As Paradigm for the Oppressed, the Oppressors, and the Resistance

As the Paradigm of Obedience and Altruism

As the Paradigm for Abuse and Protest


As we approach the end of our century, we need to pause and reflect upon its place in human history. One refers to the twelfth century as the age of the crusades and to the thirteenth century as the gothic age. One speaks of the seventeenth century as the age of the enlightenment and of the eighteenth as the age of the industrial revolution. What will intelligent people one hundred years from now regard as the icons of our times?

One will not be able to point to any particular technological advance. The innovations of our century have certainly changed the way we live -- the car, the jetliner, the computer, antibiotics -- but they are not major compared to the advances that the future will bring. Rather, it seems to me that something in the fabric of our culture will be the symbol (or symbols) of our time. There are two events that have marked our century for all times: the shoah[1] and the atomic bomb. These two moments in human history, embodied by Auschwitz and Hiroshima, will be the icons of our century.

I am not a student of the Hiroshima or of the nuclear age but three moments stand out in my mind when the awesome event of August 6th, 1945, entered my life. The first was a meeting with Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto, one of the six persons whose stories John Hersey follows in Hiroshima.[2] Reverend Tanimoto received his ministerial training at Emory University where I have been teaching for almost two decades and he and his wife were asked to come to Emory to speak and to be honored. Reverend Tanimoto spoke; I could barely understand him because of his accent. He told of being on the outskirts of Hiroshima when the atomic bomb went off; of his struggle to get back into the city to his family and to his church; and of his efforts to help the victims during those first terrible seventy-two hours. Mostly, however, his story is of the devastation of the blast -- the bodies which were melted into the cement, the raging inferno of the firestorm after the blast, the people with their skin burned off, and the strange and sudden deaths from an unknown cause. I had read about Hiroshima but I trembled listening to Reverend Tanimoto -- not because of what he said, but because of his witness. Just being in the presence of someone who had been there, who had seen and felt the explosion of the atomic bomb, was awe-inspiring. Reverend Tanimoto's story haunts me to this day; our century, will be remembered for it.

The second incident happened when I recounted the story of Reverend Tanimoto to my mother. She listened and then shared an incident from her life. My father had been on a trip, together with my mother, to Hawaii in November 1962 and, while there, they heard that an atomic bomb was going to be exploded. On that of night of November 4, 1962, everyone interested, including my parents, went to the beach. Suddenly, according to my mother's report, the whole eastern sky turned fiery red and yellow, and then a mushroom cloud was seen. As that light faded, all those present remained in stunned silence. I frowned when I heard the story because I could not believe the United States government would explode a bomb close enough to be seen from Hawaii, but I did not want to doubt my mother. I have checked: A bomb, the same size as the one used on Hiroshima, was exploded on Johnston Island approximately 800 miles from Hawaii.[3] It was the last of the atmospheric tests of a nuclear bomb, and the explosion and mushroom cloud were indeed visible in Hawaii.[4] Hearing, from a first hand witness, my mother no less, that an atomic explosion and cloud was seen 800 miles away I was, and remain, dumbstruck. While the bomb exploded at Hiroshima seen by Reverend Tanimoto and the one exploded at Johnston Island seen by my mother were 20 kilotons, the hydrogen bomb exploded at Bikini Atoll -- from which we have the word "bikini" referring to the scanty covering worn by the natives when they were evacuated for the first atomic tests in 1946 -- which took place on March 1, 1954, was 15 megatons, that is, 75 times more powerful.[5] For our century, Bikini Atoll is a suburb of Hiroshima; the hydrogen bomb is a natural outgrowth of the atomic bomb; and we shall live through history with that fact.

The third incident which brought home the deep iconic character of the atomic bomb was what I learned when helping to organize Ground Zero, an anti-nuclear protest, in the city of Atlanta in the early 1980s. We did some research: A single 60 kiloton atomic bomb -- only three, not fifteen, times as powerful as that dropped on Hiroshima -- if dropped on downtown Atlanta, would vaporize all of downtown out to and including Emory University, some five miles away from ground zero. The blast of that bomb and its firestorm would also level most of Atlanta within the highway which encircles the city. It would wipe out the major hospitals and leave wounded in orders of magnitude greater than the facilities are designed to care for. The blast would hit Emory so fast that we would not have time to confess our sins and say our prayers. Dirt would be sucked up into the air, creating a radioactive cloud that would stretch to Jacksonville, Florida, and which would be blown all over the southeast. And, since Georgia has many military bases, Atlanta would be hit by more than one bomb, compounding the destruction. This would be the local effect; worldwide, the picture was not better for we had come to know that the explosion of oly 1000 of the 50,000 atomic bombs then available would set off a "nuclear winter" which would doom the entire planet to another ice age.

Framed, for me, by the live witness to the explosion of the first atomic bomb on August 6, 1945 and by the live testimony to last atmospheric test of a nuclear bomb on November 4, 1962, and set in the context of a study of the facts done in the early 1980s of possible local and global nuclear devastation, Hiroshima came alive as a symbol of our time. There it is: we, human beings of the twentieth century, created and used military nuclear power. It is part of history; it is part of the story that generations will tell when they recount the events of our century. History cannot be reversed; we can only be held responsible for it. If we have avoided nuclear annihilation so far, that is to our credit. But so is the creation and release of military nuclear power part of our record. Hiroshima will be the symbol of our times; the atomic bomb will be the icon of our century.

I have been linked to the shoah for a longer period of time, and more intimately. When I was in high school (1952-56), we did not talk about the shoah. When I was in college (1956-60), which included a year in divided Jerusalem a scant few hundred yards from Jordanian gun emplacements, we did not talk about the shoah. When I was in rabbinical school (1960-64), which again included a year in divided Jerusalem, I heard one lecture on the shoah. It was not until my third year as an active rabbi (1967) that the shoah was mentioned, and then in a liturgical context. During these years, too, my great uncle Max, the only member of the family to survive and to come to America, lived half an hour from us; but I did not know him. A curtain of silence hung heavily around him, as it hung around the years he represented.

Three factors enabled Jews to break this conspiracy of silence. First, the unbelievable Six Day War slowly opened the floodgates of knowledge. After June 1967, Jews felt secure enough to confront the ugly, indeed horrible, truth of the shoah. After June 1967, Jews felt confident that history could be mastered and that might would make right. Second, the aging of the survivor generation forced survivors to realize that, if they did not tell their stories, no one would ever know and the past would be lost. Time was running against the truth of their story and it needed to be told, painful as that was to prove to be. Third, Jews in America went through a phase of acculturation, of adapting Jewish civilization to western culture. We learned how to act in an appropriate manner; we assimilated to the dominant culture. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the civil rights movement, however, liberated us. King taught us that it was legitimate to be openly Jewish, that we need not hide our Jewishness any more than he needed to hide his blackness and his African-American culture. I was at the great civil rights demonstration in 1963 and, by one of those strange acts of providence, I was in the press section, a scant one hundred feet from King when he gave his "I Have a Dream" speech. The speech and the whole occasion were liberating. In freeing us to be Jewish, Martin Luther King, Jr., also liberated us to talk about the shoah.

Slowly and then with increasing speed, books were written, speeches were given, memorials were created, chairs of shoah studies were established, newsletters were started, liturgies developed, and American liberators who had known total silence were brought into the picture. I, too, was drawn into the fray as a teacher, scholar, rabbi, and theologian.[6] This led me to conclude that the shoah is a paradigm in three important senses and that this status as a cultural paradigm will turn it into the other icon of our century.

