"The profound, agonizing mystery of the Holocaust echoes through the generations . . ." So begins a recent New York Times review by Lawrence Van Gelder of an off-Broadway play, "The Gathering." Elie Wiesel says the Holocaust "can never be comprehended or transmitted." A Lexis-Nexis search, I'm sure, would find hundreds of couplings of "Holocaust" and "mystery." Often, a writer on the Holocaust will begin with "We will never understand . . ."
So what is this "mystery" of the Holocaust? We have no difficulty understanding the genocides traceable to Lenin or to Stalin; Adolf Hitler adapted with equally diabolical success their doctrinal contempt for the individual in the name of Utopia. The Stalin-ordered genocide of the Soviet peoples, anywhere from twenty to sixty million, is no mystery. Mao Tse-tung's slaughter of--who knows?--fifty million Chinese is no more of a mystery than is communist China's genocide in Tibet. There is no mystery about the killing fields of Southeast Asia where Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge murdered one-sixth of what had been a population of seven million. There is no mystery about Turkey's genocide of Armenians in the early part of the twentieth century. Of the fifteen million Afghans alive in 1978, more than a million are dead, thanks to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan two decades ago. There is certainly no mystery of Milosevic's killing of Kosovars, final figures not in yet. Why, supposedly, will we "never understand" Hitler's Holocaust?
I think it is time to stop defining the Holocaust as a "mystery." To call it such is to play into the hands of Holocaust-deniers and racists, and to Hitler himself, giving them an exculpatory dignity they do not deserve, as if they were tools, even victims, of some implacable destiny about which they could do nothing. How can we logically condemn what seemingly we cannot "comprehend"? Was the Shoah a natural disaster?