“Resistance” by Mathias B. Freese

When bloggers or interested people write to me about why they will not review my book, I have noticed in some instances that the two stories they do like are what I call “Anne Frank” efforts: they are safe, give humanity a free pass and play on the cello strings of the human heart. I felt them at the time and I wrote what I felt. Most of my 27 stories offer idiosyncratic points of view that are gritty, graphic, savage, caustic and satirical, and take no prisoners. When the head of a Jewish studies program writes me that she “shuddered” upon reading my other stories, I find that schizoid.  In a world in which we now have regular beheadings, her dainty perspective and head-up-her-ass attitude are hard to take. She is an intellectual wuss.

Films are much more graphic than books, but books incise into the mind in a different kind of way. So here is a Holocaust educator who has circumscribed what she reads, admits and accepts only what is safe. In Terence Des Pres’ book, The Survivor, about the concentration camp experience, he graphically describes how camp guards made some Jews eat their own shit. It happened. Learn from it. As a writer, use it. Don’t flinch. Or get out of the Holocaust experience as a writer. So if I write a story in which an inmate had to eat his own shit, I wonder if that would be rejected out of hand. Of course it would. It would make her “shudder.” So my literary imaginings get to her more than beheadings and Jews eating shit.

Another writer and educator complains to me, barely containing her rage, that she has no time for Holocaust fiction, that we should spend more time taking down the stories of survivors, become memoir recorders, assist them in encapsulating their experiences. I have no problem with that at all, but in the same breath she castigates Holocaust fiction as a waste of time at this historical moment. Holocaust as memoir, Holocaust as remembrance. Is that all there is? So no more Primo Levi, no more Elie Wiesel, no  Olga Lengyel, no time for explication and exploration or interpretation? I will take my copy of The Heart of Darkness and incinerate it and go up the mountain and crash.

I must say judgmentally that I experience these responses as a kind of moral cowardice. I have no need to defend my book nor to explain its contents or explain why and how I came to write it. When you mine for gold, digging produces slag and detritus; when you explore the heart of darkness you make things messy and muddied, conflictual, and, for the weak-minded nowadays, aggravating and unsettling. However, it is the search that counts. It always does.  My mind wanders back to a Contemporary Civilization course at Queens College in 1958. The instructor began to speak about Karl Marx and one of the undergrad women got upset with the mere mention of his name. The teacher went up to her seat and said “Karl Marx, Karl Marx, Karl Marx, Karl Marx” to desensitize her, I imagine, to the very sound of Marx’s name. And so with the mentioning of Holocaust.

When I receive these responses I feel soiled by human beings who want the Holocaust neatly wrapped up, literally ended or just not written about at all. Underneath is a need to be safe. And my Jewish brethren are as guilty as anyone else. It is the dark and nether consequences of resistance, to put out of conscious mind what is nettlesome, frightening, scary and personally repulsive to bear under the scrutiny of awareness.

In short, it comes down to fear. I wrote in another place that fearlessness leads to authenticity in writing. I stand by that. I am so old that authenticity in living is still a vital principle for me to live by or struggle to sustain. And when I come across prissy responses to my book I don’t relate to them well, for they are foreign to me, but they are the low-flying scud in this rapidly collapsing culture. I’m naively taken aback that people don’t want to see, and yet I spent years dealing with the unsaid in my psychotherapy clients. So I have determined that if my book is to be read I must give it away, which I am doing in certain cases: to Holocaust museums, Holocaust studies programs, instructors and the like. After all, I am into sharing what I own and what I feel and what I can write about without an inordinate concern about marketing and making royalties. Royalties are sweet gumdrops, assuredly, but they do not make up the fabric of myself.

Apparently any book on the Holocaust nowadays is met with indifference, as the Jews were in the 1940s. “Ho hum” is the response. An ennui has settled in and, like a miasmic swamp, occludes efforts to understand again and again what the Holocaust is. Human beings are a shabby lot, one of my lifelong learnings.  I have no expectations of man because my own fellow man has not the slightest realistic expectation of himself, except to make money and fuck. Kazantzakis said it well on his epitaph: “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.”

Apparently I may like to get bruised or kicked in the ass, to perseverate in this agony, or I don’t really give a damn. I do have a measure of hope. I hand out my book free, like a business card, just to share: “Hey, brother, I can spare a dime.” To be read is all that I require, to be asked a question is a wonderful chakra, something to behold. It is the teacher in me. At my age I experience what Erickson called “generativity,” the need to give what wisdom one has attained to the young or those who are willing listeners.