The Shoah as the Paradigm for the Oppressed, the Oppressors, and the Resistance

return to head of document

To study the shoah is a searing personal experience for it shreds our self-image as decent human beings as we expose ourselves to the utter helplessness of the concentration camp victim: Nothing helped. There was no way to guarantee survival. A whim meant death. Powerlessness. Those of us who live in a world of empowerment cannot fathom this, and we tremble as the realization seeps into our consciousness. We identify with the victim, as fully as we dare; we feel our rage and we gasp at the victim's repression of his or her own rage. We share the victim's humiliation, as fully as we dare, and we rage for her or him. This vicarious suffering and its consequent rage are morally good; they makes us human. We ought to identify with the victim; we should experience rage, even when the victim could not; we ought to be angry on behalf of the suffering other.

To study the shoah as a Jew is also to face one's self as the object of hatred, as victim; to know that I would have been the object of hate-ful brutality just because I am who I am. To study the shoah is to identify with the victims of Jew hatred; to know that, had I been there, I would have endured the same treatment for the same reason: I am a Jew.

The shoah, then, is the incarnation of human helplessness and of racial and Jew hatred. It has become a paradigm of our times, a cultural model -- first, for victims. On the international scene, the usage is particularly common: One writes of the Armenian shoah, the Biafran shoah, the Cambodian shoah, and the Kurdish shoah. One even hears talk of the Palestinian shoah. Political prisoners are said to be in a shoah. One speaks commonly of nuclear shoah and, more recently, of environmental shoah. On the American scene, too, the usage is common. One speaks of African-American slavery as a shoah. The pro-life movement talks of the "American" shoah referring to babies killed by abortion. Some Jews refer to assimilation and intermarriage as a "second" shoah. I have even heard of victims of a hurricane referred to as victims of a shoah. Pictures of starving people, of massacred civilians, of prisoners in gulags and camps, and of fetuses -- all evoke and claim the paradigm of shoah. Indeed, it was the images of detention camps with inhumane conditions, together with the claim of "ethnic cleansing," that galvanized the world to the plight of the Bosnian Muslims, by echoing loudly the cries of the concentration and extermination camps of the shoah.

For the historical record, while many of the victims who claim the paradigm of shoah have suffered unspeakbly, these events have not been a shoah. The shoah properly spoken was not mass murder, nor was it the carnage of war. The shoah was a systematic, industrialized attempt to exterminate a whole people. There was order and method to identifying, rounding up, transporting, killing, and disposing of the bodies of the victims. The shoah was not an inbreaking of irrationality; it was the epitome of rational, ordered behavior in the cause of racist, ethnic, Jew hatred. The persecution of Armenians, the killing fields of Cambodia, the slavery of African-Americans, the violation of the civil rights of Palestinians, the torture of political prisoners in many places, the mass kidnapping of children in South America -- are all events to be deplored and strongly protested -- some of these may even be said to be genocidal -- but they are not the shoah.[7] Yet, the shoah is the paradigm invoked by victims. It is the icon of the oppressed. Auschwitz has become the symbol of oppression in our century, the representation of what our human culture has led, and can yet lead, to.

As the shoah has become the symbol of the oppressed, so has it become the icon for the oppressors. Those who hate --and there are many of them -- are engaged in a twofold effort. On the one hand, they deny the shoah ever happened, or impugn the evidence for the shoah so much that the truth of what happened is completely distorted. On the other hand and at the same time, the oppressors preach the ideology of the shoah -- racial purity and ethnic solidarity -- as a positive ideology, advocating and using racial hatred as a justification for their persecution of the different other. Thus, the Serbs openly speak of, and actively practice, "ethnic cleansing" in their attempt to make their country racially pure. There are many other examples.

As the shoah has become the symbol of the oppressed and the oppressors, so too has it become the icon of the resistance. It is the memory of the shoah which has drawn Jews and Christians together to fight antisemitism. It is the presence of the shoah that has compelled many Germans to demonstrate against racism, enough to shame their government into action. It is the consciousness of the shoah that motivates much of the backing for the State of Israel by Jews, as well as much of the criticism of Israeli government policy toward the Palestinians. It is the spectre of the shoah that motivates many people in the anti-nuclear movement. It is cognizance of the shoah that evokes deep passion in the abortion debate and which evokes firm commitment in the "green" movement. Put generally, it is the knowledge of the shoah as racist power gone mad that forces us to speak up on issues of repression, starvation, and oppression all over the world.

The evoking of the shoah by resistors of all shades functions by what I call "anticipatory guilt." We, all of us under 55,[7b] were not responsible for the shoah; the new generations will not even have live testimony. Yet, because the shoah has entered our collective psyche as a paradigm, we know. And, because we know, we do not want to be passive now for what history may someday label another shoah. I do not want my sons, now in their early twenties, to say to me, "Hey, Pop, what did you do? Why didn't you speak up?" I do not want my students to say to me, "Hey, Dr. B., where were you when...? Why didn't you galvanize us into action?" It is not guilt; it is anticipatory guilt. And, it is morally good for, without anticipatory guilt, we would be much poorer ethically. Without being forced to identify with the victims, we will not be responsive to their suffering.

Precisely because it is a paradigm of helplessness, precisely because it is a cultural model of Jew hatred and racism, and precisely because it is the embodiment of an anticipatory guilt that compels us to speak out, the shoah will become the symbol of our century. Because it is claimed by the oppressed, because it is claimed by racist oppressors, and because it is claimed also by the resistors, Auschwitz will become the icon of our times.

The Shoah as the Paradigm of Obedience and Altruism

return to head of document

The year 1961 was a seminal one for shoah studies. It was a year whose significance has not yet been fully appreciated for, in that year, Hannah Arendt covered the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem and Stanley Milgram was in the middle of his famous obedience experiments at Yale University. Arendt, herself a German Jewish refugee and professor of political philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York, covered the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the man charged with executing the final solution for the nazi regime, for The New Yorker and later compiled her work into Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.[8] This led Arendt to the startling conclusion "... that it was not his fanaticism but his very conscience that prompted Eichmann to adopt his uncompromising attitude during the last year of the war ..."[9] With this statement, Hannah Arendt introduced the idea of "the banality of evil" -- that doing evil need not be a matter of psychopathology or of ideological fanaticism; rather, doing evil can be a matter of obedience, even a matter of conscience, of dutiful adherence to the demands of authority.

While Hannah Arendt was in Jerusalem, Stanley Milgram was at Yale conducting the obedience experiments.[10] In these studies, subjects were told that they were to help someone learn a series of word associations by giving the learner an electric shock every time the learner made an error. It was to be an experiment in negative reinforcement. The shocks ranged from harmless to deadly. The learner, who was part of the experiment although the subject did not know it, protested with increasing vigor as the shocks grew stronger. All the teacher-subjects, at some point, objected to continuing to administer the painful and perhaps dangerous electric shocks to an innocent learner. The experimenter, however, simply insisted, in a very impersonal way, that the subject continue the experiment; that is, that the subject continue administering the electric shocks. While Yale psychiatrists had predicted that a fraction of a percent of subjects would continue into the deadly range, the facts are that over 65% continued to the end of the shock range -- on the simple commands of the experimenter. The statistics held consistently across economic and social class, educational background, and gender; they were slightly higher among college students and in Germany.[11]

In analyzing these frightening experiments, Milgram pointed out that everyone is taught to be part of a series of social hierarchies. "He [or she] has, in the course of moving from a biological creature to a civilized person, internalized the basic rules of social life. And the most basic of these is respect for authority.... there is an internalized basis for his [or her] obedience, not merely an external one.... The most far-reaching consequence of the agentic shift is that a man [or woman] feels responsible to the authority directing him [or her] but feels no responsibility for the content of the actions that the authority prescribes. Morality does not disappear, but acquires a radically different focus: the subordinate person feels shame or pride depending on how adequately he [or she] has performed the actions called for by authority."[12]

"Being good," Milgram and Arendt demonstrate, is being obedient; not psychopathology or adherence to a moral code. "Morality" is the measure of one's loyalty, cooperativeness, and dutifulness; not insanity or the embodiment of one's commitment to a religious or cultural ideal. Righteousness is, according to Milgram and Arendt, a matter of conscientious obedience to legitimate authority.

