Carolyn J. Dean


On her book Aversion and Erasure: The Fate of the Victim after the Holocaust

Cover Interview of February 01, 2011

In a nutshell

This book is about how the idea that the Holocaust of European Jews represents the most radical evil of our time shapes discussions of victims in general.

The book shows how the Holocaust transformed our whole way of thinking about war and heroism.  War is no longer a proving ground for heroism in the same way it used to be.  Instead, war now is something that we must avoid at all costs—because genocides often take place under the cover of war.  We are no longer all potential soldiers (though we are that too), but we are all potential victims of the traumas war creates.  This, at least, is one important development in the way Western populations envision war, even if it does not always predominate in the thinking of our political leaders.

During the 1970s and after, the Holocaust became a central reference point in the West for imagining inhumanity.  This book seeks to understand how this development led us to imagine other kinds of brutality.  For example, the Bosnian war was depicted as if it were “like” the Holocaust of European Jews.

I also try to understand how the attention given the Holocaust generated the idea that we live in a culture in which all minority groups want to be “victims” who have suffered their own Holocaust—as well as the use of the notion of “survivor” to describe victims, including those who have suffered domestic violence and those who have lived through the most extreme traumas of war and ethnic cleansing.

Most importantly, the book asks how we really see victims and how this discussion about the Holocaust and its impact shapes our decisions about who is really a victim and who is not.