In addressing globalization as both force and discourse, I will
examine some of the ways in which the Holocaust-here, the state-sanctioned
genocide of European Jewry by the Nazis and their collaborators
between ca. 1940 and 1945--has been represented and mediated in
two blockbuster texts, Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List (Universal
Pictures/Amblin Entertainment, 1993) and Daniel J. Goldhagen's Hitler's
Willing Executioners (Knopf Books, 1996). Spielberg's and Goldhagen's
respective narratives are arguably the two most discussed examples
of Holocaust discourse in recent years. And both have been figured
as "Americanizations of the Holocaust," even though they
stand at the nexus of a complex perhaps better described as "the
Globalization of the Holocaust."
This essay begins by juxtaposing Spielberg's Schindler's List and
Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners, arguably the two most
discussed examples of Holocaust discourse in recent years.1 The
putative "inability of language or of any other medium to engage
it adequately," writes scholar Michael André Bernstein,
seems "precisely what constitutes much of the conversation
about the Holocaust" (1996: 8). In the midst of such paradox,
nonetheless, a diversity of representations of the Holocaust has
emerged in the last decades. These Holocaust representations are
themselves mediated through an astounding variety of cultural forms
and aesthetic practices. Thus, the present study does not a priori
reject representation (or mediation) but instead explores the contexts,
intertexts, and transferential relations that inform it.2
In particular, the identification of transference-defined here as
the projection of various psychological agendas onto other texts
or lives-may well epitomize historical and hermeneutical analysis.
At the same time, representations of the Holocaust are at least
as productively examined as cultural artifacts influenced by social,
psychological, and political dynamics.3 To insist on judging which
works treat the Holocaust with "aesthetic connoisseurship"
or "moral propriety" is tantamount to avoiding the issue.
Precisely such a problematic approach presupposes that the Holocaust
is impossible to represent. The anti-representability thesis is
in turn linked to the political- and/or psychologically-motivated
argument of the "Uniqueness Claim," according to which
the Shoah was so exceptional that it ruptures or is ultimately outside
history. In such cases, only one type of aesthetic or ethic is thought
to be sufficiently "responsible" as to avoid disfiguring
or exploiting the memory of the murdered.
In fact, numerous critics qualify the majority of fiction, dramatization,
and figurative speech about the Holocaust as misrepresentation.
For them, the singularity of the Shoah is viewed as being in danger
of violation whenever it is not read literally. In a very specific
sense, the debates between Holocaust particularists and universalists
are better framed in terms of literalism versus exemplarism. Whereas
the exemplarist attempts "to make connections, establish comparisons,
or derive meaning from the Holocaust" (LaCapra 2000: 102),
the literalist finds such attempts speculative, if not sacrilege.
The Holocaust literalist "insists steadfastly on the particular
events of unbearable horror" (LaCapra 2000: 102); the Holocaust
exemplarist is deemed prone to forgetting, if not forgiving. Goldhagen
and Spielberg are (as we shall see) primarily literalists, as are
Claude Lanzmann and Lawrence Langer. Those routinely "cited"
for exemplarism range from Hannah Arendt and Stanley Milgram to
Hans Mommsen and Christopher Browning, all the way to Roberto Benigni.4
Yet even for those whose work tends to affirm a diversity of Holocaust
representations, irresponsible commemorations appears always to
be lurking around the corner. James Young, for instance, writes:
In this age of mass memory production and consumption . . . there
seems to be an inverse proportion between the memorialization of
the past and its contemplation and study. For once we assign monumental
form to memory, we have to some degree divested ourselves of the
obligation to remember. In shouldering the memory-work, monuments
may relieve viewers of their memory burden. . . . To the extent
that we encourage monuments to do our memory-work for us, we become
that much more forgetful. . . . In effect, the initial impulse to
memorialize events like the Holocaust may actually spring from an
opposite and equal desire to forget them (1994: 8-9).
Although this argument may possess an internal logic, it is not
without flaws. In fact, much of the discourse on Holocaust monumentalization
belies an unfamiliarity with newer media and their possibilities
for contesting traditional commemorations (cf. Wiedmer 1999). In
contrast to blocks of granite, steel, or concrete-products of a
particular chronotope-the architecture of "virtual" sites
of memory has been constructed differently. A book commemoration,
when made available for repeated readings, becomes a part of everyday
life at "home." No memorial practice in some distant locale,
video playback (almost) always takes place in a domestic setting.
Reproducible mediations of the Holocaust in video (and now in digital)
formats can be stopped and studied at one's convenience on the family
television or computer monitor. This (post-Brechtian) capability
suggests that establishing distance may be required to preserve
a collective memory. Work being done today on Holocaust representation
and commemoration will have to account for the "future-shock"
proliferation in the use of video, CD-ROM (e.g., Art Spiegelman's
Maus), the Internet, and other new media.5
For such a vision of memory work, Schindler's List with its self-referentiality
and citation of previous (inter)texts, seems as well suited as other
attempts. Film theorist Marion Hansen argues "that Schindler's
List is a more sophisticated, elliptical, and self-conscious film
that than its critics [for example, Lanzmann] acknowledge (and the
self-consciousness is not limited to the epilogue in which we see
the actors together with the survivors they play file past Schindler's
Jerusalem grave)" (1997: 85). But an approach that encourages
us to consider the complexities inherent in the positionality and
mediality of creators, disseminators, critics, and audiences of
texts has been absent from many reception studies. While the recent
volume The World Reacts to the Holocaust promises to cover "the
impact of the Holocaust on twenty-two countries" (Wyman 1997),
it fails to engage in substantive comparisons of individual representations
and discourses. Despite specific contributions on the reception
of Schindler's List in Germany, France, and Israel, issues of synchronization,
translation, and transference are virtually absent from Spielberg's
Holocaust (Loshitzky 1997), itself perhaps too close in time to
the film's release.
One hardly needs to be reminded of the hype accompanying the United
States premiere of Schindler's List in December 1993. Seven years
later, the initial "Schindler-mania" has waned, but Spielberg's
film continues to attract viewers wherever cinematic representations
of the Holocaust have played an important role in shaping public
and private memory of that series of events. The situation in German-speaking
Europe, to take but one non-American instance, is no different.
Just two months after opening in the Federal Republic of Germany,
Schindlers Liste had been seen by approximately four million viewers
(in a population of over eighty million); a few years later it was
still one of most-watched videos there.
By briefly comparing the English-language and the German-dubbed
versions of the film (see the detailed interpretations that follow),
I want to suggest that various differences in text-we do not have
audience surveys-may have influenced the reception of the film by
German-speaking viewers. Schindlers Liste, in a very specific sense,
had to be better in order to compensate for German speakers' deficit
in American sensibility (or "mentality").6 For people
better versed in American life and discourse will arguably be the
more "informed readers" of Schindler's List-Jewish Americans
with a background similar to Spielberg's most of all. Yet while
American-trained viewers are (initially) more likely to understand
certain intertextual resonances of the original, this cultural basis
for comprehension may deprive them. Bernstein writes that Spielberg's
film satisfies "a characteristic American urge to find a redemptive
meaning in every event" (1994: 429). Others, especially literalists/particularists,
warn of an Americanization of the Holocaust, in particular with
respect to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington,
D.C. And in at least one instance, Spielberg felt compelled to authorize
a change in the actual text of Schindler's List for a non-American
audience. At the film's end, as the newly liberated "Schindlerjuden"
walk to freedom, the soundtrack for most cinemagoers is the song
"Yerushalayim shel zahav" ("Jerusalem the Golden").
In Israel, however, audiences heard the song "Eli Eli,"
based on a poem by Hannah Senesh. Spielberg, in fact, authorized
the change after being informed that the final scene was making
Israeli audiences laugh. For "Yerushalayim shel zahav,"
sung by Naomi Shemer and written to celebrate the reunification
of Jerusalem after the Six-Day War (1967), now resonates for many
Israelis as a kitsch song; for some, it even suggests militarism
and the transformation of traditional victims into conquerors.
German viewers, like Israelis, may lack the intertextual background
to discern (initially) the ideological inflections of Spielberg's
American Schindler narrative. By one estimate, seventy percent of
the German audience in the first months consisted of schoolchildren
(a greater percentage than in any other nation). One popular magazine
interviewed Ignatz Bubis, the head of the Jewish community in Germany,
for advice on how parents and children should behave while watching
the film (Schneider 1997: 233). It is valuable to compare the treatment
of Schindler's List in a 1994 episode of the TV situation comedy
Seinfeld, where the main character is criticized for having "made
out" with his girlfriend during a screening of the film. What
is at one and the same time a politically-incorrect sendup both
of Schindler's List and (arguably) of American Jewish assimilationism
would not necessarily have been understood as such by the almost
completely non-Jewish audiences in Germany.
Of course, American schoolchildren of divergent social and cultural
backgrounds will also be (initially) less informed viewers of Schindler's
List. The example is well known of the high school in Oakland whose
students were predominantly disadvantaged African- and Latino-Americans.
A group of them on a field trip in honor of Martin Luther King Day
1994 allegedly laughed at the scene where the Jewish female engineer
(Diana Reiter) is brutally murdered on Goeth's orders. As a result
of the ensuing controversy, Spielberg himself was enlisted to speak
at a special school assembly. While admitting that the students
in question may have received "a bum rap," he did not
seem to question the co-attendance of California governor Pete Wilson,
who clearly sought to coopt the media event in what was an election
year (Snitow and Kaufman 1997).
Whereas the Oakland high school students may have partially grasped
the implicit allusions to Hollywood in Schindler's List, those allusions,
for better or worse, may be lost on German, Israeli, and other audiences.
Although somewhat aware of discourse on Hollywood (indeed at times
more overtly critical), readings abroad are not as thoroughly pre-informed
by the "Entertainment Tonight" culture of the U.S., where
the movie moguls have become as newsworthy as their films, where
box office receipts can be recited by the average citizen, and where
the model for Schindler himself was Spielberg's best friend, the
former head of Time-Warner, Steve Ross, to whom Schindler's List
is dedicated. And German readings will unlikely censure "Hollywood's"
previous failures to depict the Holocaust (an American Jewish discourse)
or Spielberg's supposed selfishness and inability to grow up (an
Israeli Jewish discourse).7
How might we begin to theorize the divergences in mediation within
the United States and overseas? To be sure, the heterogeneity of
addressees in Schindler's List (the range of accents represented
is alone astounding) was on some level designed to appeal to diverse
markets, both domestically and abroad. Precisely on account of their
polyvalence, many mass-mediated (or "blockbuster") texts
enable a certain hegemony of reception (Lewis 1991). Schindler's
List succeeds, for Hansen, in "engender[ing] a public space,
a horizon of at once sensory experience and discursive contestation"
(Hansen 1997:99). What she concludes about classical Hollywood cinema
may apply equally to current American blockbuster films:
If classical Hollywood cinema succeeded as an international modernist
idiom on a mass basis, it did so not because of its presumably universal
narrative form but because it meant different things to different
people and publics, both at home and abroad. We must not forget
that these films, along with other mass-cultural exports, were consumed
in locally quite specific, and unequally developed, contexts and
conditions of reception . . . Many films were literally changed,
both for particular export markets (e.g., the conversion of American
happy endings into tragic endings for Russian release) and by censorship,
marketing, and programming practices in the countries in which they
were distributed, not to mention practices of dubbing and subtitling.
. . . To write the international history of classical American cinema,
therefore, is a matter of tracing not just its mechanisms of standardization
and hegemony but also the diversity of ways in which this cinema
was translated and reconfigured in both local and translocal contexts
of reception (1999: 68-69).
A cautionary example of the reconfiguration of the American text
of Schindler's List is Schindler's second encounter with Jews in
Cracow, set in the Church of St. Mary. The point of the English-language
scene is to explain (and possibly even pardon) that Jews were compelled
to deal on the black market in order to survive in Nazi-occupied
Poland. The potential for stereotyping Jews is great in this episode:
a church almost becomes a stock exchange. Yet Spielberg sets out
to undermine the Nazi pseudoscience of race in this scene. Before
removing his Judenstern armband, entering the cathedral, and dousing
himself with holy water, Poldek Pfefferberg-the "tough"
Jewish figure of the film-looks into a window display. No run-of-the-mill
window-windows repeatedly enact historical distance in Schindler's
List-Pfefferberg's reflection merges with a physiognomic tableau
of four faces, each one by the standards of racialist theory "more
Jewish." (This scene, significantly, is not present in Zallian's
Pfefferberg's own face (as portrayed by Jonathan Sagalle, a Canadian-raised,
Israel-based actor) is rendered "less Jewish," especially
when juxtaposed with the faces of his colleagues cutting deals in
the church. These two characters are played Israeli-raised actors
Shmulik Levy and Mark Ivanir. Their "Jewish" faces, if
not voices, were specially imported to location after shooting had
begun and are conceivably meant to contrast with the "German"
faces and voices of German (and Austrian) actors portraying Nazis
(actors who, when uniformed, supposedly made Spielberg uneasy).
While Levy's and Ivanir's English is detectably Israeli-accented
in the American rendition, a change ensues in the German version,
where Pfefferberg, whose Jewish identity is otherwise effaced, is
marked unmistakably as yet another Yiddish speaker. In fact, what
we get in the translation (or Verdeutschung) is a Germanized or
artificial Yiddish. (One might call this "yideutsch,"
as opposed to "yinglish," or Americanized Yiddish.) On
the one hand, the Yiddishizing of the original is an improvement.
