The Biggest Lies We Tell About the Holocaust

By Jeffrey Goldberg

From David Samuels's mind-blowing Tablet interview with the documentary filmmaker Pierre Sauvage, who has devoted his life to telling the stories of people who were not afraid to act when action was needed:

David Samuels: What are the biggest lies we tell ourselves about the Holocaust?

Pierre Sauvage: The biggest lie is that we didn't know. It's possible, I suppose, for some rancher in Montana who wasn't reading the press or listening to the radio maybe not to know. But it was massively present. God, this question goes in so many directions. When you think of movies that come out, like Woody Allen's Radio Days. What is Woody Allen's Radio Days about? A happy childhood in Brooklyn, in a Jewish family, during the years of the Holocaust. Lost in Yonkers, which is a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Neil Simon about nothing to do with the Holocaust. Wonderful play, by the way. It's like Hitler is totally removed from their frame of reference. This is nonsense. This is absolute nonsense. Woody Allen's parents--Woody may not realize it--but Woody Allen's parents were in their bedroom scared to death what was happening to their relatives in Europe. So, that is the biggest lie.

The second biggest lie is that we couldn't have done anything. That was the conventional wisdom after the war. The people who were propounding that point of view were, for the most part, the people who had done nothing.

But I'm not so interested in judging the generations then. I think those were very difficult times, very challenging times. Yeah, I believe they made mistakes. But I don't believe that we wouldn't have acted any better. That is facile and glib and smug.

What shocks me is that we today are not willing to let in that past, we're not trying to understand it. I'll give you one example: At one point in the Bergson film, I mentioned Einstein, we were talking about Rabbi Wise, and I have some footage of Einstein, who actually is in his office sitting down. Well, Einstein was the most powerful Jew, virtually in the world and certainly in America. In 1938 at Princeton, there was a vote among Princeton freshmen, and he was judged the second greatest living person in the world. The first greatest person in the world--according to the Princeton freshman class of 1938--was Hitler.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/01/the-biggest-lies-we-tell-about-the-holocaust/252021/