By Jona Oberski
A rediscovered masterpiece: an unblinking view of the Holocaust via a child’s eyes
Told from the viewpoint of a kid slowly awakening to the atrocities surrounding him, Childhood is a searing tale of the Holocaust that no reader will quickly disregard. As five-year-old Jona waits along with his father and mother to to migrate from Nazi-occupied Amsterdam to Palestine, they're woke up at evening, wear a teach, and at last interred within the camps at Bergen-Belsen. There, what first and foremost looks a simply dreary life quickly unearths itself to be one of many worst horrors humanity has ever created. A triumph of heartrending readability and dispassionate amazement, Childhood stands tall along such monuments of Holocaust literature as The Diary of Anne Frank, Elie Wiesel’s evening, and Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz.
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Rather, it creates a constellation between the past and a series of postwar developments in Germany and to a lesser extent in the United States and the Soviet Union. These developments include the persistence of the very modes of thinking and social organization that made the Holocaust possible. Through constant reference to the site of murder, Adorno forces a reevaluation of the time of the modern world — now no longer conceived as a progressive passage from before to after but as threatened from within by potentially deadly repetition.
Santner frames his study, which deals primarily with the mourning and working through of the recent German past, by proposing to investigate the symmetries and asymmetries of the "postwar," "post-Holocaust," and "postmodern" periods. He critically aligns himself with postmodern theory, arguing that it "represents] a kind of translation into more global terms of Adorno's famous dictum that there could be no poetry after Auschwitz. ' " Santner considers aesthetic, political, cognitive, and social practices as part of that iterative chain of what has becomes impossible: "an inability to tolerate difference, heterogeneity, nonmastery" (Stranded Objects, 8-9).
In this essay, experience and expectation collapse into each other, as the mind is "absorbed," creating a surface on which domination plays itself out with deadeningly repetitive blows. Time is reduced to a series of stages whose difference is one of degree but not kind. " If the citizens of the world do not recognize Auschwitz as the reflection of their lives, that is only, according to Adorno, because terror functions more abstractly outside of the camps through the very logic of identity that laid the groundwork for genocide and has not yet disappeared.