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Commentary: Hitler was the biggest optimist

27.1.2015 17:17, (ROMEA)
The Memorial to Europe's Holocaust Victims in Berlin. (PHOTO: Zdeněk Ryšavý)
The Memorial to Europe's Holocaust Victims in Berlin. (PHOTO: Zdeněk Ryšavý)

Within the framework of all of the pathetic, militant, moving, well-intentioned, sincere, intelligent, deep and perhaps even hypocritical and populist theses about the Holocaust, I believe it does no harm to also present ideas that are outrageous - outrageously funny. For example, at the end of last year a book was published here in the Czech Republic by Shalom Auslander called Hope:  A Tragedy (Naděje: Tragédie - Argo 2014).

The book is about a Jewish intellectual who finds Anne Frank in the attic of his own building - she has managed to survive the Holocaust after all and become a rather hideous, pragmatic hag. The book is about the obsession with the past, about the Holocaust, about the fear of death and fear of life.  

The British daily The Guardian called it one of the funniest books of the past decade. Certainly, the humor of this author (whose other works are Beware of God and Foreskin's Lament) might be too harsh for some people.

To me it is fantastic, primarily because his musings are not just funny, but also deep and inspiring. Here is how the main protagonist of the book, Solomon Kugel, reflects on his newborn son Jonah and the absurdity and pitfalls of life:  "Jonah was gorgeous, innocent and pure and Kugel felt enormous guilt for having brought him into this world. To conceive a child was so selfish as to amount to a capital offense - everyone in this world has become a victim kidnapped from some better place, or from no place, and Jonah was brought here by Kugel and Bree against his will, without his urging, without his consent, for no damn reason except their own selfish desires. Kugel looked at the tiny little soul in his arms, pink, cold and screaming, and shook his head. He should sue us."      

The world is, after all, an absurd and dangerous place, full of dreamers and optimists. Kugel's psychoanalyst reflects on this theme as follows:  "Hitler was the most blatant, optimistic innocent in the last hundred years. That's why he became the biggest monster. Have you ever heard of something so outrageously optimistic as the final solution ? Not only that there might be a solution to anything, when we still have yet to cure the common cold - but on top of it all, a final one! So much hope that Führer had ... What a dreamer! It's even romantic, isn't it? If I kill this guy, if I gas that one, then everything will be as it should be . I say this with absolute certainty:  Every morning when Adolf Hitler woke up he made ​​coffee and asked what he could do to improve the world ... It does not matter where you were born, whenever you see someone stand up and promise that things are going to get better in this world, run. Hide. Pessimists do not build gas chambers."

So Kugel is constantly looking for an attic where he and his family might hide. An optimist might come forward with a new, wonderful idea at any time.

Kugel knows he would not have survived even for five minutes in Auschwitz. Just like his son, who has clearly been highly intelligent and fragile ever since he was born.

Such people have it much harder in this world as it is. To say nothing of in Auschwitz.

"His intelligence exacerbated Kugel's guilt at bringing him into this world even more. It is one thing to condemn a child to life, that in itself was criminal, but the verdict of life is best served by fools. Congratulations, your son is stupid, the obstetrician should have told him. Oh, thank you, Doctor. We were beginning to fear the worst."

It's not surprising that Kugel, in his way, envies the dead, but he just can't think about it anymore:  "He imagined the scene at the gates of heaven to be the goal of a long and exhausting marathon - everybody pats each other on the back, hugs, lies down on the ground, happy that it's over, pouring water over their heads and shouting:  Dude, my ass but that was brutal. I'm never doing this again. "

P.S.  Just to be clear, before someone calls me a Holocaust denier or a desecrator of the memory of the victims:  My grandparents were murdered at Auschwitz. Shalom Auslander the author, is, of course, a Jew. 

Michal Komárek, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Anne Franková, Holocaust, Osvětim, Výročí



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