pseudo-science that drove the process was barnyard animal husbandry. 

And those are just the popular historical distortions; Saul Friedlander, Alvin Rosenfeld, 
and Fawrence Fanger have pointed out countless examples of the kitschy, the trite, and the 



8 • HOLOCAUST STUDIES: REFLECTIONS AND PREDICTIONS 


solipsistic works that claim to offer artistic or literary or cinematic insights, but end up twisting 
what happened or distracting from it. 10 Arguably, those who work in such fields have to deal 
with expository problems that are much more complicated than a historian’s. Normally, mixing 
fact and fiction is permissible in art; so is a measure of playfulness and a concentration on 
technique. But when deployed in relation to a subject of such overpowering pain and seriousness, 
these qualities test the boundaries of taste and respect. Yet we need attempts at new artistic 
representations of the Holocaust to continue, for one thing because they provide the route into 
the subject that most people find. Even I came in that way, in the late 1950s and early 1960s 
watching those films that I mentioned earlier and somehow relating them to the civil rights 
movement happening around me and to the lives of my Jewish friends. 

A final downside to the success of Holocaust studies is the temptation, apparently 
irresistible to some people, to appropriate the horror for their own contemporary purposes. 
LaRochefoucauld said that hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue. Well, 
instrumentalization is the respect that politics pays to history. Or, to make the point more 
harshly, one might say that once common people learn of something significant in the past, they 
will use it to common purposes. As a rhetorical trump, the subject will be invoked where it is 
disproportionate to the matter at hand and to serve arguments and causes that the victimized 
would never have countenanced. We have a lot of that in America, and, however unseemly, it 
will not go away. Attempts to steal the Holocaust will continue. They are the price we pay for the 
rhetorical power that the concept “Holocaust” has obtained. 

These tendencies toward distortion and disrespect are what have prompted Alvin 
Rosenfeld to write eloquently of a possible “end of the Holocaust,” by which he means “that the 
steady domestication of the Holocaust will blunt the horrors of this history and, over time, render 
them less outrageous and ultimately less knowable.” 11 He has a point, and anyone who has 
watched German junior high school groups traipse, distracted and giggling, through Buchenwald 
or Sachsenhausen or the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin knows what he 
means. But, captive audiences aside, I am less concerned. Perhaps because I am a professional 
historian, I have come through long experience to accept inexpert and self-serving views of 
history as fairly common among the general public, especially when the subject at hand arouses 
emotions or touches on group identities. To expect that with regard to the Holocaust, scholars 
will not constantly have to show how lay people or writers or directors or politicians refuse to let 
the facts get in the way of their good stories is to sacralize the Holocaust in unrealistic fashion. In 
this respect, the Holocaust is a piece of the past like every other, and specialists remain cast in 



Peter Hayes • 9 


the unenviable role of walking with the proverbial broom behind the elephant. It is dispiriting, 
but it is one of our reasons for being. 

IV 

So, what is the outlook for the future? Can the Holocaust stand up to the multiple 
impulses to reduce its recollection to cliche and, even worse, error? Will Holocaust studies 
disappear into genocide studies and the significance of the Nazis’ choice of primary target 
become lost in the social sciences’ pursuit of abstract covering laws? I am more optimistic than 
pessimistic on these matters, again perhaps because I am a historian. My kind has been around 
since Herodotus, at the latest, and the reports of our obsolescence have been both frequent and, 
pace Mark Twain, greatly exaggerated. We understand that most people leam best through 
narrative, not PowerPoint, and that the great stories survive, especially if they seem pertinent to 
current events. In the Cold War era, faculty and students flocked to the history of the 
Peloponnesian and Punic Wars and the origins of World War I, looking for insight into dynamics 
of great-power rivalries. Over the years, courses and books on the American and French 
Revolutions show no slackening of public interest, and they won’t as long as people remain 
moved by the challenges and pitfalls of popular sovereignty and self-government. 

