Why? Explaining the Holocaust (Hayes)

Nothing about the Holocaust is ever going to be easy to read, but I had a unique difficulty with this one. Hayes’ explanations are very clinical. There are very few adjectives, and even fewer opinions or editorials. At times, it can be quite academic. “There are 4 reasons for this,” “There are six reasons for that,” etc..

But I think the absence of passion in the presentation made me – a Jewish reader – more open to understanding the arguments as Hayes presents them. I appreciate the way he organized the book. He grouped his research and arguments into headings organized by the most common questions he’s been asked, all of which start with “Why?”

I didn’t really find too much to object to in his arguments. I thought, at times, he underplayed economic motivations and definitely thought he let the Catholic Church off easy at times. Generally, though, this is now going to be my resource book for learning and teaching about the Holocaust.

The main piece that really gave me pause was the relationship between the Holocaust and the creation of the state of Israel and its corollary argument about whether the Israel of today is honoring its founding principles – a controversial and complicated argument, to be sure. Would there be an Israel if there had been no Holocaust?

I am also less optimistic than Hayes about the current state of Holocaust education. I teach high school, and some students can’t put together more than 2-3 sentences about the Holocaust. Very few survivors remain. I think the pendulum has swung radically in a different direction. Schools, once overly obsessed with teaching the Holocaust, have withdrawn almost completely, it seems.

I was also struck by the old idea that once something is put in print, it’s already outdated. I hope Hayes will add a new Preface when the paperback edition comes out, one that addresses the most recent election in the United States.

Hayes in Cleveland – May 25, 2017


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