From Understanding Victims to Victims’ Understanding: Rationality, Shame and Other Emotions in Modernity and the Holocaust’

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Zygmunt Bauman’s Modernity and the Holocaust argues that the form that the genocide against the Jews took was determined by modern rationality. At the end of the book, he suggests that an emotion, shame, might offer a way to liberate survivors into an engagement with the Shoah’s moral significance. In this chapter, I trace this apparent opposition between reason and emotions through the whole of Modernity and the Holocaust. I show that in Bauman’s mode of writing, if not always in his overall arguments, emotions and reason are often actually closely entwined in his characterisations of both modernity and the Holocaust. On that basis, I revisit his claims that the victims in the Holocaust acted rationally, and in doing so not only secured their own doom but also contributed to the modern nature of the event. I turn to two cases Bauman himself highlights - the Jewish Councils (Judenräte) and the crematorium workers of Auschwitz-Birkenau (Sonderkommando) - and offer readings of their speeches and writings. I demonstrate how they drew on both reason and emotions to interpret and communicate their experiences, and argue that these efforts to make meaning are part of what defines the nature of the Holocaust.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRevisiting Modernity and the Holocaust
Subtitle of host publicationHeritage, Dilemmas, Extensions
EditorsJack Palmer, Dariusz Brzeziński
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781000568240
ISBN (Print)9780367637545
Publication statusPublished - 18 Apr 2022

Publication series

NameClassical and Contemporary Social Theory

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