Excited to receive the shipment from Dan Wyman Books, I ripped open the box only to feel revulsion. Inside were old books related to a familiar subject: the Holocaust. I’ve seen Night and Fog, Memory of the Camps, the Bergen-Belsen bulldozer footage; I am acquainted with the unspeakable. So why this visceral reaction? I removed The Human Harvest (1907) by eugenist David Starr Jordan, once president of Stanford; the Report of Robert H. Jackson, United States Representative to the International Conference on Military Trials (1945); Harvest of Hate by Leon Poliakov (1954); and The Hoax of the Twentieth Century by Holocaust denier Arthur Butz (1976). I had ordered the books because I make critical thinking students write a paper deciding whether Holocaust deniers should be invited to express their position when classes discuss the Holocaust. It is a carefully-constructed and devious question, one which draws students into epistemology, skepticism, evidence, memory, perception, history, logic, free speech, academic freedom, Romanticism, and more. I model intellectual disinterest, explain instead of promote, and must sometimes play devil’s advocate. My responsibility also includes making typical Holocaust and Holocaust denial materials available for students to evaluate: films, books, websites, from CODOH and IHR to Nizkor and USHMM. They view propaganda (Triumph of the Will) as well as documentaries (Holocaust on Trial and Nazi Designers of Death). But my revulsion at touching, smelling, Jordan’s and Butz’s books, exposes the profound difference between reading about and reading, between scrolling a weightless web “page” and turning a physical page, between viewing and holding in your own hands original, contemporaneous sources of murderous ideas and records of their consequences. Tomorrow, I add the box to my library reserves. Related here and here.
- January 04, 2011