Fackenheim and the Holocaust: Setting the Record Straight
Emil Fackenheim is regarded as one of the few Jewish theologians or philosophers who saw the Holocaust as the momentous event for contemporary Jewish life. The Holocaust was at the core of his long career, and his post-Holocaust writings are likely his most important contribution and legacy. But many widely held views about Fackenheim’s post-Holocaust thought are seriously confused and mistaken. One common error about his thinking is that as a philosopher he was more interested in philosophers and theologians than in concrete events and people. A second mistake is to categorize Fackenheim as a traditional, narrow fideist, who thought that after Auschwitz only those who believe in God can be authentic Jews. Finally, many believe that Fackenheim began to think about the Holocaust only after the Six Day War and the threat to the State of Israel. In fact, his was a life-long encounter with the Holocaust, not one that began in June 1967. He was not an abstract philosopher, but a thinker whose thought was always responsive to the lived experiences of people. Furthermore, his post-Holocaust thought is open and sensitive to the nobility of an extraordinary spectrum of ways of living our lives after Auschwitz; there is in his work a remarkable sensitivity to Jews and non-Jews, to the strong and the weak, and to many others. Fackenheim’s works constitute an extraordinary legacy that deserve the most careful study.