The Americanization of the Holocaust 0801860210, 9780801860218

"If the Holocaust, as image and symbol, seems to have sprung loose from its origins, it does not mean we should dec

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The Americanization of the Holocaust
 0801860210, 9780801860218

Table of contents :
Contents
Acknowledgments
Introduction: The Americanization of the Holocaust
1 The Imaginary Jew and the American Poet
2 Aliens in the Wasteland: American Encounters with the Holocaust on 1960s Science Fiction Television
3 Imagining Survivors: Testimony and the Rise of Holocaust Consciousness
4 America's Holocaust: Memory and the Politics of Identity
5 Inheriting the Holocaust: Jewish American Fiction and the Double Bind of the Second-Generation Survivor
6 Surviving Rego Park: Holocaust Theory
from Art Spiegelman to Berel Lang
7 "Three Thousand Miles Away": The Holocaust in Recent Works for the American Theater
8 The Cinematic Triangulation of Jewish American Identity: Israel, America, and the Holocaust
9 Reflections on the Holocaust from Nebraska
10 "You Who Never Was There": Slavery
and the New Historicism—Deconstruction and the Holocaust
11 Suffering as a Moral Beacon: Blacks and Jews
12 Play Will Make You Free: Reprising The Triumph of the Will in Chicago's Nike Town
Notes
Contributors
Index

Citation preview

AMERICANIZATION of the HOLOCAUST The

AMERICANIZATION o f the HOLOCAUST The

Edited by

Hilene Flanzbaum

The Johns Hopkins University Press Baltimore and London

Illustrations in chapter 6 are reprinted from Maus: A Survivor's Tale and Maus II: A Survivor's Tale, both by Art Spiegelman. Copyright 1973,1980,1981,1982,1983,1985,1986 and 1986,1989, 1990, and 1991, respectively, by Art Spiegelman. Reprinted by permission o f Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, Inc. © 1999 The Johns Hopkins University Press All rights reserved. Published 1999 Printed in the United States o f America on acid-free paper 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 The Johns Hopkins University Press 2715 North Charles Street Baltimore, Maryland 21218-4363 www.press.jhu.edu Library o f Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data will be found at the end of this book. A catalog record for this book is available from the British Library. ISBN 0-8018-6021-0 ISBN 0-8018-6022-9 (pbk.)

CONTENTS

Acknowledgments

vii

Introduction: The Americanization o f the Holocaust

i

1 The Imaginary Jew and the American Poet Hilene Flanzbaum

18

2 Aliens in the Wasteland: American Encounters with the Holocaust on 1960s Science Fiction Television Jeffrey Skandier

33

3 Imagining Survivors: Testimony and the Rise o f Holocaust Consciousness Henry Greenspan

45

4 America's Holocaust: Memory and the Politics o f Identity James E. Young

68

3 Inheriting the Holocaust: Jewish American Fiction and the Double Bind o f the Second-Generation Survivor Andrew Furman

83

6 Surviving Rego Park: Holocaust Theory from Art Spiegelman to Berel Lang Amy Hungerford 7

102

"Three Thousand Miles Away": The Holocaust in Recent Works for the American Theater Joyce Antler

125

8 The Cinematic Triangulation o f Jewish American Identity: Israel, America, and the Holocaust Sara R. Horowitz

142

9

Reflections on the Holocaust from Nebraska Alan E. Steinweis

167

10 "You W ho Never Was There": Slavery and the New Historicism— Deconstruction and the Holocaust Walter Benn Michaels

181

11 Suffering as a Moral Beacon: Blacks and Jews Laurence Mordekhai Thomas

198

12 Play W ill Make You Free: Reprising The Triumph o f the Will in Chicago's Nike Town Andrew Levy Notes

225

Contributors Index

211

257

255

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This book grew out o f a panel o f the same name delivered at the 1996 Chicago Modern Language Association Convention. I owe a debt to the organizer and chair of that panel, Paula Geyh. I extend thanks to her and the other presen­ ters, Jeanne Ewert, Andrew Weinstein, and Andrew Levy. For their lively and provocative follow-up discussion, I would also like to thank those who at­ tended the session. I am grateful to my colleague, Marshall Gregory, for his diligent editing, and my student, Dana Sullivan Kilroy, for her research help. I also thank Walter Benn Michaels for his inspiration o f this book. And to my husband, Geoffrey Sharpless, whose wisdom and skill allowed me to think with more depth and to write with more clarity, my most profound love and gratitude.

