What Good Can Come of the Holocaust?

What good can come of the holocaust - Imre Kertesz photo

Being a hopeful Holocaust scholar, writing a Young Adult book on the Holocaust and being a Jew, the Holocaust is constantly in the corners of my mind these days, and sometimes I ask, what good can come of the Holocaust?

Naturally, someone driven to be a Holocaust scholar or write a book about it would think about it more than most people, but lately it’s pervaded all of my work.

The other night, I sat around with a group of friends as we talked about different things going on in our lives.

Someone spouted the age old wisdom that “It all works out in the end”, which someone else challenged saying that “It does all work out, unless it doesn’t.”

Being me, I brought the subject of genocide to the table asking whether or not the Holocaust, indeed, “worked out” for the victims.

To say everything works out in the end when regarding the mass murder of innocents doesn’t quite make sense. On a more micro level, it can be hard to say that everything works out in the end for children who die of serious illnesses, etc.

Sometimes I find myself wondering if everything works out in the end only for those of
us fortunate to have everything work out.

My friend argued that good things have come of the Holocaust. I’m not sure where I stand on this statement, as I’m not someone who buys into the idea that the Holocaust happened for an actual reason.

At least, to this point in my life, all of the reasons people have proposed to me haven’t seemed rational. I guess when discussing the Holocaust, there fails to be a rationale.

This friend cited that one good thing that came out of the Holocaust was Lisa Kudrow reuniting with her long lost relatives on “Who Do You Think You Are?”. While that episode was certainly touching, and probably available on NBC’s website, it is hard to justify that the Holocaust is equal to that.

What good can come of the holocaust - Imre Kertesz photo
Imre Kertesz

However, if you read Imre Kertesz’s work, Fatelessness in particular, he speaks without
reservation of the joy and humanity found in the Holocaust.

The message of the movie, which he was heavily involved in, is no doubt a message of humanity and the “good times” spent in the camps.

Recently, I discovered Ruth Kluger’s memoir Still Alive, in which she says

“Absolutely nothing good came out of the concentration camps,”

she writes, recalling an argument with a naive German graduate student,

“and he expects catharsis, purgation, the sort of thing you go to the theatre for?”

This is perhaps an argument that could go on cyclically forever. We cannot take the Holocaust back, so looking forward, what we can do is control our own future and look for the good in the cinders and ashes of it.

Maybe not everything works out for the best, but maybe looking forward, we can move toward healing the wounds.