Literature of the Holocaust
maintained by Al Filreis
Further discussion on the firing of the House of Representatives Historian
From: "Froma I. Zeitlin" <FIZ%PUCC@UICVM.CC.UIC.EDU>
Actually, how could one begin to teach the Holocaust without raising the Nazi point of view, racial ideology, Weimar republic resentments, Jews in public and professional life, etc.? What I took Jeffreys to mean was somehow not arguing for the validity and/or legitimacy of these ideas as being given 'equal time.' As for her participation, anyone who has served on the numerous NEH panels of outside evaluators, whether for the familiar NEH University or College teacher Fellowships, NEH summer seminars of various sorts, as well as many other projec ts, will understand that Jeffreys was empaneled to review requests for NEH funds for this Holocaust program. It was a well known fact that Lynn Cheney, who subverted the intellectual and moral integrity of these proceedings, con stantly appointed people who were unqualified and indeed were chosen for their political 'reliability.' The fact that this obscure know nothing Jeffreys was selected is just in keeping with Cheney's policies. Who knows how Gingrich's colleague got asked the first time? Was this in fact due to a recommendation from said colleague?
froma I Zeitlin email@example.com
From: Stephen Feinstein <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I would still like to hear some specifics about what the Government evaluation form asked Prof. Jeffrey to do in terms of evaluation. On ABC's Good Morning America, she said she answering the request of the evaluation form regarding "program balance." She also said she had Jewish supporters, etc. I certainly realize she is naive, but the fact that it was even accepted as testimony at the time is more preposterous. As I recall, the main name that floated around was Phyllis Schafly, wwho articulated Jeffrey's position Stephen Feinstein
From: "Ron Nutter, Alderson-Broaddus College" <NUTTER@AB.WVNET.EDU>
I am somewhat hesitent to write this, given comments I have already read about Jeffrey on the list. However, I have come to trust the people on this list so I'll go ahead and post.
I agree with Dan Leeson's comment about the news media's giving the most super- ficial of coverage and explanation. Fact is, until I hear more details, I am inclined to give professor Jeffrey the benefit of the doubt. One of my real concerns is how easily comments taken out of context can lead to judgments of untoward harshness. I found myself trying to read between the lines of the NY Times article. The sections of that article that particularly struck me were:
About the program, she wrote: ``It is a paradoxical and strange aspect of this program and the methods used to change the thinking of students is the same that Hitler and Goebbels used to propagandize the German people. This re-education method was perfected by Chairman Mao and now is being foisted on American children under the guise of `understanding history.''' . . . At various points during the 1980s the program was denied funding, although it had been accredited by the Education Department and is now widely taught. It was heavily criticized by conservative critic Phyllis Schlafly, who asked the Education Department to reject the grant application and accused the program of ``psychological manipulation, induced behavioral change and privacy-invading treatment.'' Professor Jeffrey said she was chosen for the evaluation because ``they assumed I would oppose that, because I was at Troy (State University in Alabama) which had a conservative reputation. I didn't know anything about the Holocaust.''
I have to admit, that last line about not knowing anything about the Holocaust is appalling. However, the passages indicate to me that the issue Jeffrey was commenting on was not the Holocaust per se, but the manner by which history in general is taught. As such, her comments are of a piece with the current debate between conservatives and those historians they claim give short shrift to certain "traditional" ideas in order to further their own ideological con- cerns. That's the only sense I can make of the Goebbels and Mao comment. The fact that an unyielding conservative like Phyllis Schlafly (not noted for her concern with Holocaust issues) is also cited as opposing the project reinforces in my mind that the real issue was the manner of teaching history rather than the Holocaust itself. And to that issue, I am unfamiliar with the program itself and thus cannot comment on its merits. Others on the list say it is a worthwhile program; I'll take their word for it.
As for the "balance" issue. The problem I have is there isn't enough informa- tion to make a judgment as to just what she means. If she means the program should actively advocate the Nazi and KKK point of view as a moral worldview of equal status with those who morally condemn the atrocities of the Holocaust, then she is beyond the pale in my view. However, I am not at all convinced this is what she was saying.