In the twenty-first century, the Holocaust will enjoy, if that is the right verb, instructive 
status. It will be seen as the object lesson of what happens when a society suppresses internal 
diversity, rejects ethnic cooperation, condemns internationalization, and glorifies its homogenous 
self. In other words, Nazi Germany is the negative horror story or Schreckbild of an increasingly 
interdependent and interwoven world. Moreover, the country that perpetrated it was the kind that 
most states aspire to be: modem, educated, well organized, and, at least for a time, democratic. 
The warning embedded in these attributes will be inescapable and troubling to ever wider circles 
of people in an ever expanding number of places. For all her missteps, Hannah Arendt hit on an 
essential truth when she observed that the murder of the Jews was “an attack upon human 
diversity as such.” And the conscientious study of that attack is, conversely, a defense of that 
diversity. The Holocaust has become, in other words, precisely what it did not seem to be in the 
immediate postwar decades, a “useable past,” and Holocaust studies is recognized as a field that 
tells people things they need to know in order to deal with the present. 

So, Holocaust studies has a future, but what is it likely to look like? Where are we going? 
Peering “though a glass, darkly,” I venture the following guesses. 

• First, we are going back to context. More studies and representations of the Holocaust 
will do something like what Timothy Snyder did—situate it tightly in time and place. 
That will mean rebalancing the optic to which I referred earlier and acquiring a kind of 



10 • HOLOCAUST STUDIES: REFLECTIONS AND PREDICTIONS 


binocular vision that enables historians to see both stories, the war and the murders, 
simultaneously and more closely in relation to each other. Gerhard Weinberg deserves 
renewed credit for turning historians’ attention in this direction about twenty years ago, 
and his efforts are now yielding returns. 

• Second, we are going east to where most of the murders happened and where most of the 
new sources are; the Bloodlands will be the terrain of discovery and their languages the 
medium of it in the next two decades. The lingering relative terra incognita, however, is 
Hungary, on which we have the works of the indefatigable, but nonagenarian Randolph 
Braham; the untranslated German study by Gotz Aly and Christian Gerlach; and until this 

IT 

year, very little else. Much more needs doing, and the newest volume in the 
Documenting Life and Destruction series, published under the auspices of the Museum’s 
own Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, is a major step forward. 14 

• Third, more attention, again both in histories and representations of the Holocaust, is 
going to focus on victims more than on perpetrators in the coming years, probably 
primarily because the reverse has been the case up to now, so we have more to leam 
about the people under attack. The USHMM’s own series Jewish Responses to 
Persecution is a trailblazer and harbinger in this respect, as well as a reminder of how 
heart-rending the process will be. 

• Fourth, we are going toward comparison, but not homogenization. As Yehuda Bauer used 
to point out repeatedly, comparison is usually as much about differences as similarities, 
and the study of genocides side by side is unlikely to disprove his rule. The more scholars 
look at the Holocaust in relation to other massacres of the twentieth or other centuries, 
just as the more one looks at the Nazi assault on the Jews in relation to the Nazi assaults 
on other populations, the more the distinctive obsessiveness of Nazi antisemitism stands 
out, even amidst the common, fundamental processes of dehumanization. 

• Fifth, we are going toward multi-disciplinarity, precisely because more fields of study are 
appreciating the relevance of the subject. But here I want to reiterate a cautionary 
observation: historical facts are like the elements of the periodic table. They’re 
multivalent, and they therefore may and can combine in many different ways and be 
turned to many different purposes. But, again like elements, historical facts are not 
omnivalent, and the job of pointing out the difference is likely to fall to historians, just as 
in the natural sciences, it likely does to chemists. We are the killjoys of creativity gone 
overboard, the wet bla nk ets of uncontrolled inventiveness, and it is necessary and 
valuable work. My teacher Tim Mason once wrote, at the end of a scathing review of 



Peter Hayes *11 


A J.P. Taylor’s rather perverse book The Origins of the Second World War, that, although 
historians cannot necessarily agree about what happened in the past, “good works of 
history are infonned by a sense of what could not have happened. 15 That remains true; it 
explains why so many of us disparaged the egregious film “Life Is Beautiful”; and it 
summarizes one of our main obligations as disciplinary approaches to the Holocaust 
multiply. 

