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.