Moral Tourism: Bad Poetry after Auschwitz

Martin Amis, Elie Wiesel, Avraham Sutzkever, and others have managed to write literature about the Holocaust, arguably in a way that does justice to its horrors. But the Holocaust has also become the subject of much bad fiction. Adam Kirsch reviews a recent example, The Death’s Head Chess Club, which focuses on the relationship between a somewhat benign SS officer and a Jewish inmate at Auschwitz, and their reunion in Amsterdam two decades later:

Auschwitz remains central to our imagination of evil, but the experience of evil itself has grown remote, so that thinking about Auschwitz threatens to become a kind of moral tourism. We make mental excursions there, just as we make physical pilgrimages to the site, because we feel it’s good for us to spend some time in the company of the abyss. But just as tourists at Auschwitz inevitably means “selfies” at Auschwitz—because not everyone who visits has the patience, or courage, or knowledge, to understand what they are doing there—so writing about Auschwitz means that we will get mediocre, self-satisfied books on the subject. . . .

If the Auschwitz sections of [The Death’s Head Chess Club] err by trying to make misery “interesting,” the Amsterdam sections are actively offensive in the way they recycle the age-old equation of Judaism with stubborn vengefulness and Christianity with loving forgiveness. Emil, [the inmate], holds on to his grievances like Shylock, while we are meant to take [the SS-officer] Paul Meissner’s postwar embrace of a Catholic vocation as proof of his essential goodness. This is an especially unfortunate plot device for anyone who remembers the role that the Catholic Church actually played after the war, helping some of the most hardened Nazis to evade Allied justice. . . . And the novel’s concluding scene, when Emil scatters Paul’s ashes at Auschwitz while saying kaddish, is pure kitsch.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Arts & Culture, Auschwitz, Catholic Church, Chess, Holocaust, Holocaust fiction

While Israel Is Distracted on Two Fronts, Iran Is on the Verge of Building Nuclear Weapons

Iran recently announced its plans to install over 1,000 new advanced centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear facility. Once they are up and running, the Institute for Science and International Security assesses, Fordow will be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for three nuclear bombs in a mere ten days. The U.S. has remained indifferent. Jacob Nagel writes:

For more than two decades, Iran has continued its efforts to enhance its nuclear-weapons capability—mainly by enriching uranium—causing Israel and the world to concentrate on the fissile material. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently confirmed that Iran has a huge stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent, as well as more enriched to 20 percent, and the IAEA board of governors adopted the E3 (France, Germany, UK) proposed resolution to censure Iran for the violations and lack of cooperation with the agency. The Biden administration tried to block it, but joined the resolution when it understood its efforts to block it had failed.

To clarify, enrichment of uranium above 20 percent is unnecessary for most civilian purposes, and transforming 20-percent-enriched uranium to the 90-percent-enriched product necessary for producing weapons is a relatively small step. Washington’s reluctance even to express concern about this development appears to stem from an unwillingness to acknowledge the failures of President Obama’s nuclear policy. Worse, writes Nagel, it is turning a blind eye to efforts at weaponization. But Israel has no such luxury:

Israel must adopt a totally new approach, concentrating mainly on two main efforts: [halting] Iran’s weaponization actions and weakening the regime hoping it will lead to its replacement. Israel should continue the fight against Iran’s enrichment facilities (especially against the new deep underground facility being built near Natanz) and uranium stockpiles, but it should not be the only goal, and for sure not the priority.

The biggest danger threatening Israel’s existence remains the nuclear program. It would be better to confront this threat with Washington, but Israel also must be fully prepared to do it alone.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy