Every time I teach Comparative Genocide, I distribute a letter to the students preparing them for the particular challenges of taking a course about mass violence. In the letter, I point out a simple fact. People, including academics, say the words "never again" repeatedly. Yet, the suffering goes on in Serbia, South Sudan, the DRC, Burma, and so on.
So what does it mean to study the Holocaust in a time when people in a variety of countries are suffering mass violence? Leonard Grob
and John Roth
are leaders in a years long effort to consider what scholars who study the Holocaust can say about the world in which they live. Their new book, Losing Trust in the World: Holocaust Scholars Confront Torture
(University of Washington Press, 2016), looks specifically at torture. The essays come from a working group of historians, philosophers, theologians and social scientists, all experts in their field and all passionate about applying their research to the present.
The result is a compelling body of essays. Some focus primarily on ethical concerns and responses to mass atrocities. Others draw lessons from the Holocaust about the effects of torture on individuals and societies. Others look specifically at the contemporary world and ask how we should respond in the light of what we know about earlier atrocities. All are readable and challenging. In the end, I'm not sure I know exactly how to 'confront' torture. But I am better equipped to try.