I do no speak or read French. Many years ago, however, in undergraduate school, I had a professor of English literature who was inordinately fond of the French phrase épater les bourgeoise—as he would translate it on a regular basis, “to shock the ordinary human being out of his [or her] lethargy.” That is, there are those works, persons, events to which ordinary human beings, most of us, can only react in shock, sometimes in dismay; other times in paralysis. One such event historically is the Holocaust (Hebrew, Shoah), the systematic, organized and planned murders of more than six million Jews—children, women, and men—and others: Sinti/Roma; homosexuals, primarily males; the physically and mentally challenged; and, lastly, so-called “asocials”, those whom the Nazis deemed unworthy of place in their present and future society. Even today, more than seventy-five years after the end of World War II, its power to shock, dismay, frighten, disorient shows no signs of abating. Concomitantly, those most associated with this “crime of crimes”, this paradigmatic genocide—Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich, Rudolf Hoess, Alfred Rosenberg, and others in the upper echelons of the Nazi hierarchy—still retain their power to amaze and disgust us as the very embodiments of evil personified.
Closely associated with them and their murderous agendas are the words which also retain their power: Auschwitz death camp (symbolic of the entire system of death); the Warsaw Ghetto, symbolic of Jewish incarceration and Jewish resistance and other unsuccessful efforts at extermination; Six Million, symbolic of the Jews murdered; and the like. Continue reading