After Arendt and Milgram many studies were done: the Stanford Prison Experiment (1971),[13] the blued-eyed - brown-eyed elementary school experiment,[14] and the excellent study of Kelman and Hamilton on the trial of Lt. Calley.[15] Always the theme of the shoah is present: Milgram begins and ends his book with it, Lipton and Proctor have explored the issue for the medical professions,[16] Müller has set forth the horrifying story of the legal profession,[17] Koonz has dealt with women in nazi Germany,[18] and Browning, in a book which sets the teeth on edge, has explored the mentality of a normal police battalion which had as its task the extermination of the Jews of the Lublin district.[19] The theologians and the professors have also been studied,[20] as have the educators and psychiatrists.[21] Always, the same horrifying point: being good is conforming to the demands of a legitimate authority structure; morality is conscientious fulfilling of the expectations of a duly instantiated social hierarchy.

There can be no exploration of obedience, however, without the study of resistance. Much has been done to identify and tell the stories of moral and physical resistance.[22] All these testimonies, deeply moving though they are, raise a fundamental question: If obedience is morally natural, why do some people resist? What is it about rescuers that makes them disobedient?

To answer this question, a whole field called "altruistic studies" has developed. The best scientific study of the rescuers and bystanders is by Samuel and Pearl Oliner.[23] Using the usual social scientific tests and scales, the Oliners studied almost 700 resucers, non-rescuers, and survivors. They suggest that the immediateness of nazi control, local attitudes toward Jews and antisemitism, the position of local leadership, and the availability of rescue contributed toward the likelihood that a person would become a rescuer. Some facts jump out from this study, though it takes time to absorb them: 65-70% of the rescuers saved more than five people and engaged in rescue activities for three or more years; 80% of the rescuers had households of their own of two or more people, all of whom were endangered by the rescue activities; the remaining 20% of rescuers were single women; 80% were not part of the resistance movements during the war; and, most important, 67% of the rescuers did not engage in rescue activity until asked by someone in social or peer authority, or by a victim.

The Oliners' conclusions are as simple as they are stunning. Rescue was not a function of: economic resources, knowledge of nazi policy, patriotism, hatred of the nazis, political conviction, religion, or a special relationship to Jews -- though these factors did play a part in the decision to act. Rather, rescue activity was a function of a commitment to caring for other human beings. Inclusiveness, pity, compassion, concern, commitment to ethical principles -- an ethic of care -- this is the vocabulary of the rescuers. Furthermore, the rescuers continue to be caring persons, attending to the sick and aged, and so on.

Most important, the Oliners draw two facts to the surface. First, all rescuers had parents who modeled caring behaviors, parents who preached and practiced care for others. Second, all rescuers had parents who utilized benevolent disciplinary techniques in child-rearing. Reasonable punishment, the Oliners conclude, teaches right and wrong while, at the same time, communicating the message that authority can be challenged, that authority can be dealt with morally. This contrasts strongly with the modeling and message to non-rescuers for whom authority must always be obeyed, for whom the instructions of an authority figure must always be followed, regardless of the subject's own moral feelings. Either way, the modeling and the message are, the Oliners note, internalized. In the one, they become an ethic of caring; in the other, an ethic of obedience.[24]

"Being good," then, according to the Oliners, need not be the measure of one's loyalty, cooperativeness, and dutifulness; "morality" need not be conscientious obedience to legitimate authority. Rather, the Oliners suggest, "being good" can be a measure of one's commitment to an ethic of caring; "morality" can be a function of one's training and attitude toward the powerless other.[25]

Precisely because it is a paradigm of obedience and of altruism, precisely because it is a cultural model for the study of how we shape other human beings either into socially conforming or socially disconforming persons, the shoah will become the symbol of our century. Because it is claimed by those who preach and exercise obedient authority and because it is also claimed by those who preach and exercise altruistic authority, the shoah will become the icon of our times.

The Shoah as the Paradigm for Abuse and Protest

return to head of document

With this consideration of the shoah as a paradigm for human self-understanding, we move from the realm of political and moral claims to the shoah and from the social psychological lessons to be derived from the shoah into the realm of theology and religious reflection.

Two crucial insights are beginning to surface from the horrifying data about child abuse. First, a child who has been abused suffers from many very serious problems as a child and as an adult. Foremost among them, the survivor of child abuse loses the ability to trust. Trust, that ever so fragile human relationship upon which civilization is built, is not a natural virtue; it is learned. We learn to trust our parents; we learn to have confidence in, and rely upon, our primary caregivers. We are not born loving those around us; we learn to love. And if someone who has gained that love violates it by invading our bodies, we learn to dis-love. If someone who ought to have our trust violates that trust by beating our bodies, we learn to dis-trust. As a matter of fact, we would be very, very foolish to love someone who has violated the bond of love; we would be very, very foolhardy to trust someone who has broken the covenant of trust. Abused children do not, and should not, trust. Adult survivors of child abuse do not, and should not, easily trust. Wariness, suspicion, and resistance are the intelligent order of the day. Tentative trust, contingent love, and temporary covenant are the reasonable expectations of the abused person.

Second, child abuse is never the fault of the child. The child may be told that it is her or his fault; that somehow she or he deserves it. But it is never true. Abusing a child is an act of an adult, by an adult, and for an adult. It wells forth out of the depths of the warped psyche of an adult. Abuse is never the wish of the child. Even lack of resistance is not the fault of the child because the child is at a social-structural disadvantage; she or he cannot defy the adult, either out of fear of further violence or out of fear of violence against someone else. Abuse takes place in a conspiracy of silence; the child may not speak out or otherwise resist. As a result, what characterizes child abuse is not the level of violence but the complete lack of responsibility for abuse by the victim: The victim is the victim, and the perpetrator is the perpetrator; blaming the victim is unfair and unjust.

What kind of religious life can a survivor of child abuse have? What kind of spiritual existence can a person who has been abused as a child pursue? To put it more plainly: What kind of God can a survivor of child abuse have? What kind of God can a person who has been abused as a child pray to? How can one who has lost basic trust, trust in God? How can one who has a layer of rage within pray to God? These are very serious questions.

The problem of abuse presents itself to Jews in the context of the shoah. Where was God? Did God cause the shoah? How did God allow the shoah to happen? Why would a good and omnipotent God not act to protect God's chosen people? The Jewish people were victims --that is clear. The Jewish people were innocent victims -- that is also clear. We, as a people and as individuals were sinful, but not enough to justify killing 1,500,000 babies. We, as a people and as individuals transgressed God's covenant, but not enough to justify the shoah. So, where was God?

The Jewish religious tradition gives several answers to this question; I find them all inadequate and would like to suggest that there is another answer, though I admit it sounds offensive and, perhaps, heretical. It begins with the question: If we are the victims of the shoah, who is the perpetrator? If we are the victims of abuse, who is the abuser? I think the time has come to admit that God can be an abuser. God is not always an abuser. Sometimes, indeed often, God is good and God's Presence is a deep comfort to us; from this aspect of God comes our healing. But, sometimes, God does act like an abuser; the shoah is witness to that. And we must, unwilling as we are, face this aspect of God directly, in theological reflection and in prayer.

