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Reading the victimizer: towards

an ethical practice of figuring
the traumatic moment in
Holocaust literature
Jeremy Metz
University of Maryland
Published online: 10 Oct 2012.

To cite this article: Jeremy Metz (2012) Reading the victimizer: towards an ethical
practice of figuring the traumatic moment in Holocaust literature, Textual Practice,
26:6, 1021-1043, DOI: 10.1080/0950236X.2012.727016

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Textual Practice 26(6), 2012, 1021 – 1043

Jeremy Metz
Reading the victimizer: towards an ethical practice of
figuring the traumatic moment in Holocaust literature
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Fully characterized representations of perpetrators in Holocaust literature

are rare. Influential critics have deplored projects that would advance the
‘understanding’ of victimizers, in part for fear that victimizers might
thereby be absolved, to some degree, of responsibility for their crimes.
Others deem certain representations of traumatic events in the Holocaust
to be intrinsically ‘unspeakable’. Surviving victims are supposed to be
unable to grasp cognitively the traumas that were visited upon them and
therefore to lack the capacity for transmitting their experiences, thus
depriving authors of an authentic basis for their fictional representations
of traumatic encounters between victimizers and victims. Furthermore,
even if successful, narratives that would focalize on perpetrators might
carry with them a risk of empathic unsettlement as readers are invited to
identify empathetically with subjects that are guilty of genocide. The
result of these and other taboos has been, paradoxically, a diminution of
our understanding of the victim. Quite simply, the victim was brought
into being as a victim by and through the will of his victimizer. We
cannot therefore turn our reading gaze from the victimizer, and, in particu-
lar, from his encounter with his victim, without blinding ourselves to an
essential aspect of the victim. Behind these taboos lies the horror of the
events of the Holocaust. Too little attention has been paid to the psycho-
logical demands that literary representations of trauma place on authors.
Careful readings of canonical Holocaust texts reveal distortions in rep-
resentations of victimizers that raise profound ethical questions.

Holocaust; trauma; unspeakability; perpetrators; genocide; Appelfeld;
Semprún; Grossman; Lanzmann; Attridge; Levinas; witnessing; trauma

Textual Practice ISSN 0950-236X print/ISSN 1470-1308 online # 2012 Taylor & Francis
Textual Practice

When we begin to probe representations of traumatic encounters between

victims and victimizers in Holocaust literary texts, we may find ourselves
uncomfortably trying to maintain two postures at once. On the one
hand, through our empathetic reading of Holocaust texts, we would
wish to stand unshakably with the victim and against the victimizer.1
On the other, we acknowledge that we cannot, as readers, extricate the
victim from his relationship with his victimizer because we know, at
some level, that the victim was brought into being as a victim by and
through the will of his victimizer. The victim’s apprehension of the victi-
mizer is therefore a constitutive one: it marks the moment in which he first
experiences himself as a victim. We cannot therefore turn our reading gaze
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from the victimizer without blinding ourselves to an essential aspect of the

Whether or not the role of perpetrators is conceived in exactly this
way, they are important to their victims by any standard; yet represen-
tations of fully characterized perpetrators are rare in Holocaust literature;2
indeed even the academic study of literary perpetrators has been notably
lacking.3 A persistent source of anxiety that inhibits complex represen-
tations of perpetrators is the risk that such efforts might lead to the ‘expla-
nation’ of their misdeeds by the author, followed by the ‘understanding’ of
their pathologies by the reader. This could then open the door to ‘excus-
ing’, at least partially, their crimes, which might then serve to attenuate
their responsibility for them.
At times, even exemplary critics of the Holocaust apply reductive
thinking to such questions. Emil Fackenheim famously wrote: ‘Were six
million actual ‘non-Aryans’ and many additional honorary ones butchered
and gassed because the Führer hated his father and thought of him as a
half-Jew? Must one – may one – extend the psychopathic hypotheses
beyond Hitler to the German people, to much of Europe, to large parts
of the world? . . .The more plausible psychohistory becomes the more it
points to an ultimate absurdity. The mystery remains’.4 Claude Lanzmann,
the maker of the indispensable Shoah (1985), attended a conference at
which the organizers wished to screen a Dutch film on a Nazi doctor,
Eduard Wirths, before the Western New England Institute for Psychoana-
lysis, at the invitation of Dr Louis Micheels, an Auschwitz survivor.
Lanzmann, to the consternation of the audience, refused to allow its screen-
ing, because he found its representations of Wirths’ childhood, and, we
infer, its general tendency to humanize Wirths, to be unacceptable.5
Since the audience of psychoanalysts was presumably well-equipped to
assess the film with an awareness of its own subjectivities, and since the
audience would certainly have listened attentively to any critique that
Lanzmann wished to offer, his refusal to allow them to view a film in his
presence that he himself had seen appears to be explicable only by a de

Jeremy Metz Reading the victimizer

facto taboo that Lanzmann believed ought to apply to any project that
would render Nazis as complex individuals who are affected by their child-
hood experiences.
Another strain of criticism would discount the sheer possibility of vic-
timizer representations, at least those that are grounded in the capacity of
an actual trauma victim to describe his experiences to others. A metadis-
course of unspeakability holds that the essential nature of a traumatic
event lies beyond the victim’s ability to grasp it cognitively.6 This
theory, which traces its genealogy to Freud’s conception of Nachträglich-
keit, or ‘deferred action’, finds that the excessive agency of the traumatic
event overwhelms the victim’s ability to interpret it symbolically and
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hence to mediate it through language.7 The victim’s memories of the

event are believed to be repressed and unavailable to his consciousness
for transmission to others. Rather, they manifest themselves only in their
sequelae, especially in repetition compulsions, nightmares, and flashbacks.8
This approach is necessarily paradoxical: since the nature of trauma is ipso
facto unspeakable, a testifying witness must either not be traumatized or
must, because he is traumatized, be testifying to something other than
his traumatic experience. Testimonial deficiencies (in the eyes of the inter-
viewers) that might be ascribed to ordinary losses of memory in intervening
decades, to the reluctance of witnesses to discuss the most difficult parts of
their history with strangers,9 and to the sheer insufficiency of language that
may be at the disposal of the witnesses, are instead explained by the
entombment of the witnesses’ memories in an unreachable cavern deep
within their psyches. While the discourse of unspeakability would not
seem fully applicable to literary texts whose authors are not required to
remember their own experiences, but rather to invent those of their fic-
tional creations, it nonetheless conditions readers’ responses to the texts
and, in any event, renders suspect the obvious and extensive source material
of survivor testimony as it relates to the representation of the traumatic
In short, this theory holds that key aspects of the experience of victi-
mization are not registered by the victim.10 Caruth offers a reading of a
passage in Moses and Monotheism (1939), in which Freud describes the
case of a man who walks away from a train wreck unscathed, only to
succumb to ‘a number of severe psychical and motor symptoms which
can only be traced to his shock, the concussion or whatever else it
was’.11 The formulation ‘whatever else it was’ reveals an acceptance of
the indeterminacy of the specific nature of the traumatic agent that
caused the symptoms which he describes.
Furthermore, even if successful, literary representations of perpetra-
tors carry with them a risk to the reader of empathic unsettlement, in
the terminology of Dominick LaCapra.12 First-person or limited third-

