Giving witness

Giving witness

: There is an odd bit in Virginia Heffernan’s review of a documentary series about Auschwitz starting on PBS tonight. She talks about her high-school teacher who came back to the Holocaust frequently and says:

Why, with so much history to learn, did we spend so long on the particulars of Auschwitz and the practices of the Nazis? I couldn’t help thinking that there was something about the Holocaust – or at least about the Nazis’ cold efficiency – that we weren’t meant to grieve, but to admire.

In “Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State,” a six-part BBC/KCET co-production by Laurence Rees that starts tonight on PBS, Melvin Jules Bukiet, a novelist who is the son of a survivor, says of the Holocaust, “I think we learn nothing from it.”

He goes on, “It is simultaneously endlessly fascinating – because it does embody extremes of human behavior – but it is also endlessly exhausting, because it provides no reward whatsoever.”

What if the Holocaust is no longer fascinating, but only exhausting?

I have not seen the series and have no idea whether it is any good.

There can be many reasons to give such a series a bad review: if it is not well-made, if it tells its story badly, if it exists to exploit (I am always mindful of what Elie Wiesel said: that you should give theater to Auschwitz or Auschwitz to theater).

But if it is “exhausting?” That’s odd. That’s saying, in essence, that we should move on — to other history — because the Holocaust might bore this student/viewer/critic.

I am of the school that remains important to give witness to this event.

I also don’t know Heffernan’s high-school teacher but I imagine he dwelled on the Holocaust because he thought it was an important lesson for his students and for the future. Her accusation regarding his motive — that he may have wanted his student to admire Nazis — is devastating to the reputation of someone people in that New Hampshire town know. I wonder what her evidence is of this.

Yes, this is the second day and the second criticism of Arts critics. Maybe they need new critics or maybe they need an editor who will push back at their assertions about people’s motives. Or maybe we need to keep pushing back.