I am currently teaching an "Issues in Humanities" course in which we are in- vestigating "interpretations" of the Holocaust. In it, I am showing some of the Nazi euthanasia films (from the Discovery Channel) and Lucy Dawidowicz's A HOLOCAUST READER, which contains primary documents of the Nazis. I suppose one could then say I am presenting the Nazi point of view. I am also showing part of a video showing American "white power" officials and participants stating their anti-semitic views, including the denial of the Holocaust. I show it partly to demonstrate how the Bible gets used by such folk, but also to show that such people do, in fact, exist. Though not specifically KKK, they run in the same pack, and thus I suppose it could be said I present the KKK point of view. If this is all Jeffrey meant, then I have no real problem with what she wrote. I just wish I had a better idea of what, in fact, she wrote in its full context.
Personally, I feel an obligation to present "the other point of view" as ex- plained in the previous paragraph. I do not think we are served by painting the Nazis as the "all time bad guys of history." The more fearful image, to my mind, is the "banality of evil" Arendt speaks of. Let me give an example. Back when I spent my summers doing repertory theatre, I had occasion to direct the play, CUP OF TREMBLING, about the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The time of the play covered his childhood to his death at the hands of the Nazis. One of the characters in the play was a childhood friend and schoolmate who later became a Nazi official (Gestapo). The producer of the play wanted me to direct the Nazi character as a buffoon, even as a child. In other words, he wanted me to do to that Nazi character what Nazis had done to Jews in an earlier time.
I refused. To play him in that way allows the audience to laugh at him, be dis- gusted by him, and then dismiss him from their minds. I felt the more respon- sible action was to play the character absolutely straight, as bright and en- gaging. To have such an individual go so wrong morally is a far more profound question of the human heart, and presents to the audience a real, hopefully unavoidable, question of control of our moral destiny. I didn't want a charac- ter the audience could dismiss contemptuously; I wanted a character that would challenge the audience to think through the dynamics of individuals who are potentially good but somehow lose their moral compass.
I don't like to be needlessly cruel, and that is part of why I want to give professor Jeffrey the benefit of the doubt. At present, I feel she is an unfortunate soul who got eaten up by some politicians who wanted to score points against Gingrich. In other words, she got "Lani Gauniered" (sp?) to coin a phrase.
So, for now at least, I want to give professor Jeffrey the benefit of the doubt. If it should turn out that she thinks there *is* some moral virtue to the Nazi and KKK points of view, then to hell with her.
Ron Nutter Alderson-Broaddus College Philippi, WV email@example.com
Last week, during a discussion of this issue, one of my students asked, "How should I respond to someone who says that the Holocaust never happened?" I asked, "How would you resopond to someone who said that the light in this room is not on?" In other words, students must be taught that "give the other fellow an even break" is not always applicable, even in our democratic, pluralistic society. It is true that there are not always two equal points of view for every issue. I agree that the full story of this woman has not been revealed. I hope there's some intelligent journalist out there who is investigating further. At the workshop at Dartmouth, Elie Weisel gave a most eloquent address entitled "The Assault on Memory". To me, this whole incident is of a piece with those who challenge Weisel's memories of his experiences in Auschwithz.
I read an excellent commentary in The Wall Street Journal last Thur. 1-12-95. It was called, "Shunning the Yahoo Point of View" by Raymond Sokolov on pg. A12. It gave me great pleasure. I hope you all can find it. Phyllis Leff Univ. of Missoure at Kansas City TPHYLL@aol.com.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (alan steinweis)
A few observations on the House Historian controversy:
She is not an historian, but a political scientist. Although I do not mean to suggest that a political scientist could not do a good job in the office of House Historian, this particular individual clearly lacked the expertise and experience in areas such as documentary editing, preservation, and archival administration. In contrast, the person just fired from the position had extensive experience in these areas. Jeffrey's lack of qualifications further underscores the political and ideological nature of her appointment.
If it is a matter of public record, I wish that somebody would post (or publish) the FULL text of her review of the Holocaust curricullum. She has been accused of some pretty serious stuff, including Holocaust relativization, anti-Semitism, and red-baiting. Personally, I suspect that at least some of these accusations are on the mark, but basic fairness requires that we assess a complete text of her comments unedited by journalists (a group that has itself not demonstrated the greatest concern for nuanced historical interpretation).
Finally, I wonder whether that group of conservative Jewish leaders who issued a statement of support and a "Mazel Tov" to Newt Gingrich in the New York Times a few weeks back have used this incident as an opportunity to have a good look at their political bedfellows.
Alan E. Steinweis History and Judaic Studies University of Nebraska-Lincoln email@example.com
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