As more than one critic noted, Israeli English is truly an anachronism
in this case. On the other hand, it almost sounds as if the dubbing
actors had studied-indeed, einstudiert -the Germanized Yiddish found
in the well-known humor books of Salcia Landmann (the sine qua non
of Yiddish culture in the post-Shoah German cultural sphere). Elsewhere
in the German version, Yiddish is again used to underline the Jewishness
of Jewish characters. One of the final lines of Schindlers Liste,
in the memorable teeth-extracting scene, is an unabashed "a
sheynem dank" ("thanks very much"). There is no Yiddish
in the corresponding English-language episode.
Thus, the German version may fail to reflect the historical diversity
within Jewish communities insofar as it homogenizes Jewish speech
with the same "Yi-deutsch" accent, in lieu of attempting
to coach the actors in Cracow-dialect Yiddish. One could, indeed,
pose the same question of German speech in the American production:
Is it "real" or is it "fake" German? One cannot
fail to be bewitched or bewildered by the diversity of speaking
voices in Schindler's List, and all this enthusiasm for accents
points to what may be termed a deliberate cinematic "multiculturalism."
In synchronic terms, after all, both the United States and the Federal
Republic of Germany are multiethnic societies. (One is reminded
of the Bosnian conflict, a stated impetus for Spielberg's hurry
to make Schindler's List in 1993; part of the film was shot in Croatia).
Yet multiculturalism is also enhanced and positively reconfigured
in the German text of Schindler's List. Compared to the original,
Schindlers Liste underplays one particular theme that is more often
an American concern than anything else, to wit: "family values."
In spite of-or because of-the film's "R" rating for nudity
and violence, the American production is organized around "the
wish for a restored familialism-for a stability, a happiness, a
normality of family life which the Nazis have taken away" (Eley
and Grossman 1997: 56).8 As a result, the primary villain of Schindler's
List, Amon Goeth, comes off as sexually heteronomic (or in lay terms,
"bisexual") from his first scenes in the film. Or, drawing
on an American insult, he is a "Euro-fag."9 What this
suggests is that the rhetoric of family values and its attendant
homophobia contrive to further demonize the already demonic personality
of Goeth, an SS officer whose actual biography was demonstrably
demonic (Segev 1987: 151-53).10
For German and other European (and some Israeli) viewers, Goeth
will not resonate as effeminate. While the gestures are intended
as such, they may not be immediately decoded by non-American audiences.
Handkerchief-to-nose, being driven through the Cracow ghetto in
an open chauffeured convertible, Goeth's first words in the film
are, "Can you put the fucking top down? I'm freezing!"
His uncertainly pitched British voice is replaced in the German
translation by a definitively Viennese baritone "Warum ist
denn das Verdeck auf? Ich frier' mir den Hintern ab!" [Why's
the top open? I'm freezing my butt off!]. The vacillating Hamletesque
intonation and movements of Ralph Fiennes' Goeth are stressed in
the following scene where he fatefully chooses Helen Hirsch as his
Schindler's List, in English, has a unique verbal and visual semiotics
of masculinity. When juxtaposed with Schindler in a series of short
contrasting shots, Goeth cannot shave like a man, cannot kiss like
a man, cannot talk without occasionally lisping, cannot help being
fussy, and cannot help being jealous of Schindler's success with
women (Jewish and non-Jewish). Geoffrey Hartman refers to the "tense
mutual jockeying of Goeth and Schindler" as a "homoerotic
Nazi men, then, are not real men in this constructed world of (the
American) Schindler's List. Whereas Goeth objectifies, shoots at,
and beats women, non-Nazi men kiss, marry, and build families with
women. The implication, whether consciously intended by Spielberg
or not, is that Jews, indeed the "Jewish family," are
morally superior in dealing with sexuality and aggression. Consider
as well the final scene of Schindler's List, which, like others
cited above, is absent from Zallian's screenplay. The Dresner nuclear
family-marked most prominently by the daughter who (like Itzhak
Stern) wears Spielberg's signature round-frame glasses-is the first
to lay the stones at the grave of Schindler in Jerusalem.
That episode is no longer a lesson from the past: it is rendered
as a moral in living color for our day.12 Subtitles inform us that
the progeny of the "Schindler Jews" outnumber the Jews
living today in post-Shoah Poland. (Left unmentioned is that fact
that only 300 of the some 1,100 names on Schindler's actual list
were women and that Amon Goeth was tried and sentences to death
by postwar Poles.) Masterfully intercut with Goeth's beating of
Helen Hirsch and a nightclub scene where a female singer flirts
with Schindler, the clandestine Plaszów wedding of a young
Jewish couple-one of the film's dramatic climaxes-asserts the "indestructibility
of the family form. . . . stand[ing] for love and propriety, in
counterpoint with Goeth's pathologies and Schindler's promiscuity"
(Eley and Grossman 1997: 58)13 A similar highpoint is the voiceover
of Billy Holliday's "God Blessed the Child," where the
otherwise opaque protagonist-under the spell of the murdered "red
girl" (the "Red Genia" of Keneally's novel)-formulates
his rescue plan. One might even venture that Spielberg's production
team, on site in "hostile" Poland, successfully bonded
into a filmmaking family. Part of the folklore-and the marketing-of
the film was the idea of an ensemble, German, Polish, and Israeli,
that came together to celebrate Passover under Spielberg's supervision.
Just as (Jewish) family values proved victorious at Spielberg's
seder on location, so too did they prevail in the shot of Schindler
among the crosses (on Mount Zion) which closes the film. Schindler's
"Last Supper," as it were, is a spirited defense of the
American film industry. "Hollywood," more than ever, seems
to need Schindler the deliverer, Schindler the liberal capitalist,
the great white father, the benevolent potentate who looks after
his Jews. Compare Branko Lustig, one of Schindler's List's coproducers,
on the casting of Polish-based extras: "We were like Schindler
in many ways, feeding people, paying them money they wouldn't ordinarily
make, giving them something worthwhile to do . . . We had to organize
to know who our people were, just like he did" (Galbraith 1993:
Spielberg, particularly in the heated debates regarding the influence
of the media as Schindler's List was being made in 1993, assigned
himself the task of defending "Hollywood"-to his mind,
a code-word for "American Jewish media" (Blair 1993)-against
attacks in the name of "family values" by opportunistic
right-wing politicians. In the American mini-kulturkampf of 1991-1994
centering on the phrase "family values," Spielberg (along
with Barbra Streisand, David Geffen and Sherry Lansing) emerged
as one of the top benefactors of Democratic-party politicians, who
garnered 86 percent of campaign contributions (compared to a mere
14 percent for Republicans) from the entertainment industry in those
years ("Böse" 1995: 45). Finally, it may be no coincidence
that the site of Schindler's factory in Schindler's List resembles
a Los Angeles studio lot, that its employees are referred to (in
the English version) as "journeymen," and that its production
head buys off adversaries with framed photos and other gratuities.