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person narratives that are focalized on victimizers might well invite readers
to identify empathetically with subjects that are guilty of genocide. Indeed,
our ordinary understanding of the acts of reading and teaching literature
assumes that the reader’s encounter with others in a literary text is salutary.
Derek Attridge, for example, urges us, as readers, to privilege the
encounter with otherness over other forms of textual analysis: ‘I do not
treat the text as an object whose significance has to be divined; I treat it
as something that comes into being only in the process of understanding
and responding that I, as an individual reader in a specific time and
place, conditioned by a specific history, go through’.13 In a book on
J.M. Coetzee, he draws on the foundational work of Emmanuel Levinas
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to situate the ethical reading moment precisely in the encounter with the
other: ‘. . . in doing justice to a literary work, we encounter the singular
demands of the other. Coetzee’s works both stage, and are, irruptions of
otherness into our familiar worlds, and they pose the question: what is
our responsibility toward the other?’14
Attridge imagines the encounter with the other as a disruptive, but
constructive, reading moment that reinforces the humanity and self-under-
standing of the reader even as it affects his consciousness in potentially
unforeseeable ways.15 However, when that irruption of otherness occurs
towards a radically other, a victimizer whose purpose is not the entering
into of relationship with the self, but rather the self’s extermination,
terror may be the result. The trepidation that attends representations of
the traumatic moment may perhaps be understood better if we consider,
for a moment, the Holocaust text as, in Shoshana Felman’s words, ‘a per-
formative speech act’, that is in itself a site of trauma.16 We may then sense
the unique dynamic that joins the author to the reader, and both to the
traumatic event, in a Holocaust literary text. The production and reception
of representations of victimizers in their encounters with victims partake, if
faintly, of the original terror of the traumatic encounter.
The core psychic experience of the Holocaust thus remains effectively
fenced off from literary representation and indeed from serious discourse
generally.17 Perhaps because so much scholarly energy has been devoted
to identifying the contours of a presumed aporia that surrounds the trau-
matic experience, we may not be sure what is it that is deemed to be
unknowable. Put another way, if the Holocaust were to be fully accessible
to our understanding, what is it that we would wish to know? Is it the kind
of knowledge that Eve and Faust wished to acquire, that is dangerous
knowledge or knowledge whose acquisition would come at an excessive
cost to its acquirer? Perhaps the real question about the traumatic experi-
ence in the Holocaust is what it is that we would wish not to know?
We get a sense of the desire not to know, not just as an expression of
sensitivity to the victim, but rather as that of the author’s own anxiety, in

Jeremy Metz Reading the victimizer

Michael André Bernstein’s approving discussion of French writer Henri

Raczymow’s agonizing over which Holocaust representations were taboo,
even in a literary text:

. . . even if representation by someone not directly affected is judged

permissible, how far can that representation go, what can it be
allowed to figure and what must stay taboo? Raczymow’s decision,
made with trepidation . . . is that the world of the Warsaw Ghetto
may be legitimate as a setting for the language of fiction, but the
actual operation of a death camp must be excluded categorically
from figural representation: ‘I see nothing. . .. I should not see any-
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thing. To want to see would place me beside the SS man in charge

of looking through the peephole in order to see the condition of
those being gassed’.18

The palpable anxiety that colours this commentary seems unlikely to

reside in the view of the victims: the fact that Raczymow is able to describe
its content suggests that this particular image is not the cause of his ‘trepi-
dation’. Indeed, it is revealing that he imagines himself standing alongside
the SS man, looking in the same direction as he, in other words in the only
position in which he would not actually make eye contact with him.
Perhaps the representation that Raczymow describes as transgressive but
means, for him, unconfrontable, resides in the view through the peephole
in the opposite direction. What if it is not so much viewing the victims in
the moment of their agony that is terrifying, but rather seeing through the
victims’ eyes the malignant gaze of their tormentors at the moment of their
ultimate vulnerability? Thus we couple the traumatic moment inextricably
with its author, and, more specifically, with his pitiless gaze upon his prey,
as seen by the victim.
We may find some support for this identification in David
Grossman’s See Under: Love (1986), which I discuss at length later in
this essay. The novel’s hero, Momik, is, in the book’s first section, a
nine-year-old child of Holocaust survivors whose parents are suffering
debilitating psychological sequelae of their suppressed traumatic memories
from the death camps ‘Over There’. Momik locates the source of the
ongoing terror that is oppressing his parents and the other survivors in
his neighbourhood in the imagined form of an ever-lurking Nazi ‘Beast’.
He plots to lure the Beast out of hiding in order to defeat him once and
for all, by offering himself to the Beast as a Jewish victim. He decides
that the Beast can tell a real victim from a fake, and sets out to transform
himself into his vision of the debased Jew he imagines the Nazi Beast will
perceive as real.

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In figuring the victimizer as a Beast, Momik performs a childlike

impulse to manage a terrifying human figure by representing it as an
animal.19 There is no question in Momik’s mind that the ultimate
source of the trauma is not an experience or an event, however ‘sudden’
or ‘catastrophic’, but an encounter with a human tormentor whose malevo-
lent agency is so excessive that he can be represented only as an animal.
When I consider the figure of the victimizer as the author of trauma, I
am not concerned with his pathology per se. For example, I have no interest
in assessing the contours of his sadism, or the discordance of his viciousness
towards Jews with his seeming kindness towards his kin; nor is it of particu-
lar interest to historicize the cultural context in which his brutality was nur-
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tured, nor to investigate how the particular circumstances of a certain

victimizer might ‘explain’ his depravity. Rather, I am concerned only
with the quality of his presence in his encounter with the victim. In this
sense, I associate myself entirely with those who reject any project that
would have as its object an improved ‘understanding’ of the perpetrator
for its own sake.
But it is nonetheless indispensable that the victimizer be available for
unfettered literary representation. The object of that representation is to
figure fully the victimizer in relation to the victim, so that we may better
grasp the nature of the traumatic moment, which may be identified as
that moment in which the victimizer encounters the victim, and the indi-
vidual, as a result of this encounter, apprehends himself as a victim. In so
doing, we must be acutely sensitive to the positions of the authors of lit-
erary texts who may partake of the traumas they represent. To the extent
that they figure victimizers who demand emotional responses from their
readers, they expose themselves to those same demands. The positions of
authors, readers, and actual victims all demand ethical reflection.
In the remainder of this essay, I examine three literary works which
perform the intense problematic that I have been describing in representing
victimizers in their encounters with their victims. These texts inhibit the
reader’s empathetic response to the victimizers; but they do so at the
cost of their representations of the victims in the traumatic moment. In
Aharon Appelfeld’s Badenheim 1939 (1978),20 the figure of the victimizer
is elided and replaced by an impersonal and imagined government agency;
in Jorge Semprún’s The Long Voyage (1963), the figure of the victimizer is
troped as inhuman; and in David Grossman’s See Under: Love (1986), the
figure of the victimizer is radically and falsely humanized.
Aharon Appelfeld’s Badenheim 1939 takes place in discursive space
that owes its existence entirely to our understanding as readers that the
Jewish vacationers in the spa town of Badenheim, in the 1939 season,
are doomed. The reader may easily interpret the multiplying signs of
their ghettoization and imminent deportation21 with the certainty as to