And there is also the asbestos-like silence. I have mailed out over 1,000 queries, and more than a handful to reviewers who have read my earlier works, and they don’t nibble at all. In my imagination they feel not to reply is not to be involved with a foul subject, or one that makes them “shudder” or equivocate, or flee. Whatever the motivation, what I am left with is silence from previous supporters.  It is deafening. You might label this Holocaust aversion. Human beings rarely ever face what they are capable of, hence the hatred for Freud. Some “well-intended” individuals want to protect survivors from the very horrors they have experienced: how interesting, and self-servingly odd, as they open wide their heavenly batwings to succor survivors with grandiosity which is unseemly and unwise.

In education reading readiness, if I recall, has to do with the child’s ability at a certain age and grade to be introduced to reading or to another level of reading. I suspect Holocaustphobes are not “ready.” Apparently many of us cannot advance beyond Anne Frank’s outside experience. Although hidden from the concentration camp, some historians feel her diary is not part of Holocaust literature. Psychologically, many human beings or many readers suffer, with regard to the Holocaust, from arrested development. I have let out genii from bottles, from my powder keg. A writer can never control the consequences of what he says in print, the misinterpretations, the misunderstandings or the lack of nuanced reading.

I also sense that I have touched upon several taboos as reviewers write back. I am well aware that I rarely censor myself or hold back what I have to say. That is, I don’t send out my work to the cleaners. I am not a safe person to be around in any case. Some people cover holes with stones; I unearth them for a look-see. Call it characterological.



During these past months the heavy breath of Holocaust resistance to my book has blown across my face. In short, we’ve read enough about the Holocaust. “What? Another book on the subject? It is too somber and morbid a subject! Finally, let us Pontius Pilate the book, wash our hands of it, sight unseen.” I can chew and taste the relentless unwillingness to invest time in the subject. There is no fair play in all this, nor can I expect any, as it is one more book I felt I had to write, and one more book not wanted. There is a surfeit of Holocaust books, fiction and non-fiction. (But can there ever be?) There is reviewer fatigue about the subject. And there is also a lack of balls to engage the subject. Intellectual and psychological cowardice blows through my computer as bloggers resist, say they “pass” or simply do not answer (what class). Often magazine editors willing to accept the book cannot find reviewers to read it.

The Inquisition was the original blueprint for the Holocaust. Historically we are still examining that period for it hisses and suppurates anti-Semitism, and is the template for the Final Solution. It has rightly been argued that the history of Jews has been a series of Holocausts. I recently read a history of Jewish pirates in the Caribbean who waged war against Spain, having been expelled in 1492 and forced to enter another Diaspora. Revenge! The horror stories of Marranos and Conversos, the burnings at the stake, autos-da-fe, led Benzion Netanyahu, the father of Benjamin Netanyahu, to write a 1200-page scholarly tome that specifically ascribes Jew hatred at the heart of the Inquisition. In short, it wasn’t the Jew as a non-Christian, it was hatred of the Jew as a people. The concept of limpieza de sangre (purity of blood) led directly to the racial theories of Hitler. In a trip to Spain in 2007 I came across a resistance and unwillingness to discuss the Spanish Jewish experience. The odds are that most everyone in Spain, in the nooks and crannies of historical space, had a relative who was Jewish. Perhaps they feel “tainted.” Since Jews hold memory in high esteem, Netanyahu, centuries later, unearths the real motives for the Inquisition. His book is the last word on the subject.

I am experiencing as a writer a kind of crypto-phenomenon. When I enrolled I Truly Lament for a tour there were bloggers who resisted displaying the book on their sites. All this was subtly implied. The book is a “downer.” All this reaffirms, without rancor, my general assessment about the species, knowing full well the book would not be “popular.” And what is that assessment: Thou Shalt Not Know. It seems to me that the Holocaust is a litmus test for the mass of men. It reminds them of the continuing rolling reverberation of what each of us is capable of doing. The human race is not capable of remediation, never was, never is and never will be. Which brings me back to me and why I wrote this book. I wrote it for the same reason a prisoner etches dates and comments on his cell wall, announcing his existence.

I will forever announce that I am a Jew.


Matt is a writer who lives in Nevada.  He’s the author of The i TetralogyDown to a Sunless Sea, This Mobius Strip of Ifs and I Truly Lament: Working Through the HolocaustVisit his blogHis major works are now available in Kindle format.