Pennit me to cite the Oxford Handbook of Holocaust Studies as one indicator of the 
field’s future and its direction. The book has 47 chapters: 24 deal with the aspects of the event 
itself, its origins, participants, and settings; but almost as many—23—deal with representations 
and aftereffects, that is, with ways in which the subject lived and/or still lives on. If the number 
is an emphatic confirmation that the subject does live on, the range of the ways in which it does 
is equally reassuring. And so is the gist of so many of these chapters, which recurrently stress the 
dialectic that drives the field, the tension between fidelity to what happened and the urge to 
render it somehow anew. Overemphasis on either of these goals at the expense of the other will 
prove damaging, but I see no sign that the conversation between the claims of authenticity and 
those of outreach is shutting down. Whether the chapters focus on cultural manifestations—i.e., 
literature, film, art, and music—or on effects on religion, academic disciplines, and political 
entities or movements, one sees the same central and vibrant debate over how to apply 
knowledge of the past without corrupting it. As long as people think this is worth arguing about, 
false moves will get corrected, and Holocaust studies will be alive and well. 

Finally, Holocaust studies will continue, even after the survivors all have left, to be a 
field in which history and memory contend in challenging, instructive, and sometimes vexing 
ways. History and memory are, of course, not the same thing, though this, too, is a matter on 
which the town and gown also frequently diverge. History is a process of sifting evidence in 
search of truth, memory one of preserving and transmitting lore or heritage. The fonner is, at 
least in theory, equally skeptical of all sources, whereas the latter privileges certain ones. As a 
result, history is open to modification, but memory often resists it. 

For a painful exploration of the gap between history and memory, and one not unrelated 
to the subject of the Holocaust, I recommend to you Ari Kelman’s excellent book entitled A 
Misplaced Massacre , 16 It is about the Sand Creek Massacre of November 29, 1864, when a 
Colorado militia unit set upon and slaughtered a village of Cheyenne and Arapaho people who 
thought they were under the protection of the U.S. Cavalry at the time, and about the contending 
memories of that event on the part of its victims and perpetrators and their respective 



12 • HOLOCAUST STUDIES: REFLECTIONS AND PREDICTIONS 


descendants. I happened to read this book this year because the massacre occurred while one of 
the founders of my university was the territorial governor of Colorado, and I was named to the 
committee that is examining both his role in this ghastly event and whether the university 
benefited in any way from its consequences. Kelman shows in painstaking detail that, as his title 
says, the oral traditions of both white and native descendants located the attack erroneously. It 
actually occurred about a mile away from the traditionally recognized site, as proven by the 
multiplicity of physical evidence, including arrows, rifle balls, and howitzer shells, that turned up 
in 1999 just beneath the surface of the ground at the newly suspected location, but not at the old 
one. Discovering this changed little about historians’ evaluation or interpretation of what 
happened at Sand Creek, but it drove a deep wedge between Native Americans who have 
accepted the new evidence and those who have dismissed it as an affront to their historical 
epistemology. The National Park Service is caught in the middle, and if you visit the site, as I did 
last August, you will find that the Park Service’s guides and signs equivocate to this day on the 
location, lest a faction of the tribes feel insulted. 

This is an excellent illustration of the competing claims of memory and history and of the 
difficulty of resolving them. Such claims continue, even now after all the effort and money that 
have been devoted in recent decades to Holocaust restitution, to bedevil the issue of recompense 
for insurance policies. Should the nations of Eastern Europe ever truly face up to their 
responsibilities in this regard, the state of the documentary record will make the gap between 
what families remember and what they can establish yawn wider than ever before. Meanwhile, in 
the academic realm, I think I can discern some of the recalcitrance of memory in a number of the 
most vigorous critiques to Tim Snyder’s Bloodlands, the book to which I referred at the 
beginning of these remarks. 

V 

The events of the Holocaust and their interpretation raise profound and enduring 
questions. Amidst all the death, the questions are, in fact, deathless. We have recently wrestled in 
this country with one of them: who will defend whom? Where are the boundaries of a nation’s 
responsibilities in the face of inhuman acts committed by another country against its own 
citizens? The same question confronted Franklin Roosevelt and the leaders of every country 
outside Germany from 1933 to 1939. And, on the whole, they gave the same self-centered 
answer that the American public just gave and for very similar reasons. Every time choices arise, 
such as those surrounding intervention in Syria, the recollection of the Holocaust will be present 
and its meaning and implications will be debated. How could it be otherwise? Thank you all very 
much for your attention. 



