Tablet magazine, which has become the go-to site for Jewish cultural commentary (and is edited by friends whose work I admire deeply) has some explaining to do in the light of a bizarre and offensive essay that took a vicious swipe at Holocaust survivors.
In the course of reviewing “Breaking Bad,” author Anna Breslaw shares her suspicions of Holocaust survivors, who beneath a patina of sanctity and victimhood are actually “conniving, indestructible, taking and taking.” She shares her “gut instinct” that survivors are “villains masquerading as victims who, solely by virtue of surviving (very likely by any means necessary) felt that they had earned the right to be heroes.”
The result has been enormous and nearly unanimously negative. In a response to the critics, editor Alana Newhouse writes of the deliberations among her staff over publishing the piece:
[T]he conversation stretched beyond this one article, and raised a number of vital questions for Tablet as a journalistic enterprise: What—if any—is the communal responsibility to the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors? Do we have a duty to hear them out, even when their thoughts are—as Breslaw described her own—“unappealing and didactic,” or worse? And what of other writers looking to explore other painful questions about their Jewish identities?
Sure, we have a duty to hear people out, but not every thought, impulse, or “painful question” must be shared with the public. I am sure there are plenty of people who honestly believe or “suspect” that blondes are dumb and blacks are genetically inferior — or, in perhaps a better analogy, that every soldier who served in Viet Nam was a “baby killer” — but at some point we decided as a society that grotesque and denigrating generalizations about any group based on nothing but subjective feelings were beneath public discussion.
Ms. Breslaw wasn’t exploring her conflicted feelings about survivors; she made a specific and unequivocal assertion (under the wiggly guise of a “suspicion” ) that survivors are “conniving, indestructible, taking and taking.” This is bad thinking not because survivors are a priori saints, but precisely because they represent the widest possible range of humanity. Relegating hundreds of thousands of people from perhaps dozens of countries — each with his own story to tell, each with her own losses to endure and triumphs to celebrate — under a single category that erases all individuality and dignity is the very definition of bigotry.
It’s not that survivors didn’t deserve this treatment — it’s that nobody deserves such treatment. And Ms. Breslaw didn’t deserve the prestigious forum of Tablet.
But day after day, sometimes hour after hour, Tablet publishes excellent and sometimes essential work by writers with much more generosity of spirit and self-awareness than Breslaw displayed in her piece. I’ll remain a reader.