Is Eleos an Offensive Book?
This post has been prompted by an angry reaction from one of the Eleos readers: a religious person who was upset by Eleos’ portrayal of some of the high-ranking Church leaders as being more sympathetic to the Nazis than their victims. I understand. There are scores of people that can take an issue with some of the material in Eleos: the Germans, the Turks, the Jews, the Armenians, the British, the Americans, the Catholics, the Protestants, readers that like an uplifting ending, etc. The list can go on and on. Eleos is indeed an offensive book. The only defense I can offer is that these things had actually taken place. The characters are fictional, most of the events are not. That’s why the book opens with Friedrich Heer’s quote: “Only the truth will make us free. The whole truth which is always awful.”
The original plot of Eleos was a fictional story of a German soldier saving a Jewish boy. We love stories of heroes and redemption. In Schindler’s List, most of the Jewish characters survive and the Auschwitz showers let out the hot water, not poison gas. In The Promise, the Armenians are safely evacuated from Musa Dagh. Even The Diary of Anne Frank ends on a positive note. And yet the hard truth is that the vast majority of the intended victims were murdered; that the hero saviors were few and far between. Can we continue to believe that history is a rational extension of progress when the past hundred or so years were probably the bloodiest in human history?
One of the characters in Eleos writes: “The public would repress this trial in Frankfurt just as it represses anything uncomfortable to it. Our brain seems to have a self-protective mechanism of blocking the truths that it can’t survive. And in a terrible display of Nietzschean eternal recurrence, the same self-protective mechanism enables the horror to return because we blocked the earlier one.” I don’t know if this statement is true, but it seems plausible that by averting our eyes from the very heart of the darkness - that the crimes were not the work of a few evildoers but required cooperation or indifference of millions – we open the door to its recurrence.
If you do read Eleos, I hope that you, a human being, become offended. Because the truth is indeed awful, truly awful, and I didn’t want to cover it up with a happy or redeeming ending. At any point in time history is existential: we, human beings, are presented with a particular context and we must choose amongst the possibilities within it. Without passing a judgment on those who lived during such terrible times, we can - must - learn from the choices they had made. The only redemption I see is to never let it happen again - to any people.