Peter Hayes *13 


NOTES 

1 Wendy Lower, Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields (Boston: Houghton 
Mifflin Harcourt, 2013). 

2 

Notably, Marion Kaplan, Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany (New 
York: Oxford University Press, 1998), and Elizabeth Harvey, Women in the Nazi East (New 
Haven: Yale University Press, 2003). 

~ Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (New York: Basic Books, 

2010 ). 

4 Tony Judt, Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945 (New York: The Penguin Press, 2005), 
pp. 803, 830. 

5 See Harald Welzer, Tater. Wieausganznormalen Menschen Massenmorder warden (Frankfurt 
am Main: S. Fischer Verlag, 2005); Thomas Kuhne, Belonging and Genocide: Hitler’s 
Community, 1918-1945 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010); Michael Wildt, An 
Uncompromising Generation: The Nazi Leadership of the Reich Security Main Office (Madison: 
University of Wisconsin Press, 2009); and Neil Gregor, “Nazism—A Political Religion? 
Rethinking the Voluntarist Turn,” in Neil Gregor (ed.), Nazism, War and Genocide: Essays in 
Honour of Jeremy Noakes (Exeter: Exeter University Press, 2005), pp. 1-21. 

6 See William Collins Donahue, Holocaust as Fiction: Bernhard Schlink’s “Nazi” Novels and 
Their Films (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010). For Schlink’s appalling response to Eckart 
Conze, Norbert Frei, Peter Hayes, and Moshe Zimmermann, Das Amt und die Vergangenheit: 
Deutsche Diplomaten im Dritten Reich und in der Bundesrepublik (Munich: Karl Blessing 
Verlag, 2010), see Bernhard Schlink, “Die Kultur des Denunziatorischen,” Merkur, 
745 (June 2011), pp. 473-86. 

7 Paul A. Levine, Raoul Wallenberg in Budapest: Myth, History and Holocaust (Portland, OR: 
Valentine Mitchell, 2010), pp. 12-13. 

o 

Michael R. Marrus, “The Lessons of the Holocaust,” unpublished manuscript, pp. vi-25. 

9 Postwar, p. 830 

10 See Saul Friedlander, Reflections of Nazism: An Essay on Kitsch and Death (New York: 
Harper and Row, 1984); Lawrence L. Langer, Using and Abusing the Holocaust (Bloomington: 
Indiana University Press, 2006); and Alvin H. Rosenfeld The End of the Holocaust 
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011). 



14 • HOLOCAUST STUDIES: REFLECTIONS AND PREDICTIONS 


11 Rosenfeld, p. 12. 

12 

Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (New York: Penguin 
Books, 1977), pp. 268-69. 

13 

See Randolph L. Braham, The Politics of Genocide: The Holocaust in Hungary (Detroit: 
Wayne State University Press, 2000), Studies on the Holocaust: Selected Writings, volume 1 
(Boulder: Social Science Monosgraphs, 2000), “A Post-Mortem of the Holocaust in Hungary,” 
Monna and Otto Weinmann Lecture Series (Washington, DC: United States Holocaust Memorial 
Museum, 2012); the monumental The Geographical Encyclopedia of the Holocaust in Hungary 
(Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, in association with the United States Holocaust 
Memorial Museum, 2013); and Christian Gerlach and Gotz Aly, Das letzte Kapitel: Der Mord an 
den ungarischen Juden (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 2002). 

14 Zoltan Vagi, Laszlo Csosz, and Gabor Kadar, The Holocaust in Hungary: Evolution of a 
Genocide (Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, in association with the United States Holocaust 
Memorial Museum, 2013). 

15 T. W. Mason, “Some Origins of the Second World War,” Past & Present, 29 (1964), reprinted 
in Esmonde M. Robertson (ed.), The Origins of the Second World War (London: Macmillan and 
Co., 1971), p. 125. 

16 Ari Kelman, A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling over the Memory of Sand Creek (Cambridge, 
MA: Harvard University Press, 2013). 



Peter Hayes *15 


PETER HAYES is the Theodore Zev Weiss Holocaust Educational Foundation Professor in the 
Department of History at Northwestern University. He is the author of From Cooperation to 
Complicity: Degussa in the Third Reich (2004) and Industry and Ideology: IG Farben in the 
Nazi Era (1987). He is the editor of Lessons and Legacies III: Memory, Memorialization, and 
Denial (1999) and Lessons and Legacies I: The Meaning of the Holocaust in a Changing 
World (1991), and the co-editor, with John K. Roth, of The Oxford Handbook of Holocaust 
Studies (2011). His volume How Could This Happen? A Reader on the Holocaust is forthcoming 
in 2014. Dr. Hayes currently serves as a member of the Academic Committee of the United 
States Holocaust Memorial Council. 