One might even go so far as to argue that when Schindler kisses
a Jewish woman, the anti-Hollywood, pro-GATT advocates of "family
values" become the stand-ins for the Nazi guardians of Aryanism
who stop production at the Deutsche Emailwarenfabrik.15 Even Goeth
defends Schindler at this point in the film.
Yet such instances of "globalizing" American discourse,
here and in other contemporary Holocaust narratives, are far too
easily overlooked amidst the anti-universalism and Holocaust literalism
of Schindler's List and Hitler's Willing Executioners. Spielberg's
and Goldhagen's perceived rebuttals to the alleged "Americanization
of the Holocaust" (rendered as tantamount in its evil to a
Nazi bisexual) return us full circle to the contextualization above
of Schindler's List as "Jewish-American." Anson Rabinbach
can thus maintain that
against the background of the institutionalization of an "authoritative"
narrative in America, Goldhagen's version of the story has a transgressive
dimension that restores many of the motifs that prevailed when Jewish
memory did not yet have to contend with its public presence or its
universalist instrumentalization. The impact of Goldhagen's book
therefore should be first and foremost considered an event in the
public sphere, and as such serves as a counterdiscourse to the "Americanization
of the Holocaust" (Rabinbach 1997: 251).
Such an argument concerns Schindler's List as well. For the perceived
need to resist Holocaust revisionism and denial on all fronts had
evolved prior to the publication of Deborah Lipstadt's Denying the
Holocaust in 1993. In that year, argues Jeffrey Shandler, the Holocaust
truly became a "household word" in U.S. public discourse.
What Shandler chronicles as "the emergence of the Holocaust
as a moral paradigm in American culture" is reasoned to pertain
only to "a nation that has almost no direct experience of these
events" (Shandler 1999: xvii; 2); yet this would seem to apply
equally to nations impinged on by American popular culture. For
the hegemony of American-produced movies globally assures them--now
as in classic era of Hollywood cinema--an impact within a wide range
of different local contexts: "[B]y forging a mass market out
of an ethnically and culturally heterogeneous society . . . American
classical cinema had developed an idiom, or idioms, that traveled
more easily than its national-popular rivals" (Hansen 1999:
The American publishing industry, at least since the onset of the
blockbuster era (see Whiteside 1981), has been no less successful.
Hitler's Willing Executioners, which may have already sold more
copies in the United States than any other previously published
Holocaust study, has been at least as successful in Federal Republic
where its message has allowed younger generations of Germans-if
they so desire-to distance themselves from crimes committed by their
grandparents or omitted by their parents, thus relieving inherited
guilt feelings and other perceived "burdens of the past."
(See in particular Goldhagen's forward to the German edition translated
in the Vintage U.S. paperback of February 1977.) The narrative,
it might be argued, had already allowed all generations of Americans
(not to mention French, Israelis, and others where the book was
a best seller) to distance themselves from "Germans."
Even though the book itself is a response to the German Historikerstreit
[historians' dispute] of the late 1980s, in reproaching functionalist
colleagues for "mastering the past" (Vergangenheitsbewältigung),
its author (in public statements) has repeatedly claimed that the
Germans of the post-1945 period are better people, not at all like
their ancestors.16 In one interview, he argues that (West) Germans
since the war have been transformed (by American reeducation efforts)
into model democrats and are now "just like us." He does
not stop to speculate how this demonstrable truth might affect his
thesis, or in any event whether "our" United States may
be less than democratic and anti-authoritarian. Nor, finally, does
he acknowledge the extent to which German identity and the discourse
of that identity are fundamentally constituted by the Holocaust.
(The same, as many have argued, can be said of American Jewish identity,
as both force and discourse.)17 Commenting on the sociologist Ulrich
Beck, who views "Auschwitz" as "German identity,"
the writer Maxim Biller has recently described the obsession with
Holocaust trauma "as the mother of a German national self-consciousness
finally discovered." The "holy Holocaust," as he
calls it, has finally brought forth the imagined community of a
hopelessly divided nation (Biller 1996: n.p.).
Yet the sacrilizing of that nexus of events is cause for concern
(and not simply shame or Betroffenheit) among many historians and
intellectuals who find Goldhagen's narrative "pornographic"
and "voyeuristic" in its description of violence toward
Jews. For instance:
The Germans made love in barracks [in the camps] next to enormous
privation and incessant cruelty. What did they talk about when their
heads rested quietly on their pillows, when they were smoking their
cigarettes in those relaxing moments after their physical needs
had been met? Did one relate to another accounts of a particularly
amusing beating that she or he had administered or observed, of
the rush of power that engulfed her when the righteous adrenalin
of Jew-beating caused her body to pulsate with energy? (Hitler's
Willing Executioners 339).
Goldhagen's stylistics, here and elsewhere, are explicitly moral,
employing rhetoric and hyperbole and spurning the sober detachment
of functionalist historiography. In appealing to the "common
sense" of readers and claiming to explicate the phenomenology
of the perpetrators, he may ironically render understanding of the
Holocaust more, rather than less, remote. Mitchell Ash maintains
graphic portrayals are recognized . . . as ambivalent markers of
immediacy and distance at the same time. They are valuable precisely
because of their concreteness, but also distancing because they
allow readers to imagine the murderers as people quite different
from themselves while simultaneously experiencing the thrill-and
disgust-resulting from imagined direct contact with violence (1997:
406, my emphasis; cf. section V below).
Ash, while recognizing that "identification and its opposite,
moral distancing, are useful means of teaching about the past"
also acknowledges that "non-scholars do not identify easily
with seemingly anonymous 'structures' and 'forces' of history"
This oscillation between extremes of identification (for example,
repetition-compulsion) and distanciation (for example, denial) is
most characteristically at work when Goldhagen attempts to explain
himself. For when discussing his theses in letters to the editor
and public rebuttals, he appears (on occasion) to know better than
others what he meant in Hitler's Willing Executioners. As its most
privileged interpreter, he may permit himself to alter what he has
said, at times even dissociating himself from the German translation.
This translation, like many others, may have been produced all too
hastily. Nonetheless, the divergences from the original render a
close reading of the German version of Goldhagen's book a desideratum.
To note only the most obvious misreprentation, Russell Berman is
correct that a shift in title to Hitlers willige Vollstrecker explains
how the German reception of the book passed through an initial phase
of hostile rejection by intellectuals to a second phase of mass
"[W]illige Vollstrecker," . . . means "willing executor,"
as if ordinary Germans were carrying out, i.e., "executing"
Hitler's will. . . . Of course, "executioner" also has
the additional meaning of carrying out an order, but that is surely
less obvious than its meaning as hangman, and given Goldhagen's
insistence on the eliminationist project, that would have been the
proper meaning to convey. "Willige Henker" might have
been a more accurate title that would not have softened the message
I would only add that the subtitle is equally egregious: "ganz
gewöhnliche Deutsche" ("plain old Germans")
may appeal to a German-speaking audience more strongly than the
main title, encouraging the younger cohort to distance itself from
the (grand)parents' generation.
