Imagination and the Holocaust Essay example

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Imagination and the Holocaust

The great secret of morals is love; or a going out of our own nature, and an identification of ourselves with the beautiful which exists in thought, action, or person, not our own. A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own.

-- Percy Bysshe Shelley, "A Defense of Poetry"

I believe that truly humane learning can't help but expand the constricted boundaries of human sympathy, of social tolerance. Maybe the truest thing to be said about racism is that it represents a profound failure of imagination.

-- Henry Louis Gates, Jr. "Integrating the American
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I imagine myself in Wiesel's place. I imagine myself in his father's place. I imagine myself taking him to the crematory. I imagine being the next invalid. Would it be any different for me? How much could I take before I was numb to my father's summons?

Second, I am afraid my imagination will put me in the camps with the victims. I will smell the smoke, experience for myself the horror of murdered children; those tiny hands that might fit cautiously into mine. A child may say, "Save me," and I will be helpless. I might succeed so well in identifying with those who lived through the selections that I will have to say, "Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever" (32). A memory: Once after having read Night, I went home and was asked to start a fire in the fireplace. I couldn't do it. The bricks of my hearth had become a crematorium. I was angry, then, at myself, at Nazis, at Wiesel, at my family for wanting a fire . . . at God.

Third, I am afraid of identifying with the oppressor. Wiesel writes that after they came to Auschwitz,

[w]e continued our march toward the square. In the middle stood the notorious Dr. Mengele (a typical SS officer: a cruel face, but not devoid of intelligence, and wearing a monocle); a conductor's baton in his hand, he was standing among the other officers. The baton moved unremittingly, sometimes to the right, sometimes to the left. (29)

Mengele, a savage irony: a

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