This article by Paolo Poggi appeared in Orion, a monthly published in Milan, in issue no. 156, September 1997, pp 10-15. The address of the magazine is c/o Società Editrice Barbarossa, C.P. 136, 20095 Cusano Milanino (MI), Italy, e-mail

Many questions, but what are the answers?
Myths to be revisited and true stories to be told

by Paolo Poggi

The Event, the Context, the Narrative of the Sho'ah
In life, everything comes together, but it is often best to take each fact into consideration by itself. What are the facts of the so-called "Holocaust"?
      First of all, there is an Event. This Event is the harsh fate of European Jews in the years between 1933 and 1945, which reached its peak roughly between 1942 and 1944.
      The best definition of this event is not "Holocaust", with its curiously religious associations, but "Sho'ah", a Hebrew term meaning merely a catastrophe: surprisingly, the Hebrew term is the most accurate one.
      Then there is a Context: twentieth century European history in general, and German in particular.
      Finally, there is a Narrative. That is, the way the Event is told. This story is not a neutral story, nor without emotional impact. Indeed, it is the story which has the most emotional impact of our time. So much so that it is a founding paradigm for the values and the rhetoric of our society, and even of its legal system.
      The Narrative is the only narrative which cannot be questioned in our society, and this means it has exactly the same function as the Narrative of the life of Jesus used to have. In this sense, the Narrative is also—speaking in societal terms—a Myth (which should not be seen either as a fairy tale or only in terms of Jungian archetypes).
      I believe these facts are not in dispute. Of course, the dominating culture does not call the Narrative a Myth; but since this special narrative creates more emotions and legal measures than any other, I believe this definition to be legitimate. To put it rather crudely, the only way to show that it is not a myth, would be for them to calm down about the issue.

The Event and the Myth

I think it should be clear at this point that there are actually two issues—the Event and the Myth—at stake, and not one only.
      The fact that it is impossible to discuss the Event means that it is impossible to study the Myth.
      So it is not only socially forbidden to discuss the use of crematoria at Auschwitz. It is also taboo to analyse a basic reality of our times. We are not allowed to look at ourselves in the mirror. Anthropologists may study the peoples of the Amazon river basin, but they may not study Western man of the '90s.
      We can see an interesting opportunity for research here: do all societies behave the same way? For eighteen centuries, Christendom set the limits to research on Christianity. In other words, it allowed an endless literary production on the mission of Jesus, as long as this consisted in an expansion of the Narrative; however, it was forbidden to discuss the crucial data of the Event critically, as seen through the Narrative (Jesus, son of God, crucified for our sins, and founder of the Church). Consequently, it became impossible to discuss all the following centuries of Christian history critically.
      We can find similar mechanisms at work in the Islamic world. Could it be a universal mechanism?

      This is an example of an absolutely fundamental kind of research which mythisation of the Sho'ah prevents.

Compulsive Suppression (Rimozione)
The transformation of the Event into Myth generates a series of Suppressions.
      The Context is analysed in the opposite fashion of any other historical context. One starts out with Auschwitz, and then sees how one got there. This means that every other meaning of the Context is excluded. And it becomes therefore impossible to find out what really happened in twentieth-century Europe.
      The twentieth century did not begin in Auschwitz, but in Sarajevo in 1914. Reversal of history therefore prevents us from realising that the original sin of Europe was the First World War, the real Event all the following catastrophes descend from. In purely quantitative or geopolitical terms, is the disaster a minority in Poland suffered necessarily more important that the Russian or the Chinese Revolution, two world wars, decolonisation, or the birth of the American thalassocracy (or aerocracy)?
      Where did National Socialism come from? What other factors, besides dislike for the Jews, inspired it? Was National Socialism driven basically by dislikes or also by hopes?
      No system exists which is not inspired by values its actors feel to be positive. The purpose of the Protestant Reformation was not to annihilate the Catholic Church, but to restore salvation to mankind, and Catholicism was seen as a hindrance to this. The purpose of the Russian Revolution was not to drink the blood of the rich, but to make a world where poor people would be better off; and we should not analyse either the Russian Revolution or any other event in history forgetting the positive values implicit in them.
      So we have a question: what were the positive values of national socialists? Was theirs a pure and diabolically disinterested hatred for Jews, or were Jews perceived as an obstacle along the road towards something?
      And what were the other negative values of National Socialism? Having made the Event an absolute, it becomes necessary to marginalise other events and contexts: for example, German slavophobia, projects for domination over Eastern Europe which probably took up more room in the minds of the Nazi militant than judeophobia did.
      But what were the Jews for the Nazis? "Others" are always a symbol of something. Of course, "others" have their real existence, however the other side is rarely aware of this. "Others" are always a metaphor—what were the Indians for the Muslims, or the Germans for the Slavs, or the Turks for the Greeks, for example?
      Two questions come up here. What did the Nazis imagine the Jews were? But also, what are the Nazis, or the neo-Nazis, or people whom one associates with them, for those who live the Myth today? They are of course caricatures of themselves, but what are the fears of our society that they provide a body for?
      The actors change, the show remains the same. The actors of the Event were actors of the first decades of our century. They were German nationalists and Jews, the latter mostly Polish and belonging to the Hassidic culture.