Jeremy Metz Reading the victimizer

its grim meaning that they cannot. The crux of the novel lies not in the
Jews’ incapacity for confronting the menace, but rather in their choosing
to discount it. Their wilful blindness is not a result of their vapidity –
though they certainly display their fair share of that trait – but rather of
a life-affirming practice of the impresario, Dr Pappenheim, resident pros-
titutes Gertie and Sallie, and others, to enjoy the concert season insofar as it
is still possible, and even to relish the view and the prospect of a last lemon-
ade as they set off, tragically, to the train station en route to their
Before we, as readers, consider a polemic that presumes we judge the
representations of the vacationers for fairness, as if this were our job, and as
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if we stood outside the text as arbiters of its merits and deficiencies, we

should acknowledge our own positions with respect to the text’s subjects.
The text holds our interest precisely because Appelfeld has framed it in alle-
gorical terms: it is intelligible only because we know the outcome. In this
regard, we know the meta-narrative of any fiction set in the shadow of the
Holocaust. The world in which any set of characters enacts their lives is
about to be destroyed. Whether or not a particular character survives, we
know that so many of her fellows and so much of whom and what she
knows will be extinguished, that some great part of her will die along
with them. It is not possible either to write texts after the Holocaust, or
to read them, without this knowledge. To critique a text for ‘backshadow-
ing’, because its author and its readers have knowledge that is not available
to the historicized characters represented in the text and because, in the
opinion of the critic, this knowledge causes an unfavourable light to be
cast on characters whose actions would be, in his opinion, more laudable,
if alternative outcomes were admitted, is trivial and misplaced.
The logic of Michael André Bernstein’s critique of Appelfeld’s writ-
ings, in his Foregone Conclusions: Against Apocalyptic History (1994) as con-
taining a ‘constitutive, and in many ways ethically vitiating, weakness’,22
would foreclose just these kinds of questions, by ruling out representations
like Appelfeld’s ‘often unheroic, pale victims, morally suspect and extre-
mely difficult to love’.23 Some might find this to be a pretty good descrip-
tion of actual human beings of their acquaintance, but whether or not
Bernstein’s characterization of Appelfeld’s characters strikes one as apt,
surely Appelfeld may ethically represent his Jewish subjects in any
manner he wishes. A reader should feel free to critique Badenheim 1939
on just about any grounds, other than its unflattering representations of
victims per se. To sacralize them, by requiring that we represent them
only in flattering lights, is to dehumanize them.
In his rush to defend the figure of the victim from authors like Appel-
feld, Bernstein locates a theoretical basis for his project in his notion of
‘backshadowing’, which he defines as a ‘manipulative’ distortion of the

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‘actual choices of characters’ by assuming the ‘significance and impli-

cations’ of ‘decisive past events’ that the characters themselves ‘could
not, and should not’ be expected to have known.24 There’s a double
move at work: Bernstein attempts to delegitimize as unethical Appelfeld’s
narrative strategy of producing a range of emotional responses in the
reader, including dread, by showing a group of vacationers who ignore
events into which only we, with our privileged post-Holocaust vantage,
can read for the full terror they contain. He further deplores any narrative
that would truck in a displacement of blame for the Holocaust onto the
person of the victims
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. . . by representing the Jews of Badenheim as irredeemably selfish

and petty, he commits the greater [than ‘aesthetic enticement’]
offense of leaving unchallenged the monstrous proposition that
Europe’s Jews are somehow ‘deserving’ of punishment.25

Leaving aside the question of whether anyone serious is actually

advancing this proposition, it requires little effort to see that Appelfeld is
not. In a rather stunning use of metonymy, Nazi power is represented
by the activities of a wholly impersonal Sanitation Department that exe-
cutes orders it receives from its unnamed headquarters. There is no sugges-
tion at any point that resistance to the will of the Sanitation Department
would be anything but futile. Indeed, it is attempted just once in the
novel, by a major, not otherwise named, who wants to leave town, in
spite of its ‘quarantine’: ‘For two days the major fought the Sanitation
Department. He cursed the Jews and the bureaucracy and terrorized the
deserted streets of the town. In the end he shot himself in the head’.26
Not simply is resistance unproductive, there is no discursive space in
which it may occur. Jews and the Sanitation Department are in mutual
positions of absolute otherness.
Thus the Jews represented in the novel have no agency whatever with
respect to their historical circumstances; and Appelfeld cannot possibly be
held to assign to them in any way the responsibility for their fate. Their
only choice resides in their decision to continue inhabiting their own
lived lives, with all their foibles, blemishes, unkindnesses, and humanity.
Dr Pappenheim’s ultimate declaration that ‘If the coaches are so dirty it
must mean that we have not far to go’,27 is no more contemptible than
a parent’s making up a fib for her child as they prepare to mount what
might well have been the very same boxcar. In any event, Dr Pappenheim
knows perfectly well what is going on. In the absence of agency, there
simply is no presumption that one should seek to hear ‘truths’ about cir-
cumstances whose contour one knows, but which one is absolutely
unable to change.28 ‘Aren’t you taking any luggage?’ Salo asked Dr

Jeremy Metz Reading the victimizer

Pappenheim, as the appointed date of their transport draws close’.29 The

text provides no response, for none is needed.
I would suggest that Bernstein’s critique performs an anxiety that is
itself instructive, and in this regard it may be helpful to see what it is he
praises, or at least half-praises, in the work.

By avoiding explicit references to the Shoah, and more particularly,

by refusing to allow the archetypal scenarios of concentration camp
savagery to orchestrate the emotional force of his stories, Appelfeld
succeeds in short-circuiting any possibility of the sadomasochistic
identification that haunts literature on the Shoah. Similarly,
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whether triggered by the image of Hitler himself or by one of his

stand-ins, ranging from Eichmann or Mengele to the unnamed
but all-powerful SS thugs, the hypnotic fascination with pure evil
can find no foothold in Appelfeld’s books, focused as these are on
the intricacies of Jewish self-delusion, class snobbism, and racial

There is much we do not know about SS operatives, but certainly they

were not all ‘stand-ins for Hitler’, ‘thugs’, ‘all-powerful’, or embodiments
of ‘pure evil’. The intensity of this rhetoric suggests a profound anxiety that
does not admit distinctions of the type with which literary critics are ordi-
narily associated. It has as its purpose the inscribing of the figure of the SS
as outside human boundaries, that is, its purpose is to effect his radical
othering, a technique we generally think of as the Nazi’s project. While
Bernstein apparently sees himself as protecting victims in his critique of
Appelfeld’s ‘manipulative’ ex post facto representation of Jews as delusional
snobs, and in his praise for Appelfeld’s avoidance of perpetrator represen-
tations; in fact he simply performs an anxiety whose consequence, if gen-
erally acted upon, would be detrimental to the recovery of those same
victims’ lived lives.
The choice Appelfeld makes to avoid victimizer representations and
victimizer-victim encounters is striking and must be accounted for. Even
when the Jews are being ordered into the ‘four filthy freight cars’ in
which they will be transported to a concentration camp, they do not
exchange so much as a glance with those commanding them. ‘“Get in!”
yelled invisible voices. And the people were sucked in’.31 The construction
itself is unusually metonymic: ordinarily a person would yell, not a voice,
which is an instrumentality. The sucking in suggests an irresistible force,
again not the result of a specific human intervention. Most importantly,
the Jews (and, consequently, the readers) are not permitted to see their
about-to-be victimizers until just after the novel’s end. In other words
the text takes the reader to the threshold of their transformation into

