Fire in the Ash­es: God, Evil, and the Holocausr

David Pat­ter­son and John K. Roth, eds.
  • Review
By – October 18, 2011

In the Pro­logue to Fire in the Ash­es, the edi­tors quote a pas­sage from Elie Wiesel’s Holo­caust mem­oir, Night. Reflect­ing on his first night in Auschwitz, the young Wiesel writes: Nev­er shall I for­get those moments which mur­dered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Nev­er shall I for­get these things, even if I am con­demned to live as long as God Him­self. Nev­er.” The inher­ent con­tra­dic­tion in Wiesel’s pro­nounce­ment of meta­phys­i­cal dei­cide is emblem­at­ic of the the­o­log­i­cal con­flicts occa­sioned by the mur­der of six mil­lion Jews. After the author has mur­dered” his God, he prompt­ly affirms the Almighty’s immor­tal­i­ty and eternity.

The essays in this com­pelling vol­ume begin with the notion of assign­ing the Bur­den of Guilt,” the the­o­log­i­cal issue of where was God?’ dur­ing the nadir of human civ­i­liza­tion. Apos­si­ble response to this ques­tion is offered by Mar­garet Brear­ley, who places the blame square­ly on the shoul­ders of god, not the God of the Judeo-Chris­t­ian tra­di­tion, but on Diony­sius, the false god envi­sioned by Friedrich Niet­zsche and appro­pri­at­ed by Nazi ide­o­logues. Nietzsche’s claim that the God of Abra­ham is dead, Pro­fes­sor Brear­ly argues, opened the door to a sys­tem of behav­ior beyond the con­cept of good and evil. 

Oth­er con­trib­u­tors, such as Han­nah Holtschnei­der, assign the bur­den of evil to human­i­ty. In her exam­i­na­tion of Jean Amery’s writ­ings, she main­tains that attack­ing God does not in any man­ner mit­i­gate the real­i­ty of evil. She also explores Amery’s exis­ten­tial approach to being a Jew and how we can only hope to fath­om the ulti­mate incar­na­tion of evil from the per­spec­tive of a Jew­ish vic­tim, not from the per­spec­tive of God. 

The scope and vari­ety of essays in this vol­ume cast a new light on the man­i­fold aspects of the the­o­log­i­cal respons­es to the Holo­caust, not just from the Jew­ish per­spec­tive but also, and per­haps more impor­tant­ly, from the Chris­t­ian point of view. The con­trib­u­tors to Fire in the Ashes are mem­bers of the Pas­to­ra Gold­ner Holo­caust Sym­po­sium, an inter­faith, inter­na­tion­al and inter­dis­ci­pli­nary group that meets bien­ni­al­ly in Oxford­shire, England. 

Sev­er­al years ago, when I was teach­ing a Holo­caust class at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas, a stu­dent asked me, as an Ortho­dox Jew, Where was God in those times?” I respond­ed to the inquiry by sug­gest­ing that the bet­ter ques­tion might be, Where was man?” The trea­tis­es offered in Fire in the Ash­es: God, Evil and the Holo­caust, attempt to pro­vide the­o­log­i­cal­ly and philo­soph­i­cal­ly fea­si­ble respons­es to my student’s query based upon dif­fer­ent reli­gious tra­di­tions and philo­soph­i­cal schools of thought.

Abra­ham J. Edel­heit is an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of his­to­ry at Kings­bor­ough Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lege (CUNY) and the author, co-author, or edi­tor of eleven books on the Holo­caust, Zion­ism, Jew­ish and Euro­pean his­to­ry, and Mil­i­tary affairs. His most recent pub­li­ca­tion appeared in Armor mag­a­zine, the offi­cial jour­nal of the US Army Armor and Cav­al­ry Command.

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