Precisely where Hitler's Willing Executioners engages in such essentializing
argumentation, it betrays the very standards of scholarly accuracy
-not to speak of a psychological "working through" (durcharbeiten,
aufarbeiten)-which should be indispensable for the study of antisemitism
and the Holocaust. For the Holocaust, like many other human phenomena,
is utterly complex. In fact, if we accept (as does contemporary
"complexity theory") that every complex system is greater
than sum of its parts, then complex theorizing is necessary in order
to interrogate complex social and historical circumstances with
multiple roots and highly contingent outcomes.18 The historical
guild may have grasped this epistemological commonplace better than
Even great events can have small causes, just as apparently simple
acts can, and often do, have complex origins. Acknowledging historical
contingency and complexity is often deeply unsatisfying, but logically
necessary. Simple explanations employing large, relentless forces
acting directly upon individuals without mediation or variation
are the stuff of grand narrative and identity-creating myth, not
of precise historical explanation (Ash 1997: 399).19
What Goldhagen offers is a totalizing theory, or in his words, a
"compact causal model." It is, at best, a parsimonious
formulation; in its wake, the term "common sense" occurs
multiple times in the book.20 It also enables Goldhagen, in responding
to his scholarly critics, to invoke yet another false dichotomy
(and circular argumentation): namely, his best-selling statistics.
He thus renders the American and German publics who have bought
his book "smarter" than the critics. Witness the following
apologia, which touches only upon a portion of Ash's argument above:
Many horrific and complex outcomes have simple causes. The complexity
of the specification of the problem and of the manner of its study,
on the one hand, and the complexity of the answer or explanation,
on the other hand, are logically unrelated. Simple explanations
are not to be rejected merely because they are simple or with the
dismissal that "we know that things were much more complex."
. . . The call for complexity is sometimes the refuge of those who
find certain conclusions unpalatable (1996b: n.p.)
To insist that complicity in the Holocaust is complex becomes a
matter of taste for Goldhagen: Certain readers not moral or manly
enough to "take" his graphic (or "literalist")
descriptions. Here Goldhagen's rhetoric appears motivated by a fear
of appearing less than "tough" in the eyes of comrades-one
of the fears that undoubtedly motivated the men of Reserve Police
Battalion 101, not to speak of post-1967 American Jewry with its
popular fantasies of the "tough Jewish male," what Paul
Breines has referred to as the "Rambowicz syndrome" (Breines
The interdisciplinary investigation of human nature and the willingness
not to jump to conclusions may be more characteristic of the film
Schindler's List than the book Hitler's Willing Executioners. Spielberg's
accomplishment is to draw analogies with our capacity to ignore
our front pages as well as the all-too-human tendency to become
true believers in what we are doing (cf. Browning 1996). In fact,
the issue of compliance with authority-to be distinguished from
fear of authoritative force-is at the crux of Schindler's personal
transformation in the film in his decision to extricate himself
from the machinery of murder and the conformist behavior expected
of him. This transformation is to be imitated: as discussed above,
Schindler's List is shot through with allusions to the corporate
world, most specifically to the film industry.
One film by Jon Blair on the making of the Schindler's List film
reveals a Spielberg who is utterly self-reflexive about "Hollywood."
Here and elsewhere, Spielberg relates his early experiences as a
short-statured Jewish director in a universe dominated by (putatively
non-Jewish) producers and agents. To be sure, Jewish Americans such
as Spielberg are more likely to censure Hollywood's previous "failures"
to depict the Holocaust (either during World War II or afterwards).
But what is most striking in Blair's film is that Spielberg appears
to compare himself with Itzhak Stern, the mousy bookkeeper who by
no accident resembles the film director (note again the signature
round-frame glasses). It may be debatable whether Stern is a self-projection
of Spielberg, yet it is noteworthy that Ben Kingsley--the only well-known
actor in a film dominated by newcomers--was cast to play the character.
(Kingsley is most noted for his portrayal of antiviolence antihero
Mahatma Gandhi in Richard Attenborough's film of 1982.). Furthermore,
this character is figured visually (and otherwise) as the "witness
for posterity" (itself the public persona of Steven Spielberg
subsequent to the release of Schindler's List). According to Hansen,
"[t]hroughout the film, Stern is the focus of point-of-view
edits and reaction shots, just as he repeatedly motivates camera
movements and shot changes" (Hansen 1997: 85-86). He is also
the only character who gets to authorize a flashback-significantly,
in the scene where Schindler engages for the first time consciously
in bartering for Jewish lives.
Stern and the other Jewish figures in Schindler's List are no conventional
Greek chorus. They serve, as Geoffrey Hartman remarks, to make us
"aware of our silent and detached glance as spectators removed
in time and place. Neither the creator of this film nor its viewers
can assert, like the chorus in the Oresteia: 'What happened next
I saw not, neither speak it'" (1996: 82). Hartman is especially
astute in singling out the Spielberg insofar as Stern functions
as director's eyes and alter ego.22 The same argument for a differentiated
distancing cannot, I think, be made for the United States Holocaust
Memorial Museum which, like Schindler's List, opened to the public
in 1993.23 In certain respects, criticisms leveled at the museum
carried over to those leveled at the film. Even one of the more
thoughtful reviews (in the Village Voice) decried Spielberg's film
as a "simplistic and emotionally manipulative" product
of mainstream American culture (Hoberman 1994: 28).
In this very specific sense, Hitler's Willing Executioners may have
been Goldhagen's special answer not only to Christopher Browning's
Ordinary Men but also to Schindler's List and Americans' less-than-critical
response to it. This is a plausible reason why Goldhagen eschewed
Harvard University Press (which was rumored to have been prepared
to publish his book if it were reduced by about one-hundred pages)
in favor of Knopf with its guaranteed speed and market saturation.24
Though Goldhagen has no statements on record regarding Schindler's
List, his analysis might agree with that found in Commentary, the
monthly of the American Jewish Committee. This review, one of only
negative ones in the United States, complains that Spielberg does
not show us what motivates Schindler, why Schindler chooses good
(Gourevitch 1994). If Schindler, pace Goldhagen, has "genocidal
potential," there are only two possible conclusions: the film
Schindler's List is mendacious or mistaken. Taken to its logical
extreme, Goldhagen's approach would also interpret Schindler's transformation
in Spielberg's film as a lie, or at the very least as a "postmodernist"
obfuscation in dire need of the enlightening power of common-sense
intuition. Whereas Goldhagen's repeated rhetorical gesture is "Let
there be no misunderstanding," Spielberg enacts a language
of image and sound that is more attuned to epistemological nuance.