New Actors and the Creation of a Language
Both have virtually disappeared today. New actors have taken their place, for example the various parties of the Left, or a certain state of the Near East, or the US Jewish community.
      How was the myth perceived during this transformation, as radical as the passage of Christianity from a Hebrew context to a Roman one? And what are the hidden metaphors of the Narrative? I am not interested here in questioning the truthfulness of the Narrative, which I feel is a quite different problem. What does interest is me understanding why this narrative met with success. For example, what is the relationship between the Biblical narratives of sacrifices of the first-born in fire (or Daniel in the furnace), and Spielberg's surprisingly similar narrative?
      Where does the language of the "Holocaust" come from? Starting with this very term, used for decades and now suddenly under criticism. What are its religious implications? Where does a whole manner of speech come from—'scapegoat', 'crimes against humanity', 'historical memory'? Along what channels does what US sociologists call 'loaded language' flow?
      If the Jews were a metaphor for the Nazis, they still are for our society: the Jews as a "different" people are a commonplace even among those who know nothing about them. What is this metaphor? Does it refer to "outcastes" or to a "misunderstood elite"? What is the relationship between the Jew-as-a-metaphor and the modern world, where manual professions (farmers, warriors or factory workers) have been replaced by what is considered to be a typically Jewish value, the use of the "brain"?
      What is the relationship between real powers and the myth, in our society like in any other? For example, what is the relationship between the Myth and legitimation of NATO and of a US military presence in Europe?
      What is its role as far as the parties of the Left are concerned? May we say that movements suspected of being subversive find legitimacy by presenting themselves as the guardians of a value system officially shared by a whole society?
      And which powers derive their legitimacy from the Myth? Is it one power only, or many conflicting powers, which however manipulate the same language? Do NATO, the USA, Maastricht, Europe, Israel and the movements of the far Left act like other actors in Islamic societies, where absolutely contrary forces use the same language?
      This linguistic misunderstanding may well be the reason why certain individuals on the far Right imagine a single enemy behind Hollywood millionaire Spielberg, far Left militants and other equally diverse forces.
      What is the role of the Myth inside the Jewish community, as a factor of cohesion in a world which tends to dissolve every form of identity?
      Can we speak of a paranoid identification kept together by simply by anxiety in the face of the Other? And if this identification does have paranoid features, what is its effect on those individuals who identify themselves as Jews?
      What is the role of self-representation as victims, both inside and outside any community? It would be interesting, for example, to discover the parallels between Jewish self-representation and that of Jehovah's Witnesses, constantly persecuted by Satan.
      What role does the Myth play in the Israel/Palestine issue? What role does the Myth play in preserving the domination by a Polish elite over the large Arab majority of Israel (I refer to Arabs of Jewish, Islamic and Christian belief).
      How effective is the Myth in eliminating opposition? And what are the strategies developed by those who are not allowed to criticise the Myth? For example, the Palestinian Left, which owes a lot culturally to the West and hence to its myths—what is its relationship to an uncriticisable Myth which legitimates the very denial of the existence of the Palestinians?

