Holocaust was a turning point in culture and literature as well. The writings thereafter relate concerns of human existence in the postmodern period. The vast literature on the Holocaust and Shoah is a true sign that all aspects of human life were touched by the Jewish extermination. Authors of American and Jewish decent have invested in events with divergent themes coming up. Key among them is the portrayal of Jews in American literature and the effects of the Holocaust on the American public. Initially, writers such as Primo Levi recounted their experiences, later; the litt?rateurs focused in the consequences of that unbelievably cruel historical event. Ultimately, authors later turned into criticism of the Holocaust literature itself. This paper explains the portrayal of Jews in American literature and the implications of the Holocaust on the American public (Liptzin, 1966).
Central Themes in Jewish Literature
Writers of the post World War II literature have produced vast materials as memoirs of the Holocaust events or the life afterwards. Jewish authors, especially women, have a compilation of journals and diaries of war periods such as Annie Frank’s Diary. In literature, the central issue is a collection of experiences during that horrible systematic persecution. On the other hand, Holocaust survivors and Jewish writers such as Primo Levi have taken up literature as the central tool of communicating their experiences and validating their claims to those who refute the happening of the Holocaust. In all this Jewish literature after World War II, the central aspects that interest both American and Jewish authors can be summed up into that of relating the Holocaust to the self and the larger American society. However, all literary creators seem to be recounting the Holocaust experience and addressing the central issue of Jewish identity in the new American society; the search of an identity by Jewish writers is also central such as language (“A Changed World”, n.d.).
Portrayal of Jews in American Literature
Jews have been present in the literature landscape from the medieval ages to the 19th Century. However, writers of others descents such as Christians have consistently represented this nationality in a stereotypical manner ethnically. This trend has only changed after the Second World War and the Holocaust into an objective picture. William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice depicts Jews in the character of Shylock as soulless, money seeking and foreign (Liptzin, 1966).
Jewish portrayal as foreigners by the American complimented the anti-Semitism feeling by the American public prior to World War II. Examination of major American writers such as Steven Smith, D. H. Lawrence, and Leopold Bloom among others has evident conscious or subconscious aspects of anti-Semitism. The Jews are portrayed in literature as not sociable, self seekers of power, evil, unattractive and weakly masculine as in the works of D. H. Lawrence. It is only after the analyzed history event that American literature has appreciated the Jews and their authors. Their writings, either as poems, prose, recounts, fiction or narratives of the Holocaust coupled with their struggle of identity and language received appreciation much later (Meyer, 2004).
The other aspect of portrayal of Jews in literature is the depiction of Jewish mothers. They are always seen through comedy and literature as manipulative, aggressive and using their children (especially sons) to live viciously. This stereotype should not be limited to mothers given that it extended to younger girls ability to date with the American youth. The disguised literal endeavor of poets, writers, comedians to describe the Jewish woman negatively in an attempt to communicate the Jewish place in the American situation propagates this stereotype in real bare sense. Jokes on Jewish mothers and male works which begin with a positive attribute as understood in insider context soon become a stereotype of Jews as overbearing and nagging. The comedy becomes a comic monster in the mainstream media (Rose, 1993).
Jewish and Non-Jewish Writers relation to the Holocaust
Jewish writers relate to the Holocaust in their works as a major historic event although they refuse to have this fundamental event in their history to be reduced to mare literature. In their works, three themes of hiding, recounting narrative strategies and Holocaust literature emerge as an indicator of their relationship. Robert Krell, Harry James Cargas, Ida Fink among others recount themselves as being forced to hide their identity. For instance, A Scrap of Time by Ida Fink focuses on the aspects of hidden witnesses while Cargas works extend the hiding theme into questions of the survivor’s identities. They thus relate to the period that took away their identity or that demanded a person to give it up for survival (Furman, 2000).
American authors such as Saul Bellow and Cynthia Ozick offer a different relation to the Holocaust, especially due to the exemplification of the memories. Cynthia Ozick in The Shawl requires that Holocaust fiction writers must communicate experiences and factual events as well as memories and individual suffering. Saul Bellow in The Bellarosa Connections adopts the position of a story teller hence shifts from objective testimony to witness subjectification. European litterateurs such as Irene Dische and Amis Martin take up the same position as the American authors. The mentioned above creators of beauty relate to the Holocaust as an event that requires reconstruction by the modern reader. They require that the readers come up with strategies that will prevent forgetting this important event and its significance. They thus invoke from the readers a desire to create meaning and significance from memory. American, therefore, relate to the Holocaust as a continuous subject in the modern society and an enduring part of it rather than a historical significant event (Meyer, 2004).
On the other hand, European writers who saw the Holocaust such as Borowski Tadeusz, Anne Frank, Primo Levi, Etty Hillesum and Jacob Presser among others relate to Holocaust as a turning event, a new reality in history.
Effects of Holocaust Memories on the American Public
The Holocaust, though not happening to the United States people had massive effects on it as on any other country. Its consequences have been studied as to its type, depth and dynamics through vast works of literature done and yet to be done. The real impact is so vast and diverse to cover constituting of belated, immediate, functional, latent, ethical, general, practical causes and outcomes; it involves direct and indirect aspects that can only be exhausted in innumerable studies. However, it effects on the United States are clear and far reaching. The Holocaust memory is kept alive by huge literature, museums, monuments and memorials. Since its horrendous events questioned the values of Christianity, state morality and rationalism, it continues to create diverse changes in western culture and civilization.
United States and Immigration Rules
Due to the collapse of the stock exchange in 1929 and the earlier immigration restriction by the Congress in 1921-24, Jews trying to escape the apparent premeditated murder by the Nazi regime found it difficult to enter the United States. During this time of immigration quotas, Native Americans were skeptical about allowing Jews into their country. This anti-Semitism could be seen through posters and US instructions of delaying verification of visas to German Jews. However, President Roosevelt organized the Evan Conference later in an attempt to assist, but few nations wanted to take in Jewish refugees hence little success (Howe, 1977).