Hansen's well-reasoned defense of the film asserts that it attempts
to overcome the dichotomies of mass culture within the medium itself
(1997: 94). This is accurate, I think, despite justifiable (albeit
arguable) criticisms that the ending of Schindler's List is too
Let there be no misunderstanding, then. Goldhagen is correct regarding
many details involving perpetrators, bystanders, and victims of
the Holocaust. His book, for instance, is somewhat innovative in
evoking a distorted, displaced sacrificialism, that is, a "secular
sacred or negative sublime . . . active in the motivation of at
least certain Nazi perpetrators" (LaCapra 1998: 203). This
sacrificialism amidst secularization "involved a horror at
contamination or defilement by an impure other and an anxiety-ridden
impulse to get rid of the putative source of contamination"
(LaCapra 1998: 203). (This tendency is represented in Schindler's
List as well, however, in close-ups of Goeth in the scene where
Helene Hirsch is selected as the commandant's maid and also in the
sequence where Goeth examines his fingernails in the mirror [on
this, see Hansen 1997: 93-96].) Still, even those historians without
a postmodernist penchant, such as Robert Wistrich, recognize that
blurs what was distinctive about the Holocaust. By diverting our
attention from the millions done to death by desk-murderers, SS
units, and Wehrmacht soldiers, and focusing instead on the relatively
small numbers killed by police battalions or guards on death marches,
Goldhagen brings to the fore precisely those features-brutality,
sadism, killing for sport-that are not particularly unique to the
Holocaust but rather part of the endless catalogue of human cruelty
through the ages. The fact that the Holocaust represented industrialized
killing on a mass scale, ordered by a powerful state in the grip
of a mad hatred, somehow gets lost; and yet it is, after all, the
key fact (1996: n.p.).
Nor does one have to have read Hayden White to recognize that the
literalness embodied by Hitler's Willing Executioners might itself
be merely a mode of narrativization (or representation).26 Goldhagen's
blockbuster (qua creative treatment of historical actuality) seems
yet another "emplotment" of the Holocaust to the extent
that it is
a stark and enthralling narrative, much like the morality tales
so beloved by children about wicked queens, wolves, and witches.
Central to his book, as to these tales, is the sense that trembling
and terror are necessary to the perception of a morally comprehensible
universe. This is the evil that was done, this is who did it; here
is why they did it and how they felt (Joffe 1996: 21).27
Although historical narratives, like comedies, melodramas, horror
films, and other genres, have stock characters and situations, they
also have formal protocols through which they can sometimes challenge
or subvert these conventions. For all his concentrations on ordinary
individuals, Goldhagen uncovers a great deal of extraordinary evildoing.28
In his "anti-dedemonization" approach, evil actions are
inevitably committed by "evil individuals." Yet to uphold
such a perspective, we too often defer to alternative explanations
such as physiological disturbance or mental illness. The social
psychologist James Waller has recently summarized the latest research
on this intuitive "individual-origins model":
Implicit in this . . . model is the notion that ordinary people
cannot commit extraordinary evil; it takes extraordinary people
to commit extraordinary evil. We cling to such a simplistic view
of evildoing because it allows us to hold onto the notion of a just
and predictable world. . . . [I]t gives us the courage to go out
into the world and to send our children out into the world. . .
. A world in which ordinary people would be capable of extraordinary
evil is simple too psychologically threatening. Other conceptions
of evil, however, strongly and disturbingly challenge this intuitive
individual-origins model by suggesting that ordinary people are
indeed capable of extraordinary evil. These alternative conceptions
of evil, including the rival perspectives of a divided or unitary
self, maintain that most extraordinary evildoing in the world is
the product of potent social forces generated by situations and
organizations (Waller 1996: 2).29
This may explain why it is so crucial for LaCapra and other theorists
of "working-through" to acknowledge that
[o]ne must recognize in oneself the kernel of possibility of comparable
perpetration. . . . [S]uch attempts at understanding, recognition,
and comparison need not imply extending a misplaced, conventional
forgiveness to perpetrators but may possibly help enable one to
counter even reduced analogues of extreme victimization in one's
own life and culture as well as heighten sensitivity to current
phenomena that might in certain respects bear comparison with Nazi
genocidal practices of ethnic or racial purification and victimization
(LaCapra 2000: 104).
In specifically addressing Hitler's Willing Executioners, LaCapra
warns against writing one's own victimization: "A related problem
is how to recognize one's own transferential implication in events
one has not lived through without projectively assuming the role
of victim or survivor" (LaCapra 1998: 186-87). For Goldhagen,
like the rest of us engaged in the mediation of the memory and representation
of the Holocaust, may wish consciously or unconsciously to take
part vicariously in the experience of the primary witnesses. LaCapra
cites Goldhagen as a major instance of the failure to "work-through"
in arguing that "one's transferential relation to the object
of research is particularly intense with respect to extremely traumatic
series of events, and one may, in some combination, deny, act out,
and attempt to work through the attendant problems " (LaCapra
But how is transference, then, to be "worked-through"--inasmuch
as the representation of the Holocaust is so tied up with "German,"
"Jewish," and "American" (collective) identities?
"Working-through," for LaCapra, is opposed to "acting
out" or denying those transferential relations
in which one is both situated in a contemporary existential context
and tends to repeat, at least discursively, the processes that one
studies-a relation that is negotiated in ways that may variably
reinforce or place in question one's existing subject-positions.
Here one may propose a revised notion of objectivity not in terms
of a perspectiveless view from a transcendental position of absolute
mastery but in terms of the attempt to counteract inevitable (and
at times thought-provoking or heuristically valuable) processes
of projection and to work viably through one's implication in the
problems one investigates (206).
The negotiation of mastery and projection applies all too well to
the Holocaust blockbuster, particularly in its tendency to impinge
on local discourses beyond the United States. To this extent, LaCapra's
emphasis on subject positionality is applicable internationally,
for "despite its jargonistic sound, [it] conjoins social and
psychoanalytic concerns and critically mediates between an essentializing
idea of identity and an ill-defined, ideologically individualistic,
and often aestheticized notion of subjectivity (LaCapra 1998: 206).
Successful working-through thus "requires a combination of
the roles of subject-positions of scholar and critical intellectual,
a combination that does not dispense with rigorous scholarship or
conflate critical reflection with partisan propaganda but does render
allowable or even desirable modes of thought that often are discouraged
in the academy" (LaCapra 1998: 206). For LaCapra, remembering
and reconstructing the past is insufficient; one must also recognize
it as the premise of legitimate action in the present and future.
The historian's enactment of this essentially ethical responsibility
"need not be indentured to Pollyannaish views of a promising
moral and spiritual liberation or to the formula equating-and commending-forgetting
the past and forgiving the perpetrator" (LaCapra 2000: 105).
