10 Chapters
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1 Six Million: The Numerical Icon of the Holocaust

Edited by Michal KravelTovi and Deborah Indiana University Press ePub

Oren Baruch Stier

In every computation there are question marks. . . . However elaborate or cumbersome these computations may be, their purposes are simple. The primary goal is a single number that in a quintessential manner expresses the Holocaust as a whole.

Raul Hilberg, “The Statistic”

THATSIX MILLION” is a definitive number for Jews is no secret. As one of several key cultural icons of the Holocaust, representing, in encapsulated, economic language the entirety of the Shoah, the number six million signifies powerfully in post-Holocaust culture. Originating in an attempt to count the dead, the presumably authoritative number also conjures an accounting for mass murder, in all possible senses of the word—explaining, justifying, avenging. Beginning with its historic contextualization, I ask therefore not only how we count the victims of the Holocaust but who counts, why, and to what end. Ranging across some key moments in the social life of this powerful number, in Europe, Israel, and the United States, I discuss some of the number’s symbolic meanings and applications; I make no attempt, however, at a comprehensive historicization of the figure, which would be impossible. Rather I outline here some of the number’s iconic meanings and uses.

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Postscript: Balancing Accounts: Commemoration and Commensuration

Edited by Michal KravelTovi and Deborah Indiana University Press ePub

Theodore M. Porter

IS THERE SOMETHING special about the relationship of numbers to Jews and Jewish scholarship? Anyone out there who still reads books from front to back will realize that this one does not make the results of addition depend on culture or religion. It does, however, call attention to limits of comparability that may turn arithmetic results to nonsense. A birth neutralizes a death in the population registers, but morally it is quite another matter. Enumeration in the context of group life may transgress the factual to evoke solidarity or futility, dispassion or melodrama. The focus in these chapters is on the meanings, often symbolic, attributed to numbers, and in this regard Jewish experience in the modern period presents an abundance of distinctive issues and problems, subjects of impassioned discussion and debate. Included among them are the vast and terrifying organized murders and mass emigration of the 1930s and 1940s; the quandaries of assimilation in the postwar world, and a growing uncertainty about what it means to be Jewish; the establishment of a Jewish state of settlers in a diversely peopled region on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea; and an inescapable sense that demographic numbers have implications for political legitimacy as well as power.

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Introduction: Counting in Jewish

Edited by Michal KravelTovi and Deborah Indiana University Press ePub

Michal Kravel-Tovi

DELIVERED THROUGH rapid, hip-hop beats and intense lyrics, Hadag Nachash’s “The Numbers Song” provides a critical, numerical account of what matters to young Israeli Jews. It begins by counting states (“one or two”) in the land that stretches between the sea and the Jordan River and ends with the sacred icon of six million. In between, it offers a more intimate account of the numerical texture of personal experience (“three years and four months is the time I gave to the IDF”;1 “nine times I have been too close to a terror attack”), while detailing the harsh arithmetic that underwrites everyday life in Israel (“a quarter of a million are unemployed”; “the government cut off 12 percent of child benefits”). Fast-paced and abrasive in content, the song echoes in form the pervasive flow of statistical data in Jewish public spheres, while simultaneously mocking, through its poetics, the overwhelming presence of numbers in Jewish life. However, as critical a reflection on numbers as this song provides, its lyrics also disclose their inescapable grip: “Me too,” the chorus admits, “like all Jews, is obsessed with numbers 24/7, twelve months a year.”

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2 Breathing Life into Iconic Numbers: Yad Vashem’s Shoah Victims’ Names Recovery Project and the Constitution of a Posthumous Census of Six Million Holocaust Dead

Edited by Michal KravelTovi and Deborah Indiana University Press ePub

Carol A. Kidron

THE PRESENT ETHNOGRAPHIC STUDY examines the memory work constituted by the Yad Vashem’s Shoah Victims’ Names Recovery Project.1 Since 1955, Yad Vashem has disseminated testimony pages amassing demographic data on the time and place of birth, profession, place, and form of death of Holocaust victims. Testimony pages have been stored in an archive and more recently in an online database that might potentially document all Jewish Holocaust victims. Recently, Yad Vashem has intensified efforts to recover “every person’s name,” calling upon the public not only to submit new testimony pages but to “fill up the database so that we may reach the six million mark.” Aimed not only to compile a more complete commemorative list of names, the project hoped to salvage and represent the absenced and forgotten personal identities of victims.2 Novel information technology facilitates sophisticated cross-referencing, corroboration, and validation of the names and identities in the database. Now at the four million mark and “counting,” it could numerically approach, populate, and “corroborate” (and perhaps “vindicate”) the iconic number of six million.

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8 “130 Kilograms of Matza, 3,000 Hard-Boiled Eggs, 100 Kilograms of Haroset and 2,000 Balls of Gefilte Fish”: Hyperbolic Reckoning on Passover

Edited by Michal KravelTovi and Deborah Indiana University Press ePub

Vanessa L. Ochs

EXTRAVAGANTLY LARGE NUMBERS, such as the very ones referenced in the gargantuan larder of my title, are frequently marshaled around the time of the Passover holiday in print and online. They call to mind the large numbers within the Haggadah (Passover’s liturgical text), the many available versions of the Haggadah and the high attendance at the seder (Passover’s festival meal). They are consciously and creatively invoked in articles, reviews, advertisements, and public relations materials with the apparent expectation that they will elicit in readers optimistic visions of the flourishing of Jewish tradition, visions persuasive enough to counter or at least balance the persistently offered anxious or bleak appraisals of the present and future. I call this discursive practice hyperbolic reckoning and will examine three specific examples of how such cognitive schemes appear in American contexts and how they strive to cultivate optimistic readings on aspects of contemporary Jewish life. Acknowledged claims would elicit a positive affect or, at the very least, reduce anxiety. The first example concerns hyperbolic claims about the quantity of Haggadot in print. The second considers hyperbolic claims about the huge worldwide seders of Chabad, which include overwhelming obstacles to be surmounted and also require enormous quantities of food to be amassed and distributed. The third reflects upon hyperbolic claims about the number of American Jews attending seders.1

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