Did the Holocaust Reveal Something New About Man? 

The Post-Holocaust Thought of Emil Fackenheim

 

Emil Fackenheim used the phrase “diabolical evil” in order to characterize the uniqueness of the Holocaust. I contend that he was not speaking merely rhetorically, but was suggesting that this unprecedented historical event revealed something new about man. In fact, in trying to account for this monstrous crime, Fackenheim concluded that it shatters everything we thought we knew about man’s limits, and his potential for evil. Drawing on Goethe’s Faust, Fackenheim compels us to consider what to do once our knowledge of man has changed.  Yet Fackenheim’s view of post-Holocaust man is not quite so dark as this prior point might suggest: he also focuses on acts of unprecedented heroism during and following World War II.  These cast a decidedly hopeful light on the human future—if their countervailing challenge to our dimmed view of man is properly heeded.

Professor Kenneth Hart Green