LaCapra concludes his History and Memory After Auschwitz as follows:
[S]een in an ethicopolitical sense, concern with transference in
research [on the Holocaust] need not induce a show-and-tell session
or even a movement toward autobiography . . . But it is also the
case that one's implication in a set of problems can exist and be
explored by virtue of the fact that one is indissociably a scholar,
an ethical agent, and a citizen or political being (1998: 210).
One might add to above list the artist, particularly with respect
to Spielberg and the self-referential-if not always adequately "worked-through"-aspects
of his Schindler's List.30 Hansen argues that the film attempts
in a postmodern manner to unsettle "the compulsive pas-de-deux"
of modernism and mass culture diagnosed by Adorno (1997: 94). Hence,
"[t]he attack on Schindler's List in the name of [Lanzmann's]
Shoah reinscribes the debate on filmic representation with the old
debate of modernism versus mass culture, and thus, with binary oppositions
of 'high' versus 'low,' 'art' versus 'kitsch,' 'esoteric' versus
'popular'" (1997: 94).
While Hansen and LaCapra rehabilitate the mediated attempts of artists,
historians, and other successful "mourners" of the past
to transmit near-trauma or unsettling experience, influential critics
will continue to be haunted by fears of trivialization, distortion,
and a compulsive repetition of the past. Social scientists, such
as Goldhagen, may be more "melancholic" (in the Freudian
sense) than humanists. Were they to consider "the cinema in
aesthetic and sensorial terms rather than as just another medium
of information and communication, they would find ample evidence
in both American and other cinemas . . . of an at once modernist
and vernacular reflexivity" (Hansen 1999: 70). Even the cinematic
blockbuster, both in its classical and contemporary manifestations,
presents a compelling juncture for reflexively working through past
trauma inasmuch as it was and remains "not only part and symptom
of modernity's experience and perception of crisis and upheaval;
it was [and is] also, most importantly, the single most inclusive
cultural horizon in which the traumatic effects of modernity were
[and are] reflected, rejected or disavowed, transmuted or negotiated"
(Hansen 1999: 69). Hansen sees film as capable of a reflexive relation
with modernity and modernization, consonant with Walter Benjamin's
and Siegfried Kracauer's writings of the 1920s and 1930s (1999:69).
In Schindler's List, like the earlier technologies of the steam
engine and the typewriter (both cited repeatedly in the film), cinema
also seems to stand for modernity--not only in its moments of pleasure
and jouissance but also in its capacity for compulsive repetition
and for acting-out. For effective working-through almost always
involves an active acknowledgement and, to some extent, an acting
out of trauma. LaCapra links
acting-out not only with possession by the repressed past, repetition-compulsions,
and unworked-through transference but also with inconsolable melancholy
and the generalization of trauma or its transformation into the
sublime. . . . Working-through would require a careful, discriminating,
nondismissive critique of this linkage which would nonetheless account
for its insistence and limited value (1998: 195).31
"Working through" the Holocaust blockbuster is neither
less difficult nor less valuable. It becomes, like all manner of
working-through, "a regulative ideal whose actual role in history
is a matter of inquiry and argument and whose desirability is affirmed
but acknowledged as problematic" (LaCapra 1998: 196). More
process than product, it means to relate trauma and its representations
as both synchrony and history, as both local and global.
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1This paper is a slightly revised version of material previously
published from: David Brenner, "Working Through the Holocaust
Blockbuster: Schindler's List and Hitler's Willing Executioners,
Globally and Locally," THE GERMANIC REVIEW 75.4 (Fall 2000):
292-316 (copyright 2000).
2Hansen appears to concur with this approach: "[T]he predominant
vehicles of public memory are the media of technical re/production
and mass consumption. This issue is especially exacerbated for the
remembrance of the Shoah in light of the specific crisis posed by
the Nazis' destruction of the very basis and structures of collective
remembering [i.e., a more "organic" tradition of oral
and collective memory]. . . . In a significant way, even before
the passing of the last survivors, the remembrance of the Shoah,
to the extent that it was public and collective, has always been
more dependent on mass-mediated forms of memory-on what Alison Landsberg
calls 'prosthetic memory'" (Hansen 1997: 98).
3For a similar argument, see Shandler 1999. According to Paul Ricoeur
(among others), what readers and viewers understand depends not
only on a narrator's skill but also on communal standards: "The
probable-an objective feature-must also be persuasive or credible
-a subjective feature. The logical connection of probability cannot
therefore be detached from the cultural constraints of acceptability"
4Cf. LaCapra on Langer's recent work: "Langer's view [in Preempting
the Holocaust] may facilitate a negative sacralization of the Holocaust
as the disorientingly sublime, unspeakable, unique tremendum-a series
of events beyond secular history and understanding" (2000:
5Consider, for instance, the digital camera and digital imaging,
which would appear to depart from the indexicality of previous photography.
6Some recognition of the historic potential of the film in implicit
in the fourteen days budgeted for its synchronization, in lieu of
a conventional three-to-seven day schedule (Ragheb 1995). At the
same time, I contend that the dubbed version-perhaps every dubbed
version-resonates differently from the "original." Indeed,
one German commentator does not appear to recognize that Goeth's
Viennese accent (in German) is not discernible in the English-language
original (Wildt 1996: 244). Some Austrian viewers may have viewed
this feature negatively, of course.
7The thrust of Hansen's argument confirms my own about the German
reception of Schindler's List: "Seeing the film outside the
context of American publicity [in Germany], however, made me consider
the film's textual work, if not independently of its intentions
and public effects, yet still from a slightly displaced location
in relation to both Hollywood globality and its intellectual critics
Let me also add that Spielberg is a cultural hero for some Israelis;
for a valuable discussion, see Bresheeth 1997: 207-08. Still, the
discourse of Spielberg as cultural hero is more dominant in the
United States. Consider too German critics' accusation that the
German film industry "failed" to produce its own film
based on Keneally's book.
8See also the February 1997 television premiere of Schindler's List
in the U.S. (sponsored by the Ford Corporation), especially Spielberg's
introductory remarks on the suitability of the film for young viewers.
The film was also abridged on this occasion by about one minute,
ostensibly to allay censors' concerns.
9A number of individuals who saw Schindler's List have expressed
this sentiment to me. See also the direct citation of Goeth's ("Euro-faggy")
style of smoking as "European Nazi" in a 1996-97 episode
of the TV situation comedy-cartoon, King of the Hill. Consider too
the stereotype in the United State that the bisexual is likely to
be infected with HIV. There is a sense here in which Spielberg deviates
from the political profile of average Jewish Americans, who differ
statistically from the average Americans only in one aspect: more
liberal attitudes regarding abortion and homosexuality.
10The U.S. version thus provides us with a reassuring distance between
murderers and the masses, between Germany then and America now.
11See the exchange on the film as being about "heroism"
and "a rite of passage to manhood" (Hoberman 1994: 27)
For an alternative view of historical (East European) Jewish masculinity,
see Boyarin 1997
12On the film's questionable (Jewish) moral authority, scholar Gertrud
Koch wisely observes: "The film itself intentionally raises
a very authoritarian voice, giving us an impression that we should
now believe that it happened like this. That's the rhetoric of the
film" (Hoberman 1994: 125).
13On the centrality of "sex and violence" to the portrayal
of Goeth and Schindler--who must be transformed in the direction
of the virtuous ascetic Stern--one need only refer to Spielberg's
repeated resistance to attempts to censor the film-at "home"
and abroad, with the notable exception of the televising of the
film referred to above.
14Art Spiegelman (author of Maus) claims that "It's [Schindler's
List is] a movie about Clinton. It's about the benign aspects of
capitalism-Capitalism With a Human Face" (Hoberman 1994: 30).
15Lanzmann's attacks on Schindler's List might additionally be read
as French protectionism vis-à-vis the global cinematic marketplace.
16Extrapolating from the work of Marianne Hirsch, I would designate
this phenomenon "reverse postmemory," a tendency among
children of Holocaust perpetrators (so-called second-generation
"perpetrators") whom Hirsch elides from her analysis;
17 Cf. Novick 1999.
18Cf. Hansen: "[C]ultural configurations . . . are more complex
and dynamic than the most accurate account of their function within
any single system may convey and require more open-ended, promiscuous,
and imaginative types of inquiry" (1999: 67).
19For a similar (though more jargon-laden) statement of the same
point, see LaCapra 1998.
20One of Goldhagen's latest appeals to simplicity and a non-Geertzian
"common sense" is as follows:
The few who do address these questions often provide laundry lists
of factors ("obedience to authority," "peer pressure,"
"routinization," " rationalization," "siege
mentality," "brutalization," "intoxication,"
and so on), many of which are little more than unilluminating cliches
that were postulated before significant research had been done on
the perpetrators. These and other concepts have been mechanically
slapped onto the perpetrators without their real meaning or applicability
to the actual deeds being sufficiently investigated. For decades,
these and other such notions ("totalitarianism," "the
banality of evil") have substituted for knowledge, have hindered
in-depth empirical investigation into the perpetrators' motivations
(Goldhagen 1996b: n.p.).
21Jewish neoconservative "Goldhagen fan" and New York
Times publisher A. M. Rosenthal argues that to deny the extent of
ordinary German support "could only be 'a mask for approval
or cowardice'" ("Some Ordinary Germans," New York
Times [April 1, 1996]; quoted in Ash 1997: 401). Neither Goldhagen
nor Spielberg reflect on the possibility of a (post-Zionist) critique
of Jewish masculinity.
22Spielberg's own transferential relations to the film have already
been discussed at some length. As the director affirmed upon accepting
an American Film Institute lifetime achievement award in April 1995:
"It is a story which I've lived myself" (television broadcast).
23Cf. Peter Novick: "The typical 'confrontation' with the Holocaust
for visitors to American Holocaust museums . . . does not incline
us toward thinking of ourselves as potential victimizers-quite the
opposite" (1999: 13).
24 My hypothesis here is strengthened by the media focus on Schindler
as a righteous Gentile from Germany, considered a rarity of rarities.
According to Spielberg, in fact, Schindler's List set out to proffer
a "Rosebud theory," that is, to elucidate "the mystery
as to why [the inscrutable] Schindler did what he did" (1993:
9). On the relationship between Citizen Kane and Schindler's List,
see Hansen 1997: 97.
25 Even an admitted cynic such as Peter Novick notes that "[e]ven
the movie's critics, however, acknowledged that Schindler's List
left all of those who saw it-however much or little they'd previously
known of the Holocaust--overwhelmed by the horror of the events
and deeply moved, often to tears. This was my own experience, and
I think it likely that for the majority of viewers, responses of
horror and grief overwhelmed whatever redemptive message is carried
by the movie" (Novick 1999: 214).
26Cf. White 1992 and responses in Friedlander 1992. In that essay,
White seems to agree that there are limits to interpretation and
emplotment based on the factual record of historical events.
27 Cf. here Goldhagen; "To present mere clinical descriptions
of the killing operations is to misrepresent the phenomenology of
killing, to eviscerate the emotional components of the acts, and
to skew any understanding of them. The proper description of the
events under discussion, the re-creation of the phenomenological
reality of the killers, is crucial for any explication" (1996a:
23). What Goldhagen does not explore are the mechanisms by which
language and discourse impinge on the "re-creation" of
" phenomenological reality."
28What Janice Radway writes about the daunting 1,250 pages of William
Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (first edition, 1960)
might also apply to the ethos of Hitler's Willing Executioners:
Even if the book was not fully read in every case, it promised those
who ordered it, held it in their hands, paged through it, and perhaps
made their way through only the first few chapters that a singular,
dedicated man, armed with a relentless desire to know and an endless
willingness to read papers, documents, letters, and books, could
actually comprehend the incomprehensible . . . . Perhaps it was
the very intensity of the particular desires these [middlebrow]
books cultivated that prevented so many of us from seeing that the
value of the knowledge and expertise they celebrated was dependent
in the end on a prior act of exclusion whereby the alternative knowledges
possessed by others were construed as ignorance or naiveté
or even worse, as lack of ambition in the first place (1997: 348,
Like Shirer's, Goldhagen's best-seller (both in the U.S. and Germany,
now in France, Israel, and elsewhere) presents a textual world that
performs an ideological labor of professional competence and managerial
class distinction. This privileged world is not by accident middle-class,
white (non-Jewish?), and masculine. At the same time, Radway's analysis
may also be relevant for Schindler's List as a videotape (or as
other reproducible media).
29For examples of the "divided-self model" which Waller
goes on to critique, see Lifton 1986 and numerous representations
of Doppelgänger in world literature and cinema.
30LaCapra, while denying that Schindler's List is an instance of
"working-through of the past," admits nevertheless that
its "mere existence and the fact that it has reached many people
may make it the occasion for the type of reflection its own workings
do relatively little to promote" (1998: 61). I do not, however,
see why the images in Schindler's List cannot in effect achieve
the same effect as those in LaCapra's reading of Maus, i.e., "condensed
and at times disconcerting mnemonic devices that help to recall
events one might prefer to forget" (1998: 179).
31 "With respect to traumatic events, and certainly with respect
to the extremely traumatic limit-event, one must, I think, undergo
at least muted trauma and allow that trauma (or unsettlement) to
affect one's approach to problems. . . . . [T]o generate anxiety
in tolerable, nonparanoid doses so that one is in a better position
to avoid or counteract deadly repetitions" (LaCapra 1998 40,
41). The disorientation intended by the ca. forty percent use of
handheld camera in Schindler's List contributes to this type of