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victims, no longer by an abstraction or a metaphorical Sanitation Depart-

ment, but by particular individualized Nazis.
By largely colluding in the pretence sponsored by the Sanitation
Department and orchestrated by Dr Pappenheim that they are going to
be relocated to a pleasant spot in Poland, about whose wonders, including
the Badenheim-like Vistula river and Carpathian mountains, they explore
on a map on sale in the souvenir shop in the Sanitation Department head-
quarters cum tourist office,32 the Jewish summer residents of Badenheim
maintain their agency for as long as they possibly can. This agency is a
limited one, to be sure, centred on their enjoyment of the privileges of
bourgeois culture, but it’s one that they inhabit fully and freely. That
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sense of agency will be stripped away from them at the traumatic

moment when their victimizers transform them into victims in actual,
physical encounters. But that moment does not take place within the text.
In Badenheim 1939, Appelfeld certainly interrogates questions of
Jewish identity, but above all he recovers the very last moments in a specific
site of Jewish culture before it disappeared forever.33 Knowing of the
horrors to come, we read the site as prelapsarian, despite all the pettifoggery
of its inhabitants. The Jews who are soon to be dispelled have moments of
giddy happiness in their Eden: ‘The summer was at the height of its radi-
ance. Wild roses spread through the drunken gardens and climbed over the
fences. Dr Shutz skipped about like a boy . . .’34 We know that this garden
will soon be lost forever, and our last view of it is enabled only by the
novel’s holding the victimizers at bay at the characters’ insistence and
with the reader’s full foreknowledge of what is to come, not solely as a lit-
erary technique, but rather as the essential condition for their continued
functioning for a few moments longer, as Jews and human beings, full
of human defects, before they are irrevocably converted into ashen victims.
In Jorge Semprún’s The Long Voyage, the narrator is reflecting on the
perverse brutality of SS soldiers when he remarks: ‘But there’s no point
trying to understand the SS; it suffices to exterminate them’.35 A few
pages later, he has an opportunity to put this maxim into practice. Two
young partisans under his command bring him a captured, wounded SS
operative whom he recognizes as a ‘Blockführer who was forever screaming
and persecuting the prisoners’. Worse, ‘perhaps it was in [his] section that
the SS cut off the hands of a three-year-old child to force its mother to talk,
to make her denounce a resistance group’. The partisans who captured him
are ill at ease because they do not want to execute the SS man. They under-
stand the logic of it: they have no means for holding a prisoner, and he
clearly is an enemy combatant of precisely the type that they are fighting
to kill. The narrator grudgingly dismisses the partisans and explains to
the SS man that he ought to be executed, but that the partisans were too
young, not tough enough. He tells the SS that he would have shot him.

Jeremy Metz Reading the victimizer

But he does not. The man looks at him ‘imploringly’, and the narrator tells
him ‘to go to hell’.36 Then he lets him go.
The reader is left in no doubt that the point of the encounter is to
show how the narrator differentiates himself from his enemy. He and
the two young partisans who captured the SS man act in a manner that
is detrimental to their contingent interests (and to those of others, includ-
ing other partisans, whom the SS man may well go on to kill and torture,
not to mention the young children whose hands he might cut off before
their anguished mothers). They also know that in the reverse circumstance,
the SS man would have no qualms in shooting them.37 The act of the par-
tisans and the narrator is shown to be instrumental to their potential to
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emerge from the war, if they are fortunate enough not to die in it, ‘clean
and pure of heart’.38
We can see in this encounter a trope:39 the narrator will not fight
against murderers by becoming a murderer himself. He will offer his
own life to oppose those who radically dehumanize others through
acts of genocide, but he will not dehumanize his enemies while so
doing. Generalized only slightly, it will be acceptable, later, to
execute mass murderers, but only after they have been tried in a suitable
court of law. It will also be acceptable to kill as many soldiers as poss-
ible in combat, and to kill civilians as a necessary, if regrettable, conse-
quence of strategic bombing. But it will never be acceptable to kill an
unarmed man in cold blood. There’s a mysterious code at work here:
we almost think of Errol Flynn flicking a dropped sword to his
opponent whom he will decline to kill except in a fair fight. We are
supposed to admire the partisans, even as we wonder about their self-
professed foolishness, and even as we try to avoid dwelling on the mor-
ality of an act that might have as its consequence the perpetration of
additional atrocities that the freed SS man might commit, explicitly
including on young children.
Amidst the troping, there’s a moment of genuine encounter, when the
SS man ‘looks at [the narrator] imploringly’.40 The narrator recognizes in
this moment that the SS man is human, and in that moment he has a
godlike power of life and death over him, and he pities him. The instru-
mentality of that recognition resides in the gaze; and Emmanuel Levinas
shows how it inhibits killing in cold blood when he writes:

For in reality, murder is possible, but it is possible only when one has
not looked the Other in the face. The impossibility of killing is not
real, but moral. The fact that the vision of the face is not an experi-
ence, but a moving out of oneself, a contact with another being and
not simply a sensation of self, is attested to by the ‘purely moral’
character of this impossibility. A moral view [regard] measures, in

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the face, the uncrossable infinite in which all murderous intent is

immersed and submerged.41

While the ethical moment operates, Semprún’s narrator looks at the

imploring SS man; we have no guide to the view in the opposite direction,
no understanding of whether or how Nazis looked Jews in the face and
willed their death, on a massive scale.
Despite his act of mercy, the narrator will go on to figure all SS men
very much along the lines of Bernstein’s characterization, as purely evil,
outside the normal human boundary. He figures them specifically as the
very embodiment of Nazi death when he writes the story of the Jewish chil-
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dren whom they tormented with vicious dogs and murdered on the avenue
leading to the camp entrance. The narrator takes on the archetypal position
of the witness when he writes that ‘after these long years of wilful oblivion,
not only am I able to tell this story, I feel compelled to tell it. I have to
speak out in the name of things that have happened, not in my own
name. The story of the Jewish children in the name of the Jewish children.
The story of their death on the broad avenue which led up to the camp
entrance, beneath the stony gaze of the Nazi eagles, surrounded by the
laughter of the SS, in the name of death itself’.42
We recognize in Semprún’s fragmentary ‘The story of the Jewish chil-
dren in the name of the Jewish children’ an acknowledgement that he, a
non-Jewish resistance fighter, was never a victim in the same sense that
they were. Their utter innocence, their lack of any conceivable agency in
the face of the Nazi death machine, contrast starkly with the essential
agency of the narrator and his fellow non-Jewish partisans. They may
not be able to articulate the reasons for their choice to resist the Nazis at
grave risk to their lives; but there is never any question that such is their
choice. The narrator does not ever face a victimizer who would look him
in the face and deprive him of his life, not for what he has done, but for
who he is.
Except in that single encounter, in the approximately 30 references to
the SS in The Long Voyage, they are never figured as anything other than the
embodiment of death.43 In contrast, the German soldiers are solidly
human. In particular, a ‘German soldier from Auxerre was another one
who, I felt, would sometimes have preferred to be in my shoes’.44 While
he immediately acknowledges that other German soldiers were sadistic,
this one at least had a sufficient capacity for empathy that the narrator ima-
gines him as preferring the position of the victim to his own as victimizer.
Thus The Long Voyage represents SS men copiously, and clearly dis-
tinguishes itself from the narrative strategy of Badenheim 1939, which
avoids the figuration of any perpetrator, but it does so while joining in
the same project of avoiding acknowledging them as human subjects.

