The Holocaust and the Atomic Bomb: Fifty Years Later

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Editors: Brigham Narins , Deborah A. Stanley , Jeff Chapman , and Janet Witalec
Date: 1996
From: Contemporary Literary Criticism(Vol. 91. )
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Topic overview
Length: 1,338 words

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The fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II has sparked renewed interest in the Holocaust and in a reexamination of the United States’s use of atomic weapons against Japan. Foremost among the new works about the Holocaust is the plethora of personal accounts published in recent years, including the definitive edition of Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl (1995). Many of these personal accounts search for an explanation or self-knowledge and some raise the theme of identity for Jews who survived by passing as gentiles. Though most of these works center on the Jewish experience, a growing number address the experiences of non-Jews, including aggressors, bystanders, and victims. Death Dealer (1992), for instance, is the memoir of the commandant of Auschwitz; “The Good Old Days” (1991) collects letters and diaries of German soldiers who witnessed or took part in atrocities; while Gordon Horwitz’s In the Shadow of Death (1990) examines the lives of the Austrians living near Mauthausen, a concentration camp whose inmates were not primarily Jewish. Remarking on this interest in non-Jewish actors and victims, István Deák has stated that it “is not the uniqueness of the Jewish Holocaust that is being challenged but the tendency of earlier writers to remain strictly within the confines of the Jewish tragedy.” Lawrence Langer’s collection of essays Admitting the Holocaust (1994) and his anthology Art from the Ashes (1994) have been the focus of debate concerning Langer’s definition of proper responses to the Holocaust. While some critics have praised Langer for focusing on the physical reality of Jewish suffering and for dismissing attempts to find hope or metaphors of transcendence in the Holocaust, others contend that Langer’s criteria for appropriate modes or techniques of representation are too strict. Michael André Bernstein, for example, argues that “the basic premisses and arguments of Admitting the Holocaust … are both seriously flawed on their own terms and potentially harmful in the ways they seek to circumscribe the range of appropriate discourses about the Shoah.”

Recent literature on the atomic bombing of Japan tends to fall into two categories, those that address the human side of the tragedy and those that analyze the decision to use the bomb. Robert Jay Lifton and Greg Mitchell’s Hiroshima in America (1995), for instance, offers an account of why the bomb was used and suggests that the effect on the American public can be described as denial and psychic numbing—closing one’s self off from painful emotions and memories. Other works, such as John Whitter Treat’s discussion of Japanese literature on the bomb in Writing Ground Zero (1995) and Michihiko Hachiya’s Hiroshima Diary (1955), discuss the Japanese reaction to the bomb. As for the American literary response to the atomic bomb, Lifton and Mitchell have argued that “Hiroshima is everywhere in postwar and contemporary fiction—in its themes of futurelessness and absurdity, and its predilection for violent or vengeful behavior by heroes and antiheroes alike…. [T]he ‘usual place’ for Hiroshima in Western literature is ‘the unconscious.’” Although few works of fiction specifically address the American attack, a number of poets have found a direct means of expression; common themes in their poems, which have been collected in Atomic Ghost (1995), include despair and the need for collective guilt. The debate over the rationale and the morality of America’s use of the atomic bomb focuses on two arguments: on the one hand the need to force Japan to surrender and thus avoid an invasion of the mainland, which, it is argued, would have resulted in unacceptably high numbers of American casualties; on the other hand, the contention that Japanese surrender was imminent regardless of the bomb and that the attack was carried out primarily to display American strength to the Soviets. Historians have offered explanations based on the analysis of decisions represented in documents as well as the personalities of the major actors. However, considering the controversy over a Smithsonian exhibit on the Enola Gay, the B-29 used to drop the bomb on Hiroshima, the American public is far from reaching a consensus on the decision’s motivation and morality. Remarking on the numerous attempts to explain the attack, Michael Sherry has stated: “Why, then, did the United States use atomic bombs in 1945? The truth is that no single reason prevailed, in part because no single individual prevailed.”

Representative Works

Allen, Thomas B. and Norman Polmar

  • Code-Name Downfall: The Secret Plan to Invade Japan—and Why Truman Dropped the Bomb (nonfiction) 1995

Alperovitz, Gar

  • The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth (nonfiction) 1995

Aubrac, Lucie

  • Outwitting the Gestapo (autobiography) 1993

Begley, Louis

  • Wartime Lies (novel) 1991

Bernstein, Jeremy

  • Hitler’s Uranium Club: The Secret Recordings at Farm Hall [editor] (nonfiction) 1995

Bradley, John

  • Atomic Ghost: Poets Respond to the Nuclear Age [editor] (poetry) 1995

Deutschkron, Inge

  • Outcast: A Jewish Girl in Wartime Berlin (memoir) 1990

Eliach, Yaffa

  • Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust (short stories and interviews) 1982

