[Marxism] Israel and the Nazis

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Mar 5 09:36:08 MST 2009

There's a full-page ad for Jonathan Littell's "The Well-Wishers" that 
some have called Holocaust porn.

Here's some information on the 983 page book written originally in 
French by a Jewish Yale graduate:

NY Times, March 4, 2009
Publisher’s Big Gamble on Divisive French Novel

It was always going to be a challenging sell.

“The Kindly Ones,” the 983-page novel by Jonathan Littell that went on 
sale on Tuesday, is a fictionalized memoir of a remorseless former Nazi 
SS officer, who in addition to taking part in the mass extermination of 
the Jews, commits incest with his sister, sodomizes himself with a 
sausage and most likely kills his mother and stepfather. Oh, and it’s 
been translated from the French.

Then again, long before the book was released in the United States by 
the Harper imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, it came with a laureled 
publishing history. Mr. Littell, an English-speaking American who 
decided to write in French and now lives in Barcelona, Spain, won the 
Prix Goncourt, France’s most prestigious literary award, as well as a 
prize from the Académie Française.

The book, published as “Les Bienveillantes” in France in 2006, sold 
around 700,000 copies there. A French critic compared it to Tolstoy’s 
“War and Peace.”

It was the talk of the Frankfurt Book Fair two years ago, and the 
subject of a heated auction here in the United States, resulting in 
Harper’s paying, according to Publishers Weekly, about $1 million for 
the rights to publish the novel in this country. Now, as it hits 
bookstores — and the time is near when Harper will find out whether such 
a tome can earn back such a hefty advance — the novel is meeting a 
dramatically polarized critical response. Last week in The New York 
Times, Michiko Kakutani wrote that “the novel’s gushing fans, however, 
seem to have mistaken perversity for daring, pretension for ambition, an 
odious stunt for contrarian cleverness,” adding that the book was 
“willfully sensationalistic and deliberately repellent.”

full: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/04/books/04litt.html


 From an interview with Jonathan Littell in Haaretz:

Asked whether he thinks the Holocaust shapes Israeli actions today, he 
replies: "On the one hand, Israel is a country that underwent a serious 
trauma, and the Holocaust made it dramatically paranoid. But then there 
is also greed and land-grabbing and all that shit. That's just 
inexcusable. I'm sorry, but this cannot be excused by traumas that 
occurred 60 years ago."

He acknowledges that "there is clearly a raw nerve of fear," but adds 
immediately, "which I don't have. I don't feel fear. Bizarrely, Israel, 
which was created to be a safe haven for Jews, has become the most 
dangerous place in the world for the Jews. And has made it more 
dangerous to be a Jew in other countries, too."

Littell says Israel uses the Holocaust to justify "inexcusable" acts, by 
which he means the situation in the territories, and he likens the 
actions of the Israel Defense Forces to the behavior of the Nazis in the 
period before they came to power.

Would you really compare the two?

"No, we cannot compare: There is nothing like genocide in the 
territories, but they are doing absolutely atrocious things. If the 
government would let the soldiers do worse things, they would. Everyone 
says, 'Look how the Germans dealt with the Jews even before the 
Holocaust: cutting the beards, humiliating them in public, forcing them 
to clean the street.' That kind of stuff happens in the territories 
every day. Every goddamn day. And now they have this whole generation of 
mad Russians who don't care about anything and are very right-wing."

Most of what Littell knows about ongoing events in Israel comes mainly 
from "Red Cross worker types" with whom he is in contact. He last 
visited Israel, he says when asked, when he was eleven.

Does the fact that the book has now been published in a Hebrew 
translation in Israel hold any special meaning for you?

"I think the Israelis should take a better look at themselves. When they 
read a book like my book they shouldn't just look at the Jewish side of 
things. More pragmatically, what's important is to reach a certain level 
of understanding and apply it to what is happening now and maybe use 
that to correct things. Sitting around talking with historians about 
what happened 60 years ago is not very interesting if you don't apply it 
to what's happening today."

Such as?

"Like how what the Americans are doing in Iraq is unacceptable. I'm not 
talking about the war but about torture and things like Abu Ghraib. 
Understanding the Germans of 60 years ago may make you feel that you're 
not that far from it, as Americans or as Israelis. So maybe it will be 
possible to enforce our social mechanisms to prevent our societies, at 
least, from going completely off the wall."

What should your Israeli readers do?

"I think the Israelis, instead of beating their breast, should take a 
long, hard look at what they are doing now. I am not saying that 
present-day Israeli society is comparable to Nazi society in World War 
II, but it is definitely one of the most crazed Western societies."

full: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/988410.html

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