Auschwitz 'corrective'


By Geoffrey Paul
July 15, 2009
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It is not very often you read a “corrective” about the Holocaust that makes you sit up and say, Yes, that's right. I hadn't seen it that way. But I have just had such an experience with the July 16 issue of the New York Review of Books. There, Timothy Snyder, a professor of history at Yale and specialist in Eastern Europe, claims that by 1943 and 1944, when most of the killing of West European Jews took place, “the Holocaust was in considerable measure complete . Two thirds of the Jews who would be killed during the war were already dead by the end of 1942. The main victims, the Polish and Soviet Jews, had been killed by bullets fired over death pits or by carbon monoxide from internal combustion engines pumped into gas chambers at Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor in occupied Poland.”

So why my skewed perception, which I am sure most other Western Jews share? Explains Snyder, “The very reasons that we know about Auschwitz warp our understanding of the Holocaust: we know about Auschwitz because there were survivors and there were survivors because Auschwitz was a labour camp as well as a death factory. These survivors were largely West European Jews because Auschwitz is where West European Jews were usually sent. After World War II, West European Jewish survivors were free to publish as they liked, whereas East Euopean Jewish survivors, if caught behind the iron curtain could not. In the West, memoirs of the Holocaust could (although very slowly) enter into historical writing and public consciousness.”

You can read more of Snyder's fascinating views on “The Ignored Reality” at www.nybooks.com/articles/22875

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