The idea that God is an abuser is new in terminology but it is an old idea, for Jewish tradition has long recognized the unjust nature of Jewish history and responded in thought and prayer. Psalm 44 is an example; a similar stance is taken by Job in the poetic sections of the book that bears his name; and comparable attitudes and responses are taken by the later rabbinic tradition.[26]

The understanding of God as an abusing God and the realization that the proper response is one of challenge and protest form a renewed paradigm for our age. This model enables those who are abused to name their abuse clearly. It sanctions their rage against the abuser and it empowers their sense of righteous self. Adult survivors of child abuse may feel more at home in this theology of protest. Jews haunted by the shoah may feel more comfortable with this theology of challenge. Indeed, all who are abused may find a spirituality that corresponds openly to their affective lives in this mode of self- and divine-understanding.[27]

Precisely because it is a paradigm of abuse, precisely because it is also a cultural model of rage-ful protest, the shoah will become the symbol of our century. Because it is claimed by survivors of child abuse, because it is claimed by survivors of the shoah, and because it is claimed by sympathetic fellow human beings, the abuse-protest paradigm of the shoah will become the icon of our times.


I would wish that our century would be known for its accomplishments in the arts, or for its life-enhancing technologies, or for some stunning intellectual advance; but I fear that is not to be. Too many evil things have happened in our day and in our times. Auschwitz and Hiroshima will be the symbols of our century, the icons of our times -- because they embody the paradigms of victimage, of ethnic hatred, and of moral resistance; because they personify the models of obedience and altruism, the banality of evil and of good; and because they symbolize the paradigms of abuse and protest, of challenge and resistance, even unto God.

Technology is like grass: "in the morning it flourishes and grows; in the evening it is cut down and withers" (Ps. 90:5). Social elegance and art are like beauty, but "gracefulness is deceitful and beauty is vain" (Prov. 31:30). It is by the terror we have sown and by the lessons we draw from it that we shall be remembered. It is by the destructiveness we have loosed into history and by our moral response to it that we shall be known. Hiroshima and the atom bomb, Auschwitz and the shoah -- these will be the icons of our times.

[*] A longer verison of this paper was given as a lecture under the sponsorship of the Chair of Judeo-Christian Studies at Tulane University, New Orleans, in 1994. It was revised and published on my website <> in 1997 with the permission of Fr. V. A. McInnes. It is revised yet again now in 2003. I have chosen, however, to retain the voice of 1997 which tried to capture the reflective stance of the approaching end of the twentieth century. It appears in Robert S. Frey, ed., The Genocidal Temptation: Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Rwanda, and Beyond (Lanham, Md., University Press of America: 2003) 241-56.

[1] For many years I used the word "holocaust" to designate the destruction of European Jewry during the Second World War. I have since been persuaded that "holocaust" should not be used for two reasons: (1) It bears the additional meaning of 'a whole burnt offering,' which is certainly not the theological overtone to be sounded in this context. And (2), the destruction of European Jewry happened to Jews and, hence, it is they who should have the sad honor of naming this event with a Hebrew term. The word "shoah" has been used for a long time in Hebrew to denote the catastrophe to Jewry during World War II and has even been adopted by many non-Jews as the proper designation. I now adopt this usage and acknowledge my debt to Professor Jean Halpérin of Geneva and Fribourg for the insight. In any case, it has long been my custom, for ethical and theological reasons, not to capitalize words like "holocaust," "nazi," "final solution," etc.; capitals are reserved for God.

[2] New York, A. Knopf: 1946; revised, 1985, with a final chapter added, "The Aftermath," in which Hersey follows the stories of his characters into the late 1970s.

[3] The following cities are approximately 800 miles from Atlanta: Milwaukee (799), Dallas and Houston (791), and Kansas City MO (822). The bomb of November 4, 1962 was seen at that range.

[4] This is confirmed by the press reports in the New York Times, November 5, 1962, pages 1 and 9, and Facts on File, for that date. The Honolulu Star Bulletin, November 6, 1962, carried an article describing in full the last series of 36 nuclear tests, including the major test of October 30, 1962, which shook the ground in Hawaii. (Photographs of that explosion are in the Honolulu Advertiser, November 2, 1962.) The summary article in the Honolulu Star Bulletin also contains a photograph of a couple sitting on a bench overlooking the sea (they look suspiciously like my parents) watching the final explosion.