Jeremy Metz Reading the victimizer

The narrator writes: ‘I know that with an SS man, dialogue becomes poss-
ible only after he is dead. I know that the problem is to modify the histori-
cal structure which permits the appearance of the SS. But once the SS man
is there, one has no choice but to exterminate him whenever the occasion
arises in the course of battle’.45 The denial of the possibility of communi-
cating with the SS man and the use of the word ‘extermination’ suggest that
the narrator is radically othering the SS in just the same way that the SS is
figuring the Jews. The difference of course, is that for the narrator, the
othering is a figurative response to the gross misdeeds of the SS; he does
not actually wish to execute them, and refuses to do so when offered the
opportunity. His rhetoric may be the same; but his ethos is the opposite
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of his foes’. Still, as a literary matter, the reader can only see the SS
subject as utterly and irreducibly unlike himself and therefore not as an
object of possible empathy. Indeed, the reader cannot see the SS man as
human at all.
In David Grossman’s See Under: Love, Momik, a child who lives
among Holocaust survivors who are tormented by the memories they try
to suppress of ‘Over There’, finds salvation in reimagining the story of
his grandfather, Anshel Wasserman, a once-popular Hebrew revivalist
author of serialized children’s adventures. In the book’s first section,
Momik’s grandfather (actually his great uncle) is deposited on his
parents’ doorstep. Grandfather Wasserman is demented, but his babble
contains elements of his life story that Momik becomes convinced hold
the secret to defeating the Nazi Beast that he imagines is the source of
the survivors’ anguish. Momik notes the frequent references in his grand-
father’s stories to a Nazi named Herrneigel and he positions himself both as
the decoder of his grandfather’s babbling, and as the mediator of his recov-
ered stories to their present-day neighbours.
One day, at lunch, Grandfather Wasserman begins screaming as if
from the interior of a nightmare, and Momik makes a series of critical

His face turned red and his lips were trembling, and Momik jumped
up and went over to the door because suddenly he understood all the
things he hadn’t understood before, stupid him, that Herrneigel
himself was the Nazikaput, because kaput means finished, as
Momik knew from Hebrew, and a Nazi is a beast and now it was
clear to him that Herrneigel was angry with Grandfather because
of the story, because he didn’t want to be kaput and so he was
trying to force Grandfather to change the story the way he wanted
to . . . Grandfather . . . [hollered] in old-fashioned Hebrew that he
would not let Herrneigel interfere with his story because his story
was his whole life . . . suddenly Grandfather turned away from the

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wall . . . and Momik knew that if Grandfather wanted to, he could

pull him right into his story just the way he did Herrneigel, and
Momik would have run away only he couldn’t move and he tried
to scream but no sound came out . . .46

Momik imagines that Herrneigel, the death camp commandant,

figured as a beast, depended for his survival on his place in his grandfather’s
story. In effect, Momik imagines not simply neutralizing the excessive
agency that the figure of the Nazis continued to exert on survivors’ mem-
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ories, but rather reversing it. The Jew, Wasserman, no longer is at the
mercy of the commandant’s volition, but rather it is Neigel who
depends for his life on a Jewish storyteller’s whim.
We recognize, with a decisiveness that perhaps only fiction can offer,
that the survivor Wasserman relives the trauma in that moment, and
despite his garbled transmission his grandson enters into Wasserman’s
trauma as if into a nightmare from which Momik is unable to escape or
to cry out. Momik’s trauma though is contained within his narrative
and is mediated in a manner that rules out its transmission to the
reader. The reader is never shown the contemporaneous events that trau-
matized Wasserman, only their rewriting by Momik. His version is so fan-
ciful and so totally at odds with the crushing reality of the encounters
between Nazis and Jews in the death camps, that they carry little emotional
Momik’s imaginative rewriting of his grandfather’s story comes at the
expense of its actuality: as he rewrites it on himself, he will necessarily efface
the historical narrative on which it is based.47 He warns his grandfather:
‘Pay attention, Wasserman, your story is now in jeopardy! Even the close-
ness between us won’t make me feel sorry for you, because in war there’s no
mercy, and I declare war on you and your story’.48
Through his rewriting of the Wasserman story, Momik will transform
Neigel, the commandant of a Nazi death camp, explicitly identified with
Rudolph Hoess,49 whose memory was tormenting Wasserman, into a col-
laborator with his grandfather on a Hebrew Revivalist story for children. In
the course of their collaboration, he and Wasserman become co-creators of
the fictional baby Kazik, who lives his life in 24 hours. In Momik’s reima-
gining of the relationship between Neigel and Wasserman, the two enjoy
an ethical intimacy that Wasserman meditates is akin to that of co-
parents of a human child.

‘Every meeting between two people is a wonder and a mystery, for

even a man and his beloved, even if they are man and wife and

Jeremy Metz Reading the victimizer

have lived in partnership for many years, nu, yes, still, how rarely do
they meet, while he and I here – remarkable!’ But there is not a drop
of blood in his body, and Neigel, too, is very pale. They both look
hollow. As if everything inside them has been sucked out and
spilled into the veins of a new, transparent embryo made entirely
of the supplications and fervor and anxiety of two who briefly
glimpsed each other over the trenches.50

This imagined encounter, full of emotional intimacy, with its Levina-

sian overtones, are of course not representative of any Jew’s actual experi-
ence in the death camps. Indeed, the emblematic glance that the Auschwitz
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death camp commandant and his adjutants exchanged with the Jewish
inmates occurred on the arrival ramp and resulted in the Jews’ designations
for their immediate extermination or for forced labour followed by their
In Momik’s radical humanization of an iconic Nazi perpetrator, we
see a clear challenge to any discourse that radically others an enemy. In
the course of humanizing Neigel, the text transgresses a couple of the
most salient taboos in representations of Nazi perpetrators. At the very
moment Neigel readies himself to murder his grandfather, Momik, the
observer, turns away and notices ‘the military placards on the wall
behind the desk: THE FÜHRER COMMANDS – WE OBEY,
passage appears to gesture to the classic Nazi defence that the killers
were simply following orders and bore only limited responsibility for the
atrocities they committed.
Shortly afterward, Momik appears himself in the narrative of Wasser-
man that he is spinning in order to advise his grandfather, who is consider-
ing whether Nazis are incapable of becoming writers because they are
devoid of feelings, that he should take account of their training in the
SS Führerschule at Dachau, where a sign in a classroom reads: ‘1. THE
the very least, these citations appear to echo a dominant theme in Hoess’
autobiography, which is that he was, as he puts it near the end, ‘a cog in
the wheel of the great extermination machine created by the Third
Reich’.53 Indeed, Momik’s ‘Beast’ imagery appears to be derived from
the nauseating passage with which Hoess concludes his autobiography:

Let the public continue to regard me as the bloodthirsty beast, the

cruel sadist, and the mass murderer; for the masses could never

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imagine the commandant of Auschwitz in any other light. They

could never understand that he, too, had a heart and that he was
not evil.54

Generally speaking, Hoess’ autobiography constitutes his attempt to

make a case for himself as a fundamentally decent family man55 who
was drawn into the administration of a concentration camp, despite his
natural opposition to the methods of the commandant of Dachau,
Theodor Eicke, whom he had served as a Blockführer before taking up
his post at Auschwitz. To the extent he acknowledges any flaw it is lack
of sufficient courage to have opted out of service in the concentration
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A legitimate question may be asked about the degree to which
Momik’s imagining of the Wasserman story colludes with Hoess’ misre-
presentation of himself in his autobiography. Indeed, whereas the autobio-
graphy is a transparent falsification of Hoess’ vast criminality, when filtered
through Momik’s mediation it loses the frame that allows the reader to
immediately identify it for what it is – the self-serving death row confes-
sional of a convicted mass murderer.57
Momik does show Neigel at work as a genocidal murderer, notably
when Neigel asks Himmler by telephone for additional materiel that
would allow him to set up three more gas chambers so that he could accel-
erate the already horrific rate of extermination in the camp.58 Momik also
shows Neigel as a victimizer in his encounter with Jews at several selections,
in which we understand that he gazes at each one in turn, deciding who
would live (in order to work) and who would die. But even then, when
his storytelling with Wasserman is well advanced, Momik blurs the trau-
matic encounter. Neigel is shown as conducting the selection only at the
insistence of his deputy, Staukeh, and he is ‘furious’ at having been so com-
pelled. ‘His thin, gold-rimmed glasses flash angrily in the cold glint of the
searchlights. Neigel chooses the victims with a wave of his finger. He
squints, reviewing them with utmost care. Some of the prisoners later
swore that he made the selection with his eyes shut’.59
Neigel thus works evil, but, along the lines of Hoess’ self-represen-
tation, he does so as an expression of duty and, towards the end, unwil-
lingly. By showing Hoess alternating between moments of intense
communion with Wasserman, and other moments of murderous intent,
Momik recognizes the incommensurability of the two representations,
but he asserts a belief that the project of ‘understanding’ Neigel is both
legitimate and possible. Wasserman says: ‘[Neigel] was a child once,
after all, and read what he read and liked me a little, and who knows
what he endured at the SS Führerschule, for surely no one becomes a mur-
derer without forfeiting happiness, and if I knew how a man like Neigel

Jeremy Metz Reading the victimizer

could be turned into a murderer, perhaps I would try to turn him around
and reform him . . .’60
In the end, it is Neigel who cannot live with the aporia. In the last
section, ‘The Complete Encyclopedia of Kazik’s Life’, which serves, in
part, as a postscript to the body of the work, we learn that he kills himself,
at the demand of his deputy, Staukeh, who disapproves of his relationship
with the Jewish prisoner.61 Remarkably, even here there’s a connection to
Hoess’ autobiography, in which Hoess claims to have wished to commit
suicide, but is improbably prevented from doing so because, in his
account, ‘the vial of poison . . . broke just before my arrest’.62 In a manner
reminiscent of Wasserman’s attempts to cajole Neigel into executing him,
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Hoess professes himself to ‘greatly . . . envy’ those of his comrades who

died ‘a soldier’s death’.63 In the end, even if we dissociate ourselves from a
rhetoric that figures the Nazi SS man as being the embodiment of pure
evil, the contrary position that Momik fantasizes brings us no closer to
the terrible truth of the encounter between victimizer and victim.
We have argued in this essay for unfettered literary representations of
victimizers that allow readers to experience them in their encounters with
their victims. Through elisions, troping, and falsification of victimizer pos-
itions and through complex textual mediations that further insulate readers
from empathetic responses to victimizers, the important texts we have been
discussing tend to confirm dubious theoretical postulations of the unspeak-
ability of the Holocaust. As the events of the Holocaust become more distant
and as the remaining survivors disappear, we may imagine that future lit-
erary productions will, with greater frequency, join Jonathan Littell’s The
Kindly Ones in imagining victimizers in their encounters with Jewish
victims. We might wish that such representations eschew psychologically
nuanced (and perhaps even sympathetic) explanations of the misdeeds of
victimizers, and when they show their suffering carefully that they avoid con-
flating their positions with those of their victims. In such a manner, we
would, as readers, be able to enter empathetically into the experience of
victims in the moment of trauma, without also empathizing with their vic-
timizers. Yet any lines we may wish to draw between acceptable and unac-
ceptable representations of victimizers are likely to prove highly unstable.

University of Maryland


1 Most scholarly works use the term, ‘perpetrator’, but I generally prefer victimi-
zer since it easily resolves to its object, the victim. ‘Perpetrator’ seems to me to

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beg the question of what’s being perpetrated and obscures the necessary con-
dition of the act of perpetration as having an object, i.e. there is no automatic
exact equivalent for ‘perpetratee’. I will, however, use ‘perpetrator’ when dis-
cussing scholarly work that uses the term.
2 Jonathan Littell’s 2006 Prix Goncourt winner, Les Bienveillantes, published in
English in 2008 as The Kindly Ones, is an important, if ambiguous, exception.
The book has been sufficiently critiqued to make further comment superfluous
at present, but it may be remarked that Littell’s protagonist Dr Aue is arguably
not a perpetrator, does not have a conscience as it would be understood ordi-
narily, and is so excessively repulsive that the text acts to inhibit the reader’s
identification with him. See Daniel Mendelsohn, ‘Transgression: The
Kindly Ones (Review) – by Jonathan Littell, translated from the French by
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Charlotte Mandell’, The New York Review of Books, 56 (2009). Susan Rubin
Suleiman surveys literary representations of perpetrators in an article on Lit-
tell’s work, ‘Fictional representations of the inner world of perpetrators (as
opposed to the standard external view of Nazi villains in countless films) are
also hard to find. Robert Merle’s novel La Mort est mon métier (Death Is
My Trade, 1952), a fictionalized version of Höss’s autobiography, was until
recently the only full-length novel narrated in the voice of a Nazi perpetrator.
Jorge Luis Borges’s short story “Ein Deutsches Requiem” (“A German
Requiem”, 1949) is the unrepentant monologue of a Nazi officer about to
be executed, and George Steiner concludes his novel The Portage to San
Cristobal of A.H. (1981) with a first-person self-justificatory rant by Adolf
Hitler himself. David Grossman’s novel See Under: Love (1989) devotes
some brilliant pages to the inner life of the camp commandant Neigel,
obviously modelled on Treblinka’s real-life commandant, Franz Stangl;
Martin Amis’s novel Time’s Arrow (1991) is the postwar narrative of a Nazi
doctor, but told in reverse order, as if to deny not only what happened but
also any sense of responsibility on the part of the protagonist-narrator. A
few fiction films have also attempted to suggest, if not downright represent,
the subjectivity of perpetrators. One thinks of the “mirror-scene” depicting
the sadistic camp commander Amon Goeth in a moment of self-doubt in
Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List (1993), or of Oliver Hirschbiegel’s
more extended recent attempt to portray Joseph Goebbels and Hitler as
full-fledged characters in Der Untergang (Downfall, 2004), but again, these
are exceptions rather than the rule’. Susan Rubin Suleiman, ‘When the Perpe-
trator Becomes a Reliable Witness of the Holocaust: On Jonathan Littell’s Les
bienveillantes’, New German Critique, 36 (January 2009), pp. 1 – 2. It may
further be noted, with respect to Amis’ Times Arrow that the first-person nar-
rator is not the perpetrator, but the perpetrator’s wholly innocent conscious-
ness, who mediates his alter ego in the third person, and who describes
himself as friendly to Jews.
3 See Laurel Cohen-Pfister and Dagmar Wienröder-Skinner, eds, Victims and
Perpetrators, 1933 – 1945: (Re)presenting the Past in Post-Unification Culture
(Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 2006). In the ‘Introduction’, Cohen-Pfister and
Wienroeder-Skinner generally argue that ‘the need to profess individual and