Available Occasional Papers 


“Holocaust Studies: Reflections and 
Predictions,” by Peter Hayes, 2014* 

“The Holocaust in Ukraine: New Sources 
and Perspectives,” CAHS symposium 
presentations, 2013* 

“The Holocaust and Coming to Terms with 
the Past in Post-Communist Poland,” by 
Jolanta Ambrosewicz-Jacobs, 2012* 

“A Post-Mortem of the Holocaust in 
Hungary: A Probing Interpretation of the 
Causes,” by Randolph L. Braham, 2012* 

“Babi-Yar: Site of Mass Murder, Ravine of 
Oblivion,” by Karel C. Berkhoff, 2012* 

“In the Shadow of the Holocaust: The 
Changing Image of German Jewry after 
1945,” by Michael Brenner, 2010* 

“Hungarian, German, and Jewish 
Calculations and Miscalculations in the 
Last Chapter of the Holocaust,” by 
Randolph L. Braham, 2010* 

“Christian Complicity? Changing Views on 
German Churches and the Holocaust,” by 
Robert. P. Ericksen, 2009* 

“Kristallnacht 1938: As Experienced Then 
and Understood Now,” by Gerhard L. 
Weinberg, 2009* 

“Patterns of Return: Survivors’ Postwar 
Journeys to Poland,” Monika Adamczyk- 
Garbowska, 2007* 

“On the Holocaust and Other Genocides,” 
by Yehuda Bauer, 2007* (Chinese version 
online, 2009) 

“Refugee Historians from Nazi Germany: 
Political Attitudes towards Democracy,” by 


Georg G. Iggers, 2006* (Chinese version 
online, 2009) 

“The Holocaust in the Soviet Union,” 
CAHS symposium presentations, 2005* 

“Ghettos 1939-1945: New Research and 
Perspectives on Definition, Daily Life, and 
Survival,” CAHS symposium 
presentations, 2005* 

“Lithuania and the Jews: The Holocaust 
Chapter,” CAHS symposium presentations, 
2005* 

“The Path to Vichy: Antisemitism in 
France in the 1930s,” by Vicki Caron, 
2005* 

“Sephardim and the Holocaust,” by Aron 
Rodrigue, 2005* 

“In the Shadow of Birkenau: Ethical 
Dilemmas during and after the Holocaust,” 
by John Roth, 2005* 

“Jewish Children: Between Protectors and 
Murderers,” by Nechama Tec, 2005* 

“Anne Frank and the Future of Holocaust 
Memory,” by Alvin H. Rosenfeld, 2005* 
(Chinese version online, 2008) 

“Children and the Holocaust,” CAHS 
symposium presentations, 2004 

“The Holocaust as a Literary Experience,” 
by Henryk Grynberg, 2004* 

“Forced and Slave Labor in Nazi- 
Dominated Europe,” CAHS symposium 
presentations, 2004 

“International Law and the Holocaust,” by 
Thomas Buergenthal, 2004* 


“On Studying Jewish History in Light of 
the Holocaust,” by David Engel, 2003* 

“Initiating the Final Solution: The Fateful 
Months of September-October 1941,” by 
Christopher Browning, 2003* 

“Past Revisited: Reflections on the Study 
of the Holocaust and Contemporary 
Antisemitism,” by Steven J. Zipperstein, 
2003* 

“From the Holocaust in Galicia to 
Contemporary Genocide: Common 
Ground—Historical Differences,” by Omer 
Bartov, 2003* 

“Confiscation of Jewish Property in 
Europe, 1933-1945: New Sources and 
Perspectives,” CAHS symposium 
presentations, 2003 

“Roma and Sinti: Under-Studied Victims 
of Nazism,” CAHS symposium 
presentations, 2002* 

“Life after the Ashes: The Postwar Pain, 
and Resilience, of Young Holocaust 
Survivors,” by Peter Seudfeld, 2002* 

