Anthology – Peoples’ Plan for Life, Now and Forever …
Hilberg died on August 4, 2007 at age 81 of lung cancer at his home in Burlington, Vermont. The Forward published an obituary written by Michael Berenbaum, a professor of Jewish studies at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, from which the following extract is quoted. “…I worked closely with Hilberg on the creation of the United States Holocaust Museum. He traveled extensively for the museum, particularly to help with its efforts to open archives in the Soviet Union, and he was always in it for the long haul. He reviewed the finding aids, one by one, choosing records to be copied. He then read each microfilm making sure that the archivists had kept their word.
“Walking into an archive with Raul was like walking into a restaurant with a master chef. The archivist was always aware of his presence, always in awe of his reputation. Even an archivist trained — and trusted — to keep important material hidden from view would be tempted into bringing forth something uniquely valuable to impress the master.
“For his work with the U.S. Holocaust Museum, Hilberg never once accepted remuneration, even when others were paid for their work. He was a consistent, gracious and insisting presence demanding the highest of standards of others and measuring up to them himself.”
Mr. Berenbaum goes on to cite another book by Hilberg, The Politics of Memory, © 1966 by Raul Hilberg, ISBN 1-56663-116-5, from which I extract the following quotes [Page 152].
“In March 1963 the Council of Jews from Germany, an international organization of Jewish emigrants from that country, published a statement in the press. Referring to ‘recent opinions’ about the Nazi period, the council declared that a historical picture influenced by such opinions would be a falsified one. ‘This is especially true,’ it said, ‘of the book by Raoul Hilberg which appeared in 1961, The Destruction of the European Jews,’ and of the articles published by Hannah Arendt in The New Yorker.’
“Hannah Arendt and I were coupled so often that I could even act as her stand-in. On October 18, 1963, the New York literary critic and political commentator Irving Howe chaired a symposium about ‘Eichmann and the Jewish Tragedy.’ He wrote about this event twice, in the Partisan Review that same year and again, at length, in his autobiography eighteen years later. In the Partisan Review he stated that he and his fellow organizers had invited Hannah Arendt ‘herself’ to speak. ‘She’d declined,’ and so did Bruno Bettelheim, who was invited next as a man whose views were thought to be similar to those of Arendt. ‘We then asked Raul Hilberg, author of a scholarly volume on which Hannah Arendt leaned.’ The meeting, he said, was ‘excited and passionate,’ but ‘at no point – I repeat at no point – was anyone shouted down.’ In his autobiography Howe described the meeting as ‘hectic’ and ‘sometimes outrageous,’ but also ‘urgent and afire.’
“My own impressions were slightly different. When I was invited to this symposium I was told in writing that I would have thirty minutes to speak. I knew I would have difficulty with such a time frame, but did not wish to reduce the scope of my topic. I was still thinking of dealing with Eichmann and the Jews, a combination that was almost unmanageable.
“The hall in the hotel was filled with hundreds of people. One of them was the poet Robert Lowell. I asked him why he was present at such a gathering and he replied, ‘I’ve got to be where the action is.’ So this was going to be spectacle. On the dais Irving Howe informed me that I would have just twenty minutes. I was not adamant enough to demand the half-hour I had been promised, and I was not experienced enough to throw away my prepared thoughts immediately, to assess the audience before me, and to address it directly. I had come with transcript pages of the Eichmann trial, and I read from the testimony of a woman who had lived in a primitive village of Volhynia, and who was herded with her family to the edge of a mass grave where her young daughter asked her why they did not flee. The impatient guard had asked whom he should shoot first, and he shot the child. The mother, wounded, dug herself out of the grave. This is a scene, I wanted to say, that illustrates what happens when orders are followed. This was the outcome of Jewry’s age-old policy. I was not friendly. I did not yield, and I was oblivious to the fact that I was tearing open unhealed wounds. I was not allowed to finish. A panelist pounded on the table with his fist. His banging, magnified by the microphone, was followed by a cascade of boos. Irving Howe invited the audience to ask questions and make comments. Now one after another individual rose, one to accuse me of sadism, another to read from a prepared written statement challenging my figures on the German dead in the Warsaw ghetto battle, and so on, on and on.
“In later years I have given hundreds of public lectures. A few times I was honored with standing ovations but I will not forget that particular evening in the seedy New York hotel.