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In the state of restrictions, the Nazi regime decided to wipe out Jews in secrete, but World Jewish Congress representative Dr. Gerhart learnt of it and informed the American diplomats in Switzerland. Nevertheless, the diplomats failed to tell Rabbi Wise Stephen as requested; this was due to the anti-Semitism influence on them. Despite Rabbi Wise’s knowledge of it through Britain Jewish leaders, the US undersecretary moved without haste in verifying the claims until 1942. Finally, when the news was publicized, prominent media tools such as the New York Times gave little attention to the news. The Bermuda Conference neither yielded anything since both US and UK wanted to support their positions. It was not until 1944 that the Treasury Secretary (by publishing a document detailing US failure to stop Jewish deaths) and Jewish groups gave enough pressure to Roosevelt to set a War Refugee Board (Wyman, 1984).
This historical analysis guides this paper into understanding the effects of the Holocaust on the American public. The US public changed their opinions after learning of their government’s inadequate response, their deliberate inaction and the real horrendous experience after liberation by the Allied forces. It is clear that before the World War II Americans had a low opinion of Jews; the National Origins Act (1924) that restricted Jewish immigration matched these sentiments. Opinion polls by Gallup Polls indicated that 50% of Americans considered Jews in lowly way in 1938. The same poll showed that only 21.2% of American population sympathized with the Jews after Crystal Night (night when Jews synagogues were burnt) and would accept them as immigrants (Wyman, 1984).
Holocaust Memory and the Moral Credit
After the Holocaust, the general opinion about Jews and the American approach to key policy issues changed; the victims of that historical tragedy were accorded some credit on morals grounds, which tilted the scales of their public assessment. The Holocaust made the American public change its perception on immigrants and its policy on returning immigrants to oppressed areas. Consequently, the government developed the idea of protecting civilians in other countries.
Upon knowing and recounting the memory of the inhuman treatment that millions of Jews were subjected to in Nazi experiments, the American public through government policies reshaped its legal and medical principles. Self awareness and personal responsibility in war grew among the American community, and agitation of holding individuals accountable of war crimes irrespective of government orders increased. This was clear since opinion polls indicated that the American public was in support of trying the Nazi officials (Howe, 1977).
The Holocaust, through publication, narration and its memories forced many American citizens into taking an interest on Zionism. The memories deductively informed them that if Jews had a homeland, then it would have reacted to their rescue when all nations avoided admitting them. This led to the support of the United Nations initiative to create a Jewish Homeland of Israel. The American public was in agreement that creation of a state would create a home, a sense of belonging and a protection shield to the survivors of the Holocaust (“Life after Holocaust”, n.d.).
Less Sociability of Anti-Semitism
The horrors of Holocaust touched the American public into re-examining their earlier stereotypes and opinions. This was followed by increasing acceptance of the Jewish people and their identity without hiding it. What started as sympathy extended to reason as Jews proved their ability and pride in their heritage. In this progress, artistic works such as the Gentleman’s Agreement movie enabled and reinforced Jewish incorporation into American society (Howe, 1977).
Jewish authors recounted the Horrors of Holocaust, but also pointed out the hardships of the new society. According to Holocaust Encyclopedia (n.d.), publicizing experiences of public shunning by survivors such as Norman Salsitz’s changed the public perception slowly. Jews continued to gain acceptance in the light of these memories that were made clearer by the day. Thus, publications about the Holocaust refreshed and made the memories of the Americans clearer of the Jewish misfortune (“Life after Holocaust”, n.d.).
Barriers against Jews in education such as admitting professors in certain faculties began loosening. The previous quotas of admitting professors into certain faculties and departments such as economics, science and mathematics were lifted. Jews also filled literature departments including the conservative English departments. Quotas on admission to universities and unwillingness of businesses to hire Jews were removed.
In general, the Holocaust experience silenced the American public from their ignorant prejudgment. It made them listen, and the Jews ventured to narrate and keep the memories alive. They took the chance to nature their confidence and expose their culture to the American people; aspects such as Jewish words and foods gained increasing acceptance. The Holocaust also influenced the perception of the American public on civil rights issues indirectly; a vast number of American-Jews joined freedom and Civil Rights movements, which, coupled with Jewish teachings on ethic shaped aspects of equality of races in the American public (Howe, 1977).
It is, therefore, fair to conclude that the Holocaust memory was the causative factor of shifting American public opinion from anti-Semitism to benevolence or pro-Semitism. There are other reasons that reinforced this, but the overall sympathy tilted the thoughts and gave a chance of enlarging the dominant American culture to include Jewish aspects. This continuous process led to the overall inclusiveness into the system over time; however, this was coupled with the resilience, candidness and bravado of Jewish authors in telling of the Holocaust event. Museums and memorials on the Holocaust serve as a constant reminder to the American people and it extends beyond offering sympathy to Jews to changing individual and public approaches to crises (Iorio, Libowitz & Littell, 1997).
The memory of Holocaust, as remembered through memorials, presents moral questions of responsible citizenship. In the American context, the public has come to the realization that automatic sustenance of democratic institutions does not occur; it must be a deliberate choice to nurture, appreciate and protect them. It memories also bring the American public into awareness that indifference or silence to the suffering of others perpetuates and justifies the acts. To a huge extent, the zeal of American public involvement and awareness of wars, civil issues, refugees in Chad, War in Somalia, and support of International Criminal Court (ICC) in sentencing individuals like Slobodan Milosevic among others aspects arises from the Holocaust memories (Iorio, Libowitz and Littell, 1997).
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