The Real Event
The Event itself is seen as a moment which does not belong either to time or to space, not unlike the incarnation of Jesus. But actually, what was the role played by forced labour in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries? How come the United States was able to do without it (after the Civil War), whereas both Germany and Russia were forced to use it? And what are the advantages and disadvantages—speaking of course in practical and not in moral terms—of forced labour? Which societies made use of it during history, and why? Why did forced labour play such an enormous role in creating the richness of the South of the USA, whereas it played such an entirely different role in the Islamic world? And why is slavery morally unacceptable in an advanced capitalist society, whereas hired labour is considered virtuous? Or are we already moving into another era, with a new paradigm, where hired labour and a "sure job" are becoming anachronistic and hence are looked down upon, in the name of new forms of work?
      Writing history always implies a ruthless selection, and myth-creation implies cutting out 90% of what does survive history writing. What historical memories are lost due to the exclusive mythisation of the Event? We can think of mass forced labour in the Congo, which some say caused more deaths than the Sho'ah, but which only a few specialists know about.
      How come there is an increasingly objective approach to Italian Fascism, whereas hostility towards National Socialism actually increases day by day?
      Could it be that all Myths need an Enemy who is also non-existent and hence not dangerous? An example could be the non-demonisation of the Soviet Union. Perhaps a truly dangerous enemy can never become an Enemy, since he exists, and must be treated tactfully. This would require an attempt to understand who the Enemy was in different societies in history; and whether the fact that the Nazis are the Enemy does not depend simply on the fact that they have been dead for half a century. Whereas [in Italy], the [right-wing party] Alleanza Nazionale exists in the real world, and is not demonised (except abroad, where of course it does not exist).

What about historical revision?
What is historical revision? Is it a marginal form of critical antagonism, similar to that of those who believe that man never set foot on the Moon? And even if it is, what is the attitude society takes towards this kind of criticism?
      Generally speaking, our society deals with extreme criticism ignoring it or with irony, rarely with a direct discussion. How come in this case, society also uses a very high degree of repressive violence? Society does not tuck revisionists away in some hidden corner. Revisionists write for absolutely marginal publications: they are enormously less important, for example, than UFO believers or Armageddon visionaries.
      However, the public knows they exist. This implies a curious use of revisionism, of course after it has been turned into a caricature of itself, and which is spread by the dominating culture: thousands of Frenchmen would be happy to lynch Faurisson, whose writings they have never seen, but who has met with great attention from the press.

As you can see, I have not posed what would seem the basic question: are the revisionists right? To answer, I would have to devote my whole life to studying both theses. Without the help of any real debate: as is well known, revisionist research receives no reply. I would have to find the evidence against each statement by revisionists myself, to reach what could only be an uncertain and provisional conclusion.
      But this is not the main question for me. The main question concerns our society, the world of the '90s, and the research we are not allowed to do on ourselves.
      Imagine for example the difficulty a historical study on the language of the Holocaust would meet with: because historical perspective is always demythologising. For example, in Italy, the expression "historical memory" is so consecrated that it must go back to illo tempore, to archetypal times. Whereas one might find that this term—the way it is used today—was made popular by a journalist in 1988 (this is a purely imaginary example).
      Or imagine a psychological inquiry inside the Jewish community on paranoid associations (I use this term clinically and not judgementally) on the Sho'ah, on irrational terrors, on ancestral and regressive identifications, on the dyad of angst/superiority ("you cannot understand what Real Suffering is"), on integration into individual consciousness of data which have been learned culturally.
      Or try to make an inquiry among Sephardic Israelis to see what they feel about being cut out from the honour of the tragedy the nation they are citizens of is founded on.
      Or else a study on how Germans are represented in the movies (including the curious fact that when films are dubbed, Americans speak in Italian and Germans in German: nothing identifies "we-they" more than language). Or on the sadomasochist production of pornography with women dressed in Nazi uniforms.
      This is a field of research which would allow any sociology graduate to make entirely new discoveries, not about tribes distant in space and time, but about the very world we live in. Indeed, considering how things are, even a high school graduate with a passion for the cinema and some common sense could make absolutely original research, analysing those films which issues associated express—either directly or indirectly—with the Sho'ah.
      There is certainly something unhealthy about revisionism itself. The dramatic solitude, the unceasing analysis of data in an attempt to find the reality behind a horror which certainly does exist, the certainty of being purposely misunderstood, the exciting feeling of being alone against the whole world—all these certainly drive some people close to madness.
      Do you remember the story of the naked emperor? The revisionist spends all his time inspecting the tailor's accounts, and analysing the needles and the thread he works or claims to work with. And this is certainly a good job. But there is also another issue—why does the emperor want to believe in his new clothes, and why do the crowds applaud and want to believe he is dressed? And why are so many people ready to silence the child who cries, "the emperor is naked"?


Translator wished to remain anonymous. First uploaded 99-22-02. Small improvements 99-11-03.