'Not all Holocaust art is authentic.'
Some weeks ago Cynthia Ozick published a short essay in Newsweek bearing the brash subtitle “Not all Holocaust art is authentic. In fact, much of it is fraudulent.” While I don’t agree with all her judgments here, I like the gist — the hardness, the high standard, the fussiness about the problem of representing the holocaust. Here is a link to the whole piece. And here is a telling excerpt:
Consider a handful of movies that profess to render the Holocaust. Life Is Beautiful, a naive, well-intentioned, preposterous, painfully absurd, and ignorant lie. Inglourious Basterds, a defamation, a canard — what Frederic Raphael, writing in Commentary, calls “doing the Jews a favor by showing that they, too, given the chance, coulda/woulda behaved like mindless monsters,” even as he compares it to Jew Süss, the notorious Goebbels film. The Reader, like the novel it derives from, no better than Nazi porn, and drawn from the self-serving notion that the then most literate and cultivated nation in Europe may be exculpated from mass murder by the claim of illiteracy. As for Schindler’s List, its most honest moment, after its parade of fake-looking victims, comes at the very close of the film, and in documentary mode, when the living survivors appear on screen.
So where can the truth be found? In Anne Frank’s diary? Yes, but the diary, intended as a report, as a document, can tell only a partial and preliminary truth, since the remarkable child was writing in a shelter — precarious, threatened, and temporary; nevertheless a protected space. Anne Frank did not, could not, record the atrocity she endured while tormented by lice, clothed in a rag, and dying of typhus in Bergen-Belsen. For what we call “truth” we must go into the bottom-most interior of that hell. And as Primo Levi admonishes, only the dead went down to the Nazi hell’s lowest rung.
Along the way, Ozick reserves high praise for Paul Celan’s great poem “Todesfuge” (“Death is a master out of Germany”); Elie Wiesel’s outcry in Night; Dan Pagis’s stunted, smothered lyric; Primo Levi’s sober taxonomy of brutishness. I admire these judgments (excepting that for Night — a case where I out-Ozick Ozick in deeming it too novelistic, too narratively facile).