AMERICANIZATION of the HOLOCAUST The

Introduction

THE AMERICANIZATION OF THE HOLOCAUST

In the past few years I have presented scholarship about the Americanization o f the Holocaust and postwar American poetry in community centers, in col­ lege classrooms, and at literary conferences. While reaction to these presenta­ tions has o f course differed, I have found a consistent objection to my as­ sumption that Americans, including American Jews, said little about the Holocaust in the decade following World War II. This assumption, which I have gradually understood to hit a nerve, has never been the point o f my work, only a supposition. Yet whether I am in a seminar room or a gymna­ sium, someone always finds my statement outrageous— if not blasphemous: “How can you say no one talked about the Holocaust in the 1950s?” Then the questioner usually supplies what he or she believes to be counterproof to my supposition: “We all saw Anne Frank. What about Anne Frank?” As my alert questioners understand, The Diary of Anne Frank has long been the most important landmark in the Americanization o f the Holocaust. This is true despite the current presumption by experts that it camouflages the event’s full horror. First published in America in 1952 (in a heavily edited form), The Diary of Anne Frank has been the most widely read book about the Holocaust in America. In a survey conducted in 1996 at the University o f Michigan, it was still named as the predominant source of Holocaust educa­ tion: the text was required reading in high school for over half the students surveyed.1 Even those who had not read the book knew Anne Frank’s name and could connect it to the Holocaust, which is something they could not as consistently do with Adolf. Ekhmjtnn, the Warsaw Ghetto, or Dachau. That the darker narratives o f the Holocaust conveyed by these latter names have

been obscured by Frank’s “unfailingly optimistic” text is what troubles ex­ perts today.2 In the 1950s, Anne Frank’s name-recognition and popularity were equally high. The Diary sold over five million copies in the first two decades it was in print; the stage play, first performed in 1955, won the Pulitzer Prize, the New York Critics Circle Award, and the Tony Award for best play; millions saw the movie when it premiered in 1959. Given this information, one can begin to see how my assertion that few people in the 1950s paid much attention to the Holocaust invites not only inquiry but objections. The apparent inconsistency between my supposition and other people’s objections tells us a great deal about the complicated event that current schol­ ars call the Americanization o f the Holocaust. On one level, the phrase simply groups the many ways that the Holocaust has been represented in American culture; on another, it is political and theoretical quicksand, providing all the pitfalls o f postulating about history, nation, and ideology. In the first case, when we observe that the Anne Frank o f the 1950s is not the Anne Frank o f the 1990s, we just restate the commonplace notion that in forty years our under­ standing o f history and culture has changed. Yet an inquiry into the specific historical and cultural changes that have attended the phenomenon o f Anne Frank is neither simple nor commonplace. If the goals o f the Anne Frank foundation, when it first formed in the 1950s, could be “to use the name o f Anne Frank as a symbol for hope and to further intergroup understanding in an atmosphere o f freedom and hope,” then it is clear that the Holocaust o f the 1950s is not the Holocaust of the 1990s— or even the Holocaust o f the 1980s, when the foundation publicized a much-altered statement o f its goals as seek­ in g “to educate on World War II, particularly the Holocaust, and to make known the current prejudice and discrimination affecting Jews today.”3 The difference between these two statements of the foundation’s operating princi­ ples tells us as much about the changes in American culture— if not more— as it does about the Holocaust itself. Certainly what Americans think and know and say about the Holocaust— and many other things— has shifted radically in the last forty years. In the case o f what people think and know and say about the Diary, however, this is more than a theoretical observation; it is a material fact. The very text o f the Diary, originally edited for material that Anne’s father considered sexually sugges­ tive or overly personal, has been only gradually returned to its original form. In 1986, 1989, and 1991, altered or restored versions appeared. In 1994, the