Jeremy Metz Reading the victimizer

collective stories of non-Jewish German civilian pain signifies a new turn in

coming to terms with the past, here understood most personally’. p. 23.
Not surprisingly, the authors immediately gesture to the incomparably
greater suffering of the objects of the Holocaust: ‘The history of German suf-
fering and traumatization can only be remembered alongside the history of
National Socialist crimes’. This pivot performs the difficulty that inheres in
any kind of work on the traumatization of ‘perpetrators’, i.e. that it runs the
risk of being perceived as shifting the focus away from the Jewish victims. It
should be noted that the perpetrators with which Pfister-Cohen’s book is con-
cerned are not the architects or executioners of the Final Solution, but rather
the German population, which were perpetrators in the sense that they could
not be ‘disassociated from their responsibility as supporters of the regime that
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caused the war’. Laurel Cohen-Pfister, ‘Rape, War, and Outrage: Changing
Perceptions on German Victimhood in the Period of Post-unification’. in
ibid., p. 316.
4 Emil Fackenheim, To Mend the World: Foundations of Future Jewish Thought
(New York: Schocken Books, 1982), p. 233.
5 Lanzmann is quoted as saying, ‘I was very, very violent against my friend Dori
Laub, and against Dr Micheels, whom I respect very much. But more than
this misunderstanding of myself as the creator of Shoah, this film represented
for me all of the things I have always fought against, with all my strength’.
‘The Obscenity of Understanding: An Evening with Claude Lanzmann’ in
Cathy Caruth (ed.), Trauma: Explorations in Memory (Baltimore: The Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1995), pp. 200–212.
6 See Saul Friedländer, ed., Probing the Limits of Representation: Nazism and the
‘Final Solution’ (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992). Naomi
Mandel argues against the discourse of unspeakability in her Against the
Unspeakable: Complicity, the Holocaust, and Slavery in America, annotated
edition (Charlottsville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2006).
7 Ruth Leys, Trauma: A Genealogy (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press,
2000), p. 20.
8 For a lucid account of this mechanism, as it is described by Caruth and others,
see Dominick LaCapra, Writing History, Writing Trauma (Baltimore, MD:
The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), pp. 89– 90.
9 For a profound discussion of the shame that may attend survivor memories
and its bitter consequences, see the chapter ‘Shame’ in Primo Levi, The
Drowned and the Saved (New York, NY: Vintage, 1989), pp. 70– 87.
10 Trauma: Explorations in Memory (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press,
1995), p. 6. Caruth presents this view in the context of introducing Dori
Laub’s essay in the volume, in which he makes the argument he first made
in Testimony: Crises of Witnessing, that ‘massive trauma precludes its regis-
tration; the observing and recording mechanisms are temporarily knocked
out, malfunction’. Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub, Testimony: Crises of Wit-
nessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History (New York: Routledge, 1992),
p. 57.
11 Caruth, Trauma, p. 7.

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12 LaCapra, Writing History, Writing Trauma, p. 41.

13 Derek Attridge, J.M. Coetzee & the Ethics of Reading: Literature in the Event
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), p. 39.
14 Ibid., p. xi. Levinas goes so far as to make the responsibility two subjects have
for each other a central ethical obligation on each. Each subject not only is
responsible for the other, but is responsible for the other’s capacity to be
responsible to her. ‘To be oneself, otherwise than being, to be dis-interested,
is to bear the wretchedness and bankruptcy of the other, and even the respon-
sibility that the other can have for me. To be oneself, the state of being a
hostage, is always to have one degree of responsibility more, the responsibility
for the responsibility of the other’. Emmanuel Levinas, Otherwise Than Being,
or, Beyond Essence (Boston: Kluwer, 1981), p. 117.
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15 See Mike Marais, ‘J.M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading (Review)’, MFS
Modern Fiction Studies, 53 (January 2008), pp. 910– 912.
16 Shoshana Felman, ‘Education and Crisis, or the Vicissitudes of Teaching’ in
Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub (eds), Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Lit-
erature, Psychoanalysis, and History (New York: Routledge, 1992), pp. 1 –56.
17 The previously cited Probing the Limits of Representation, edited by Saul Fried-
lander, is to some degree premised on the angst that attends inquiries at the
margin of the knowable. See, for example, Christopher R. Browning’s
chapter in the book, ‘German memory, Judicial Interrogation, Historical
Reconstruction’ in which he writes, ‘Even if the empathy necessary to
writing perpetrator history is desirable, is it possible? Elie Wiesel has argued
that the core of the Holocaust is beyond the human comprehension of
anyone but the survivors. These survivors suffered an experience within the
universe of the camps that is beyond communicability even by the “messen-
gers”, and certainly cannot be re-created, represented, or understood by
those who were not there. Is an understanding, representation, and communic-
ability of the perpetrators’ experience as impossible as Wiesel thinks it is of the
survivors’ experience? Saul Friedlander suggests as much at a 1990 conference
at Northwestern University, when he argued that the historian’s attempt to
find a “psychological common denominator” with the perpetrators resulted
in an “intractable unease”. Having thus cited Friedlander approvingly, Brown-
ing ends his essay in a defensive crouch, suggesting, without supplying any sup-
porting reasoning, that Friedlander’s arguments applied to the ‘top Nazi
leadership’ but, hopefully, not to the subjects of his essay, a group of reserve
policemen who were called on to machine gun 1500 Jews in the Polish
village of Jozefów. Friedländer, Probing the Limits of Representation, p. 36.
18 Michael Andre Bernstein, Foregone Conclusions: Against Apocalyptic History
(Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1994), p. 53.
19 We might think of a parent reading the story of Little Red Riding Hood to a
child, which would be inconceivable if the predator were figured as a person
rather than a wolf.
20 Dates are those of the respective books’ first publication in their original