“Why Bother About Homosexuals? 
Homophobia and Sexual Politics in Nazi 
Germany,” by Geoffery J. Giles, 2002* 
(Chinese version online, 2008) 

“Uncovering Certain Mischievous 
Questions About the Holocaust,” by Berel 
Lang, 2002* 

“World War 11 Leaders and Their Visions 
for the Future of Palestine,” by Gerhard L. 
Weinberg, 2002* 

“The Conundrum of Complicity: German 
Professionals and the Final Solution,” by 
Konrad Jarausch, 2002* 

“Policy of Destruction: Nazi Anti-Jewish 
Policy and the Genesis of the ‘Final 
Solution,’” by Peter Longerich, 2001* 


“Holocaust Writing and Research Since 
1945,” by Sir Martin Gilbert, 2001* 
(Chinese version online, 2008) 

“Jewish Artists Living in New York During 
the Holocaust Years,” by Matthew E. 
Baigell, 2001* 

“The Awakening of Memory: Survivor 
Testimony in the First Years after the 
Holocaust, and Today,” by Henry 
Greenspan, 2001 * 

“Hungary and the Holocaust: 
Confrontations with the Past,” CAHS 
symposium presentations, 2001 

“Facing the Past: Representations of the 
Holocaust in German Cinema since 1945,” 
by Frank Stem, 2000* 

“Future Challenges to Holocaust 
Scholarship as an Integrated Part of the 
Study of Modem Dictatorship,” by Hans 
Mommsen, 2000* 

“Moritz Frohlich—Morris Gay: A German 
Refugee in the United States,” by Peter 
Gay, 1999 

“Jewish Resistance: A Working 
Bibliography,” by CAHS staff, 1999; 
expanded edition 1999; third edition 2003* 

“Profits and Persecution: German Big 
Business and the Holocaust,” by Peter 
Hayes, 1998* 

“On the Ambivalence of Being Neutral: 
Switzerland and Swiss Jewry Facing the 
Rise and Fall of the Nazi State,” by Jacques 
Picard, 1998* 

“The Holocaust in the Netherlands: A 
Reevaluation,” a USHMM-RIOD 
conference summary by Patricia Heberer, 
1997* 


“Jewish Resistance: Facts, Omissions, and 
Distortions,” by Nechama Tec, 1997 

“Psychological Reverberations of the 
Flolocaust in the Lives of Child Survivors,” 
by Robert Krell, 1997* 

“The First Encounter: Survivors and 
Americans in the Late 1940s,” by Arthur 
Flertzberg, 1996* 


“The ‘Willing Executioners’/‘Ordinary 
Men’ Debate,” by Daniel Goldhagen, 
Christopher Browning, and Leon 
Wieseltier, 1996* 

“Preserving Living Memory: The 
Challenge and Power of Video Testimony,” 
by Geoffery H. Flartman, 1995 

“Germany’s War for World Conquest and 
the Extermination of the Jews,” by Gerhard 
L. Weinberg, 1995* 


Single copies of occasional papers may be obtained by addressing a request to the 
Academic Publications Branch of the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies. A complete 
list of the papers and selected pdffiles (*) are also available on the Museum’s website at 
http://www.ushmm.org/research/publications/academic-publications/occasional-papers. 



THE CENTER FOR ADVANCED HOLOCAUST STUDIES of the United States 
Holocaust Memorial Museum promotes the growth of the field of 
Holocaust studies, including the dissemination of scholarly output in 
the field. It also strives to facilitate the training of future generations 
of scholars specializing in the Holocaust. 

Under the guidance of the Academic Committee of the United States 
Holocaust Memorial Council, the Center provides a fertile atmosphere 
for scholarly discourse and debate through research and publication 
projects, conferences, fellowship and visiting scholar opportunities, 
and a network of cooperative programs with universities and other 
institutions in the United States and abroad. 

In furtherance of this program the Center has established a series of 
working and occasional papers prepared by scholars in history, political 
science, philosophy, religion, sociology, literature, psychology, and other 
disciplines. Selected from Center- sponsored lectures and conferences, 
or the result of other activities related to the Center’s mission, these 
publications are designed to make this research available in a timely 
fashion to other researchers and to the general public. 


ME 


UN 



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USEUM 


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