[5] Actually, the first hydrogen bomb was exploded at Eniwetok Atoll, not far from Bikini Atoll, on November 1, 1952 though reports of it were leaked only much later. The Bikini blast was covered and reported right away.

[6] For more on this, see my "From Wissenschaft to Theology: A Mid-Life Recalling," in Selving: Linking Work to Spirituality, ed. W. Cleary (Milwaukee, Marquette University Press: 2000) 102-112; also available on my website.

[7] The best essay on this subject remains S. Katz, "The `Unique' Intentionality of the shoah," in Post-shoah Dialogues, ed. S. Katz (New York, New York University Press: 1985) 287-317. See now, idem., The shoah in Historical Context, 3 vols. (Oxford, Oxford University Press: 1994-2003).

[7b] In 2003, it would be 65! My children's ages, cited below, also need to be adjusted.

[8] New York, Penguin Books: 1963/1977.

[9] Arendt, 146.

[10] S. Milgram, Obedience to Authority (New York, Harper Colophon Books: 1974); also available as a film.

[11] The experiment had many forms and the statistics are spread through the book; see 171 and 173 for the college student and German results.

[12] Milgram, 152 and 141; 145-6; egalitarian language added.

[13] Available in slide presentation and, later, in a film, "Quiet Rage"; cf. New York Times Magazine, April 8, 1973.

[14] Film: "In the Eye of the Storm" and later in "A Class Divided"; the latter appeared as a book by W. Peters, A Class Divided Then and Now (New Haven, Yale University Press: 1987).

[15] H. Kelman and V. Hamilton, Crimes of Obedience (New Haven, Yale University Press: 1989).

[16] R. Lifton, The nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press: 1989) and R. Proctor, Racial Hygiene: Medicine Under the nazia (Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press: 1988); cf. also "The Value of the Human Being: Medicine in Germany 1918-1945," an exhibition.

[17] I. Müller, Hitler's Justice: The Courts in the Third Reich (Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press: 1991); reviewed by me in Modern Judaism, 1993, 13:95-106.

[18] Claudia Koonz, Mothers in the Fatherland (New York, St. Martin's Press: 1987).

[19] C. Browning, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (New York, Harper Collins: 1992).,

[20] R. Ericksen, Theologians Under Hitler (New Haven, Yale University Press: 1985) and M. Weinreich, Hitler's Professors (New York, Yiddish Scientific Institute [YIVO]: 1946).

[21] G. Blackburn, Education in the Third Reich (Albany, NY, State University of New York Press: 1985) and G. Cocks, Psychotherapy in the Third Reich (New York, Oxford University Press: 1985).

[22] C. Rittner, The Courage to Care (New York, New York University Press: 1986), available also in a film; G. Block and M. Drucker, Rescuers: Portraits of Moral Courage in the shoah (New York, Holmes and Meier: 1992) which is a catalogue to an exhibit; M. Prager, Sparks of Glory (New York, Mesorah Publications: 1974, 1985); C. ten Boom, The Hiding Place (New Jersey, Spire Books: 1971); and many others.

[23] The Altruistic Personality (New York, Free Press: 1988); reviewed by me in Critical Review of Books in Religion 3 (1990) 409-11.

[24] Oliner, chapters 6 through 8, especially 179-83, as noted.

[25] For a fuller exposition of this, see my The Banality of Good and Evil: Moral Lessons from the Shoah and Jewish Tradition (Washington, DC, Georgetown University Press: 1999).

[26] Cf. A. Laytner, Arguing With God (Northvale, NJ, Jason Aronson: 1990); reviewed by me in Modern Judaism, 12:1 (Feb. 1992) 105-10.

[27] For a full exposition of this theology, see my Facing the Abusing God: A Theology of Protest (Westminster / John Knox: 1993). For my second-thoughts on this thesis, see the articles on my website.

return to head of document

return to index of Selected Articles

David Blumenthal's HomePage