Jeremy Metz Reading the victimizer

21 The Jews are required to register with the ‘sanitation department’, are barri-
caded in the town, their communication with the outside world is cut off,
and undispelled rumours swirl that they are to be relocated in Poland.
22 Michael Andre Bernstein, Foregone Conclusions, p. 56.
23 Ibid., p. 57.
24 Ibid., pp. 61, 65, 68– 69.
25 Ibid., p. 66.
26 Aharon Appelfeld, Badenheim 1939, trans. Dalya Bilu, 1990, p. 20.
27 Ibid., p. 148.
28 For another instance of soon-to-be victims’ wilful avoidance of hearing the
‘truth’ of their imminent murders, see Claude Lanzmann’s discussion of
Polish Jews awaiting their murders in Auschwitz: ‘It’s Filip Müller who
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arrived in 1943, transported from Bialystok. A man in the working detail

recognized her and told her, “You are going to die in two hours”. She starts
to tell this to the other women and they do not want to listen, and the men
they do not want to listen. Müller has this very beautiful sentence, “not that
they thought that it was untrue. They had heard many stories” he says, “in
the ghetto, in Grodno, in Balystok. But who wants to hear such things?”
Claude Lanzmann, Ruth Larson, and David Rodowick, ‘Seminar with
Claude Lanzmann 11 April 1990’, Yale French Studies, 79 (1991), pp. 82– 99.
29 Appelfeld, Badenheim 1939, p. 138.
30 Bernstein, Foregone Conclusions, p. 58.
31 Appelfeld, Badenheim 1939, p. 147, emphasis added.
32 Ibid., p. 39.
33 David Suchoff writes in a review that Yigal Schwartz makes a similar point
about language: ‘Schwartz’s book examines the many fictional sites where
this linguistic and cultural exchange occurs: the train station cafes in post-
war Europe, refugee camps, pre-war vacation resorts like ‘Badenheim’, the
dingy coffee shops at the edge of Jerusalem and other places outside the
formal purview of ‘tribal’ Jewish religion and culture. In these typical Appel-
feld locales, different languages, and cultures, both Jewish and non-Jewish,
meet, argue, and permit his narratives to carry the weight of European
languages into the modern Hebrew literary tradition’. David Suchoff,
‘Aharon Appelfeld: From Individual Lament to Tribal Eternity by Yigal
Schwartz (Review)’, Criticism, 44 (2002), pp. 444– 445.
34 Appelfeld, Badenheim 1939, p. 47.
35 Jorge Semprún, The Long Voyage (Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 2005),
p. 71.
36 Ibid., p. 80.
37 ‘If the reverse had been true, if it had been the SS who had taken them pris-
oner, they would have been lined up and shot, with a song on their lips’. Ibid.
38 Ibid.
39 The point may be illustrated with a further example. In Saving Private Ryan
(1998), directed by Steven Spielberg, Captain Miller, played by Tom
Hanks, is brought a captured German soldier just after the agonizing death
of the well-liked Medic Wade in his unit. The unit is moving too fast to

Textual Practice

take a prisoner of war with them and most of the Rangers are in favour of
executing the German, who is pleading for his life. Miller intervenes to save
his life, instructing the soldier to surrender to a regular US Army unit.
Instead he is found by a Waffen-SS unit and goes on to kill Miller, the
movie’s hero. In this case, the protagonist pays the ultimate price for his act
of humanity. We are to understand that he did so knowing the risk, having
decided that the code he was operating under did not provide for the
murder in cold blood of precisely the soldiers he was gravely risking his life
to kill – in as large a number as possible. Interestingly, this scene was not
part of the original screenplay, suggesting that it did not grow organically
from the first author’s conception of the Captain Miller character.
40 Steven Spielberg, dir., Saving Private Ryan (1998).
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41 Emmanuel Levinas, trans. Seán Hand, Difficult Freedom, 1997, p. 10, cited in
Richard Middleton-Kaplan, ‘Facing the Face of the Enemy: Levinasian
Moments in All Quiet on the Western Front and the Literature of War’, MFS
Modern Fiction Studies, 54 (2008), pp. 72 –90.
42 Semprún, The Long Voyage, p. 163.
43 One example: the SS are figured as akin to their dogs when the narrator’s car is
unloaded and he holds his dead friend, ‘the guy from Semur’, in his arms. ‘At
times they [the prisoners] stumble beneath the hail of blows that the SS,
breathing heavily like lumberjacks hard at work, administer at random with
the butts of their rifles. With open mouths, the dogs charge at the bodies.
And above the mad commotion, resounding dryly above the swirling con-
fusion, the eternal cry: “Los, los, los”’. Ibid., p. 216.
44 Ibid., pp. 130 –131.
45 Ibid., p. 78.
46 Ibid., 56 – 57.
47 For a discussion on the relationship of the creation of a text to the effacing of
the memory that the text represents, see Michael F. Bernard-Donals, Forgetful
Memory: Representation and Remembrance in the Wake of the Holocaust (Albany:
State University of New York Press, 2009).
48 Ibid., 297.
49 Momik uses Hoess’ diary to clarify certain points in his representation of
Neigel: ‘And since Neigel does not descend to particulars, I quote similar dis-
closures by Rudolf Hoess, commandant of Auschwitz, in this diary . . . And
Rudolph Hoess continues to transfuse biographical data into Neigel’s transpar-
ent veins’. Ibid., p. 281. Susan Robin Suleiman, however, identifies Neigel
with Rudolf Stangl (see Note 2, infra).
50 Grossman, See Under: Love, pp. 199– 200.
51 Ibid., p. 189.
52 Ibid., p. 197
53 Rudolf Hoess, Commandant of Auschwitz; the Autobiography of Rudolf Hoess
(New York: Popular Library, 1961), p. 205.
54 Ibid., 202, emphasis added. Earlier, Hoess declares himself ‘a fanatical
National Socialist’, and makes an incidental but suggestive reference to the
Nazi objective of abolishing ‘Jewish supremacy’ and ascribes the need to

Jeremy Metz Reading the victimizer

exterminate Jews as a consequence of their having ‘pushed themselves forward

too much in their quest for power’. Ibid., p. 144. Hoess also avers: ‘I must
emphasize here that I have never personally hated the Jews’. Ibid., p. 146.
55 He professes that after his love for his country, ‘My second worship was my
family . . . In our children my wife and I saw our aim in life’. Ibid., p. 200.
56 ‘And it is here that my guilt actually begins. It was clear to me that I was not
suited to this sort of service, since in my heart I disagreed with Eicke’s insis-
tence that life in the concentration camp be organized in this particular way.
My sympathies lay too much with the prisoners, for I had myself lived their
life for too long and had personal experience of their needs. [Hoess was impri-
soned from 1923 to 1928 for his role in the murder of a Communist school
teacher, Walter Kadow, who was suspected of providing information that
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led to the execution of a Nazi saboteur.] I should have gone to Eicke or to

the Reichsführer SS [Himmler] then, and explained that I was not suited to
concentration camp service because I felt too much sympathy for the prison-
ers’. [Hoess in this passage is talking more about enemies of the state such as
Jehovah’s witnesses and homosexuals than he is about Jews.] Ibid., p. 87.
57 See Alan (Alan Charles) Rosen, ‘Autobiography from the Other Side: The
Reading of Nazi Memoirs and Confessional Ambiguity’, Biography, 24
(2001), pp. 553 – 569.
58 Grossman, See Under: Love, p. 269.
59 Ibid., p. 280.
60 Ibid., p. 205
61 Staukeh discovers the lies that Neigel has told in the service of the story he’s
creating with Wasserman. He then happens upon the two of them together
and sees in their intimacy a profound betrayal. He concludes that Neigel
must execute Wasserman and then turn his gun on himself. He empties
Neigel’s gun of all but two bullets and then withdraws. Neigel uses only
one – on himself. Ibid., p. 448.
62 Rudolf Hoess, Commandant of Auschwitz, p. 201.
63 Ibid.