German-Jewish Philosophers Facing the Shoah

  • Julius Simon


As we face the past in considering the events of the 20th century, we tend to continue to describe armed conflicts as theatres of war, our backs to the future. Such descriptions presuppose that we are capable of speaking about how the actions are staged and performed and that the experience of such events is not only presentable but also capable of representation. As we look back through the debris, we also notice another tendency, i.e., that genocides frequently have been associated with actions of modern war and rationalized and justified as necessary extensions of violent struggles for survival. This has been no less the case in, most recently, the Balkans, than during the 1970s in Rwanda or Cambodia and from 1939–45 in Nazi Germany. Speaking of genocide as a kind of ‘theatre’, however, seems even more absurd than referring to the performative acts of war in terms of protagonistic and antagonistic actors, directors, spectators, and impartial critics of the whole process. But what other choice do we have than to deal with the terms of absurdity? Are we not constrained in our engagements with others to act in one way or another through exercising simulation or dissimulation, revealing or concealing our intentions or desires behind the masks which we daily don? Are we not forced to admit and confront what are considered human aberrations from our stipulations of normal human behaviour? Are we not also then constrained to engage again and again in the difficult tasks of expression and interpretation of signs and gestures? Given that constraint, in the intermingling of our roles as actor, spectator and critic, then, we present and perceive public faces which are marked and masked with lines and traces of our ethical relations.


Character Structure Lower Middle Class Modern Democracy Dark Time Positive Freedom 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, originally published by Social Studies Association, Inc., New York, 1944; then by S. Fischer Verlag GmbH, Frankfurt am Main, 1969; and most recently by The Continuum Publishing Company, New York, 1999.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Adorno retracts his unrelenting assertion later by claiming that, ‘darum mag falsch gewesn sein, nach Auschwitz ließe kein Gedicht mehr schreiben.’ But qualifies the retraction with: ‘Nicht falsch aber ist die minder kulturelle Frage, ob nach Auschwitz noch sich leben lasse…’ See Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialektik (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1966), 355.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Edith Wyschogrod, An Ethics of Remembering: History, Heterology, and the Nameless Others (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998), 76.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Walter Benjamin, Einbahnstraße, (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1955), 7.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    ‘For Walter Benjamin, all significant knowledge lies in the depths of canonical literature.’ Norbert Bolz and Willem van Reijen, Walter Benjamin, trans. Laimdota Mazzarins (Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press International, 1996; orig. Frankfurt am Main: Campus Verlag GmbH, 1991), 1.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    For a thorough tracing of Benjamin’s influence by Rosenzweig, especially for the influence of Rosenzweig’s idea of Messianic Redemption on Benjamin’s ideas of progress and Redemption as the revolution towards political Utopia, see Stephan Moses, ‘Walter Benjamin and Franz Rosenzweig’, in Benjamin, ed. Gary Smith (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), 228–246. Arendt claims Adorno was Benjamin’s ‘first and only disciple’, despite Adorno’s criticisms of Benjamin.Google Scholar
  7. Cf. Hannah Arendt, Men in Dark Times, (Orlando: Harcourt Brace and Co., 1968), 154, 163.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    ‘Walter Benjamin, who never found a political, religious, or academic home anywhere, is regarded today as the leading authority on historical materialism, negative theology, and even literary decon-structivism.’ Norbert Bolz and Willem van Reijen, Walter Benjamin, (Frankfurt am Main: Campus Verlag, 1991), trans. By Laimdota Mazzarins (Princeton, NJ [please confirm place of publication]: Humanities Press, 1996), 1.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Most of these essays are readily available in Illuminations: Walter Benjamin: Essays and Reflections, ed. and intro. by Hannah Arendt, (New York: Schocken, 1969).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Cf. Jacques Derrida, ‘Gesetzeskraft. Der “mystische Grund der Autorität”,’ in Cardozo Law Review 11, Nr. 5/6 (1990), 919ff and for the response:Google Scholar
  11. Burkhardt Lindner, Derrida. Benjamin. Holocaust. — Zur politischen Problematik der “Kritik der Gewalt”, in Zeitschrift für kritsche Theorie, Heft 5/1997, (Lüneberg: zu Klampen), 65–100.Google Scholar
  12. 11.
    Walter Benjamin, Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, ed. and intro. by Hannah Arendt, (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), 154.Google Scholar
  13. 14.
    Cf. Chryssoula Kambas, Walter Benjamin in Exil: Zum Verhältnis von Literatutr-politik und Ästhetik (Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 1983).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 16.
    Fromm’s theses about the general involvement of German masses in Nazi ideology, and therefore by extension in the destruction of European Jews, appears to share similar empirical fallacies as Gold-hagen’s claims about the universality of antisemitism in Germany prior to and during the Holocaust, but the similarities are only apparent. Goldhagen’s claims are that not only were Germans almost universally united in their need and desire to eliminate the Jews, but that Jewish anti-Semitism was the amalgamating core of their eliminationist ideology. However, he supports his argument for quantitative universality on what even he confesses to be a deficient data base. Cf. Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Hitler’s Willing Executioners (Random House, New York, 1997), 47–48. Fromm, on the other hand, is quite clear that his analysis of psychological and social character is meant to elucidate trends in the spheres of psychological and social dynamisms of modern Europeans and Americans and is therefore much less pretentious.Google Scholar
  15. 17.
    Cf. Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1969; first edition, 1941), xvii: ‘I have tried to do some of this work [of elaboration] myself… In the Sane Society I amplified and deepened the analysis of contemporary society; in Man for Himself I developed the theme of ethical norms based on our knowledge of man, rather than on authority and revelation; in the Art of Loving I analyzed the various aspects of love; in The Heart of Man I followed up the roots of destructiveness and hate; in Beyond the Chains of Illusion I analyzed the relationship between the thoughts of the two great theorists of a dynamic science of man: Marx and Freud.’Google Scholar
  16. 19.
    Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1930.Google Scholar
  17. 37.
    In Fromm 220; Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1940), 53.Google Scholar
  18. 39.
    ibid., 232; Also, Martin Heidegger, perhaps the most notable educator who counted himself a loyal Nazi, presents the clearest answer to Hitler’s claims in his Rectoral Address of 1933, ‘The Self-Assertion of the German University’, where he argues for systematic change in the German University system to bring it in line with the principles of the Nazi party, significantly, the cohesion and collusion of: education service, with military service and labor service. Martin Heidegger, ‘The Serf-Assertion of the German University’, in The Heidegger Controversy, ed. Richard Wolin, (MIT Press, Cambridge, 1993), 29–39.Google Scholar
  19. 42.
    Hannah Arendt, Life of the Mind (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1971), 3.Google Scholar
  20. 43.
    Hannah Arendt, Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewess. Ed. and with an introduction by Liliane Weissberg (Baltimore: The John’s Hopkins University Press, 1997), 185.Google Scholar
  21. 44.
    Heidi M. Raaven. ‘Observations on Jewish Philosophy and feminist thought’, Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life & Thought, 46/4 (Fall 1997), 422–439.Google Scholar
  22. 47.
    Ingebord Nordman, Hannah Arendt. Frankfurt: Campus Verlag, 1994.Google Scholar
  23. 52.
    Upon her emigration to the United States, Arendt produced three remarkable texts in a very short period of her life: The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1951–66), The Human Condition (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1958) and Eichmann in Jerusalem (New York: Viking Press, 1963).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julius Simon

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations