Half a century has passed since the victory of the Allied troops put an abrupt end to Hitler's ‘final solution of the Jewish question’ – but the memory of the Holocaust goes on polluting the world of the living, and the inventory of its insidious poisons seems anything but complete. We are all to some degree possessed by that memory, though the Jews among us, the prime targets of the Holocaust, are perhaps more than most.
Among the Jews in the first place, living in a world contaminated with the possibility of a holocaust rebounds repeatedly in fear and horror. To many, the world appears suspect to the core; no worldly event is truly neutral – each event is burdened with sinister undertones, each contains an ominous message to the Jews, a message that can be overlooked or played down only at the Jews’ own peril. As E.M. Cioran, incisive and bitter French philosopher, put it:
…to be afraid is to think of yourself continually, to be unable to imagine an objective course of events. The sensation of the terrible, the sensation that it is all happening against you, supposes a world conceived without dangers. The frightened man – victim ofan exaggerated subjectivity – believes himself to be, much more than the rest of his kind, the target of hostile events … [He has attained] the extremity of a self-infatuated consciousness; everything conspires against the one…
Self-defence calls the victim to learn the lesson of history, though in order to learn it, the victim needs to decide first what the lesson is. The precept of staying alive as the sole thing that counts, as the supreme value that dwarfs all other values, is among the most tempting, and the most common, interpretations of the lesson. As the direct experience of the victims recedes and fades the memory of the Holocaust tapers and congeals into a precept of survival: life is about surviving, to succeed in life is to outlive the others. Who survives wins.
This reading of the Holocaust's lesson has been displayed – to world-wide acclaim and huge box-office success – in Spielberg's now well-nigh canonical image of the Holocaust.