Based on what is present in the essay, it seems as if you do not really have a problem finding beauty in the work of the Nazis, or benefiting from their atrocities, but rather maintained a false sense of ambivalence throughout the essay in order to make it more compelling. However, it also seems likely that you would attempt to maintain a distinction between finding your essay entertaining and finding beauty in Pernkopf's book, if only because the essay's ambiguity points towards an unwillingness to follow your own positions to their logical, if sometimes uncomfortable, ends. The question your essay poses is a crucial one, and it is regrettable that you were unwilling to answer it sufficiently.
Assignment 4: Making a Scene
Reading about the Holocaust is a little bit like reading science fiction, because everything is at once familiar and entirely alien. Movies and television have made almost everything about World War II easy to imagine, from the mud and steel of tanks rumbling across Europe to the finely detailed symbols and insignias of the Nazis' uniforms, but the Holocaust can still only ever be approached from a distance, and you can never get as close to it as you can with everything else. More than anything else World War II was a war, and war is fairly easy to picture, as human beings have been making war since as long as they had a history.
To picture the Holocaust, however, one cannot rely on images of war, because the term simply does not apply. Instead, the closest one can get to understanding the Holocaust is by comparing them to factory farms, where animals are bred, grown, and slaughtered with industrial efficiency and precision. In the same way, the concentration camps of the Holocaust were basically murder farms, where human beings were sent to die after being captured, packaged, and shipped long distance, like the food source for some great alien empire.
It actually would have been easier if the Nazis were aliens, because then people would not be forced to acknowledge that the Nazis were as human as anyone else. Their decision to round up and murder millions of people was just as human as charity, art, love, or anything else that people imagine separates human beings from other animals. Genocide seems to come as naturally to human beings as social networking, and it seems as if the biggest reason the Nazis have gone down in history as the villains par excellence is the way they demonstrated this fact to the whole world, by taking what human beings had done to each other for thousands (if not millions) of years and applying the technological and industrial advancements of capitalism to the project. The Nazis showed human beings what they really were deep down, and everybody was so terrified of that realization that they had to make them into something different, something positively evil, so that all the other, more mundane genocides committed via the inequitable distribution of goods and labor, a lack of healthcare, institutionalized racism, and a million other things would not look so bad in comparison. The Nazis did what humanity does best, and based on history's treatment of them, their only sin was being honest about it.
Thus, the drive to vilify the Nazis and decry everything they touched as inherently corrupted and evil is not a kind of recoiling at the alien element of their actions, but rather a self-loathing from the recognition that occurs when looking at the Holocaust. If the Nazis really were an alien evil, unprecedented in human history, then their difference would be self-evident and there would be no need to further vilify them. if, however, the Nazis were merely latest in a long line of hatred, cruelty, and exploitation, then it is incumbent on everyone else to vilify them as much as possible, lest anyone notice the lineage and begin to question the centuries of privilege produced by the very same kind of hatred, cruelty, and exploitation.
Something interesting happens when the need to vilify Nazis butts up against the extreme interest one cannot help but have about such ideologically and aesthetically consistent regimes, whose force, power, and solidarity essentially create an entire culture and mythos out of thin air. The Nazis produced countless works of art, science, and propaganda, but the need to vilify everything they saw or touched makes it difficult to know what the morally acceptable approach to these works is. One could simply avoid them altogether, but ignorance is rarely the best option. One could also examine them as carelessly as possible, attempting to remove them from the historical context which created them in a kind of hyper New Criticism. Finally, one can attempt to distinguish between different works, perhaps by parsing out the ideological message of those works, so that an anatomy book might be acceptably beautiful regardless of the fact that its subjects were all murdered, while the technical skill of a propaganda film must not be appreciated due to its despicable message.
Reading about the Holocaust makes this whole dilemma come to the fore, because the oft-repeated mantra of "never again" includes in it a demand that one constantly recall the Holocaust. However, this constant recollection and examination has the effect of making the Holocaust almost familiar, so that even when viewed from a distance it becomes something capable of being known, remembered, and cataloged; in short, it becomes one more idea, capable of bring joy or pain or any other emotion depending on how it is conveyed, such that the simultaneously familiar and alien nature of the Holocaust simply becomes one more way of describing a complex phenomenon, like someone listing the various flavor notes in a wine. Even writing about the Holocaust seems to diminish the moral outrage that it should inspire, because the simple act of expression provides the writer with some feeling of control or comfort, two things in short supply during the Holocaust itself.
In the end one must determine whether it really is important to never forget. Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, but it also seems as if those who remember history are still doomed to repeat it, so it remains difficult to say whether remembering is all that it is really cracked up to be, especially when remembering help makes something as awful and unknowable as the Holocaust into something familiar, interesting, and even comforting. The only way to truly, accurately remember the Holocaust would be to live it every day, and more than anything, reading about the Holocaust seems to only make it more remote, like a story in a science fiction novel that could happen but probably never will.
I wrote this scene about reading because investigating the essay as well as the Holocaust more generally forced me to reconsider a number of assumptions concerning Nazis, the Holocaust, and World War II. While I do not have any questions about the repugnancy of the Nazis' actions, reading about Pernkopf's book forced me to reconsider how Nazis are framed in popular culture, and how that relates to the different texts that were produced by the Nazi regime. In particular, I was interested in why the Nazis were so vilified when their ideology and actions was not so different from a number of movements throughout history, and what it means to appreciate a work produced by the Nazis while condemning the regime and actions that allowed for the creation of that work.
I was also interested in the Holocaust itself, and how we are supposed to deal with it when reading or writing about it. On the one hand there seems to be an obligation to treat the Holocaust with solemnity and seriousness, but on the other hand this seriousness seems to have almost turned into a kind of reverence, so that the Holocaust itself has been fetishized, providing a kind of automatic guilt-and-sadness kick instead of pleasure. Never-forgetting, while understandable, also seems somewhat perverse, in the same way that Christianity's adoption of the cross as its primary symbol seems macabre and misguided to outsiders. The constant reification of the Holocaust through writing and reading, while contributing to the remembrance of history, also seems like it is diminishing the importance or impact of that history by making it into a kind of legend or trope, rather than an account of something real that happened not too long ago.
Assignment 5: Letter
I recently read an interesting essay that got me thinking about how we deal with history, ethics, and the responsibility we might have (if any) to avoid benefiting from past harms. The essay was called "The Most Dangerous Beauty," and it was about an anatomy atlas created by a prominent Nazi scientist,…