On Mon­day, Ruth Franklin wrote about shar­ing a stage with Yann Mar­tel. She is the author of A Thou­sand Dark­ness­es: Lies and Truth in Holo­caust Fic­tion.

I’m occa­sion­al­ly asked whether I real­ly think that at this late date, six­ty years on, any­thing new can be said about the Holo­caust. But peo­ple have been ask­ing this ques­tion vir­tu­al­ly since the end of the war.

When François Mau­ri­ac famous­ly encoun­tered the young Elie Wiesel in Paris in the ear­ly 1950s, he was amazed, as he would write in the intro­duc­tion to Night, that Wiesel’s book, com­ing as it does after so many oth­ers and describ­ing an abom­i­na­tion such as we might have thought no longer had any secrets for us, is dif­fer­ent, dis­tinct, and unique nev­er­the­less.” Review­ing Piotr Rawicz’s sur­re­al­ist Holo­caust nov­el Blood from the Sky in 1964, Theodore Solotaroff wrote that by now there has been a glut of books and arti­cles, rem­i­nis­cences and diaries, doc­u­men­tary his­to­ries and objec­tive analy­ses that tell us every­thing we need to know about life in the ghet­toes and pris­ons and death camps.” And yet those who write about the Holo­caust con­tin­ued to sur­prise then, as they still do now.

A few weeks ago I attend­ed an infor­mal talk by Yale his­to­ri­an Tim­o­thy Sny­der about his new book, Blood­lands, which has already been hailed as a break­through work despite the well-plowed ground of its sub­ject. What’s unique about Snyder’s book is that he approach­es World War II from a geo­graph­i­cal per­spec­tive rather than focus­ing, as most his­to­ri­ans have done, on spe­cif­ic nations or polit­i­cal fig­ures. Look­ing at the map of Europe, Sny­der real­ized that the vast major­i­ty of the slaugh­ter in World War II took place in a fair­ly small area: Poland, the Baltic states, and parts of the west­ern Sovi­et Union. In this region, which he calls the blood­lands,” four­teen mil­lion civil­ians died, as well as one-half of all the sol­diers killed in the war. His book inves­ti­gates what hap­pened there.

Sny­der argues that Auschwitz, which has come to be under­stood as a sym­bol of the Holo­caust, is in fact only the begin­ning of knowl­edge, a hint of the true reck­on­ing with the past still to come.” To focus on the vic­tims of that camp excludes those who were at the cen­ter of the his­tor­i­cal event.” His ver­sion of the sto­ry estab­lish­es an entire­ly dif­fer­ent frame­work, focus­ing first on the destruc­tion of the vast major­i­ty of Poland’s Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty — about 1.5 mil­lion in all — at Tre­blin­ka, Belzec, and Sobi­bor in 1942, and then on the mass mur­der by bul­lets” car­ried out by the Ein­satz­grup­pen in east­ern Poland and the west­ern Sovi­et Union dur­ing the pre­ced­ing year, in which about 1.7 mil­lion Jews per­ished. Aston­ish­ing­ly, by the end of 1942, when Auschwitz had become ful­ly oper­a­tional, the Holo­caust was most­ly over” — two-thirds of its vic­tims already killed.

The ques­tion that lingers after read­ing Snyder’s remark­able book is why Auschwitz has come so pow­er­ful­ly to sym­bol­ize the Holo­caust if it was actu­al­ly an excep­tion to the gen­er­al rules of slaugh­ter. Sny­der points out that we know about Auschwitz because there were sur­vivors, and there were sur­vivors because Auschwitz was a labor camp as well as a death fac­to­ry.” In con­trast, from the camps that were estab­lished sole­ly for the pur­pos­es of exter­mi­na­tion there remain almost no sur­vivors: 67 from Tre­blin­ka, around 50 from Sobi­bor, less than a hand­ful from Chelm­no and Belzec. Sny­der also com­ments that the Auschwitz sur­vivors were large­ly West­ern Euro­pean Jews who tend­ed to return to their home coun­tries after the war, where they were free to write and pub­lish and their mem­oirs could enter the pub­lic con­scious­ness. The East­ern Euro­pean Jews, who were much less like­ly to sur­vive, con­tin­ue to be mar­gin­al­ized from the mem­o­ry of the Holocaust.”

But the rea­son might be sim­ply, as he said when I posed the ques­tion to him, that Auschwitz is enough.” Faced with what so many have described as the prime embod­i­ment of hell on earth, how many of us have the courage to search for oth­er, greater hells?

Ruth Franklin is a con­tribut­ing edi­tor at The New Repub­lic and a lit­er­ary crit­ic. Her writ­ings have also appeared in The New York­er, The New York Times Book Review, Gran­ta, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. She lives in Brook­lyn, NY.