We live in an ever-widening circle of genocides, achieved and attempted, perpetrated in the present and discovered in the past. But we see and care about few of them. Such selective perception is, I believe, encouraged by the often-repeated claim that the Holocaust is unique.*
Those who say this do so for several reasons. Some see it as the way to protect remembrance. Only by refusing comparison with a potentially infinite catalogue of atrocities can the memory of the mass extermination of the Jews be kept vivid. Some see this in religious terms. Only by keeping the memory sacred—unprofaned by comparison—can one preserve reverence for the victims and horror at an evil whose dimensions, methods, and goals were utterly un-banal. Some resist the “normalization” of the Holocaust that places it, say, in the context of Hitler’s antibolshevism or of Germany’s rapid industrialization, arguing that this implies exculpation and even justification. Some resist “devictimization”: they fear losing the moral authority that comes from a heritage of suffering. Some even see the Holocaust as an unconditional source of legitimation for Israel’s past and future policies, and an advance payment for future injustices....
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