Fein, Helen

  • Accounting for Genocide: National Responses and Jewish Victimization During the Holocaust (nonfiction) 1979

Fermi, Rachel and Esther Samra

  • Picturing the Bomb: Photographs from the Secret World of the Manhattan Project (photographs) 1995

Frank, Anne

  • Het achterhuis [The Diary of Anne Frank] (diaries) 1947; also published as The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition [enlarged edition], 1995
  • Anne Frank’s Tales From the Secret Annex (short stories) 1983
  • The Diary of Anne Frank: The Critical Edition (diaries) 1989

Friedman, Saul S.

  • Amcha: An Oral Testament of the Holocaust (interviews) 1979

Gilbert, Martin

  • The Holocaust (history, diaries, and memoirs) 1984

Hachiya, Michihiko

  • Hiroshima Diary: The Journal of a Japanese Physician, Aug. 9–Sept. 30, 1945 (journal) 1955

Hackett, David A.

  • The Buchenwald Report [editor and translator] (nonfiction) 1995

Hillesum, Etty

  • Het verstoorde leven: Dagboek van Etty Hillesum, 1941–1943 [An Interrupted Life: The Diaries of Etty Hillesum, 1941–1943] (diaries) 1981

Horwitz, Gordon J.

  • In the Shadow of Death: Living Outside the Gates of Mauthausen (nonfiction) 1990

Höss, Rudolf

  • Death Dealer: The Memoirs of the SS Kommandant at Auschwitz (memoir) 1992

Klee, Ernst, Willi Dressen, and Volker Riess

  • “The Good Old Days”: The Holocaust as Seen by Its Perpetrators and Bystanders [editors] (letters and diaries) 1991

Korczak, Janusz

  • Ghetto Diary (journal) 1978

Kowalski, Isaac

  • Anthology on Armed Jewish Resistance, 1939–1945 (autobiographies, biographies, letters, and memoirs) 1984

Langer, Lawrence L.

  • Admitting the Holocaust: Collected Essays (essays) 1994
  • Art from the Ashes: A Holocaust Anthology [editor] (diaries, memoirs, poetry, and prose) 1994

Lifton, Robert Jay and Greg Mitchell

  • Hiroshima in America: Fifty Years of Denial (nonfiction) 1995

Linden, R. Ruth

  • Making Stories, Making Selves: Feminist Reflections on the Holocaust (nonfiction) 1993

Nobile, Philip

  • Judgment at the Smithsonian: The Uncensored Script of the Smithsonian’s 50th Anniversary Exhibit of the Enola Gay [editor] (nonfiction) 1995

Ōe, Kenzaburo

  • Hiroshima nōto [Hiroshima Notes] (essays) 1963

Ringelblum, Emmanuel

  • Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto (journal) 1958

Ritner, Carol and John K. Roth

  • Different Voices: Women and the Holocaust (essays, memoirs, poetry, and prose) 1993

Rosenberg, Blanca

  • To Tell at Last: Survival under False Identity, 1941–45 (autobiography) 1993

Rotem, Simha “Kazik”

  • Memoirs of a Warsaw Ghetto Fighter: The Past Within Me (memoirs) 1995

Rothchild, Sylvia

  • Voices from the Holocaust [editor] (interviews) 1981

Senesh, Hannah

  • Hannah Senesh: Her Life and Diary (journal) 1972

Szeman, Sherri

  • The Kommandant’s Mistress (novel) 1993

Takaki, Ronald

  • Hiroshima: Why America Dropped the Atomic Bomb (nonfiction) 1995

Tec, Nechama

  • In the Lion’s Den: The Life of Oswald Rufeisen (biography) 1990

Tedeschi, Giulana

  • There Is a Place on Earth: A Woman in Birkenau (autobiography) 1992

Treat, John Whittier

  • Writing Ground Zero: Japanese Literature and the Atomic Bomb (criticism) 1995

Wood, E. Thomas, and Jankowski, Stanislaw M.

  • Karski: How One Man Tried to Stop the Holocaust (biography) 1994

Wyden, Peter

  • Stella: One Woman’s True Tale of Evil, Betrayal, and Survival in Hitler’s Germany (biography) 1992

Yamazaki, James and Louis B. Fleming

  • Children of the Atomic Bomb: An American Physician’s Memoir of Nagasaki, Hiroshima, and the Marshall Islands (memoir) 1995

Zassenhaus, Hiltgunt

  • Walls: Resisting the Third Reich—One Woman’s Story (autobiography) 1993

Footnotes:*This work has also been published as Diary of a Young Girl and Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|ZTIFXK208455939