2

The Americanization o f the Holocaust

“definitive” edition was finally published (“definitive,” that is, until someone offers an even more definitive edition).4 Now widely available, The Definitive Edition of the Diary of Anne Frank shows clearly that previous generations, however much they thought they knew the truth, never got the whole story. In the 1990s, scholars routinely ob­ serve that The Diary o f Anne Frank, whether in past editions o f the text or in those versions produced for stage and screen, soft-pedaled the devastation o f the Holocaust; they thus attribute the Diary's popularity in America to its sugarcoating o f gruesome subject matter. Both Lawrence Langer and Alvin. Rosenfeld have written about the Americanization o f the Holocaust in rela­ tion to Anne Frank, arguing, in Langer’s words, that “there is little horror in the stage version; there is very little in the Diary itself.. . . They permit th e1 imagination to cope with the idea o f the Holocaust without forcing a con- > ffontation with its grim details.”5 Lawrence Graver argues similarly in An Obsession with Anne Frank (1995): he treats Meyer Levin’s difficulties getting The Diary staged in an authentic form as evidence of the inadequacy o f Holocaust awareness in the 1950s, which included the American Jewish community’s reluctance to make too much of, or to acknowledge any special relationship to, the Holocaust. As Graver documents, the most troubling, as well as the most identifiably Jewish, parts o f the Diary— Anne’s nightmare, the Hannukah celebration, and the Gestapo hammering on the Franks’ door— never appeared on stage or screen because the producers, who were themselves Jewish, felt compelled by their own sense o f what would sell to “tone down” the play’s Jewishness.6 Anne’s story, they decided, would have a greater appeal if it were told not as a story about Jewishness but as a story o f universal appeal, about unfailine optimism and the strength of the human spirit as manifested in the face o f terrible dep­ rivations. Taken together, Langer, Kosenteld, and Graver agree that as popu­ lar as the play and the movie were, neither rendered the actual horrors o f the Holocaust or its correlation to deadly anti-Semitism. Past versions o f Anne Frank failed to portray the Holocaust as scholars now, with the advantage o f history, feel it ought to be portrayed. -

The irony, o f course, is that if the Anne Frank whom Americans met in the

1950s was not the “true” Anne Frank, neither is the Anne Frank they meet in the 1990s. Anne Frank’s story continues to mutate. As recently as 1996, for inV stance, at least four new versions o f Anne’s story appeared: Anne Frank and Me premiered at the American Jewish Theater in December; And Then They

INTRODUCTION

3

Came for Me: The World of Anne Frank toured the country in summer stock. I Am Anne Frank, a song cycle based on the diarist’s life, opened at Alice Tully Hall in New York City; it was inspired not by the actual Diary but by another stage production based on Frank’s life, Yours, Anne, which appeared in several national theaters and on public television in the fall of 1995. All o f these ver­ sions of Anne Frank’s diary are at least twice removed from witness; they grew out o f responses to either reading a heavily edited version o f the Diary (as the pre-1990 text was published) or seeing yet another adaptation of it (thrice re­ moved, then, from either witness or primary testimony). When these adapta­ tions are “treacly and manipulative, dreadful and banal” (as John Simon called Yours, Anne in New York magazine), they fuel the debate about the Americanization o f the Holocaust.7 The American tendency, in Alvin Rosenfeld’s words, to “downplay or deny the dark and brutal sides o f life and to place a preponderant emphasis on the saving power o f individual moral con­ duct” is aptly illustrated by the creator of Yours, Anne, Enid Futterman, who observed, “Anne is not a victim, but a survivor. Because o f her diary, she tri­ umphed over her death at Bergen-Belsen.”8 A discussion of the history and reception o f The Diary of Anne Frank, then, leads directly tods&pes'that have weighed heavily on Holocaust studies in the United States^First, fry reception history suggests that the American perception o f the Holocaust has been far from static; like all historical events, ithas^yolved in concert with larger social, cultural, and political movements. Second) and more troubling to some, our knowledge o f the Holocaust in America has rarely been delivered by direct witness; it comes to us by way o f representations, and representations o f representations, through editors and publishers, producers and directors. Thus, the uniqueness of the Holocaust has seemed threatened: the event does not necessarily retain precedenc^overother historical events that Americans read about or see on television Third, the American responsibility to remember bears a distinctive national charac­ ter. Not only did the American Jewish community, the largest and wealthiest in the world, feel a moral imperative to remember and educate, it did so in the face o f special challenges— in a society that has at times encouraged as­ similation and one that is always, in the words o f Graver, “governed by money, popular taste, media hype, democratic optimism and a susceptibility to easy consolation.”9 For th¡ese reasons, the representation o f the Holocaust in America takes place on an embattled stage, where a seemingly small gesture seems to take on cataclysmic resonance. With each important touchstone of Americanization— 4

The Americanization o f the Holocaust

whether it is the radio broadcast o f Adolf Eichmann^-frial for war crimes in 1961, commonly recounted as a formativejTioment o f awareness; NBC’s televising of the miniseries Holocaust in 1978 (t