“You Wouldn’t Believe What I Saw in the Dachau Gift Shop,” is the memorable headline atop a new article by Jeffrey Goldberg of Bloomberg.com. Immediately below said memorable headline is is an even more memorable photo that Goldberg took at — and here’s a phrase you rarely hear all that often — the Dachau Gift Shop — the gift shop at the Dachau concentration camp, which he had recently visited:
Before I go any further, a confession: This photograph would get me fired by the Associated Press, which has strict rules about manipulating imagery. I manipulated this image by moving the Philip Roth biography to the spot just below the Woody Allen biography in order to intensify the deep ridiculousness of a concentration camp gift shop selling biographies of Philip Roth and Woody Allen. The Roth biography had previously sat on an adjacent rack, alongside biographies of Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud.
I visited Dachau one afternoon during the Munich Security Conference with a friend, Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post. Visiting Dachau seemed like a particularly appropriate thing for us to do: At a panel discussion about Syria the previous night, a succession of very powerful people argued that they, and the governments and institutions they represent, are powerless to stop Bashar al-Assad from murdering Syrian citizens with whom he disagrees.
At this discussion, Anne-Marie Slaughter, the former State Department official, became exercised, comparing this attitude to the indifference of the world to the Holocaust as it was taking place. “In the United States, we often ask, ‘Why didn’t Roosevelt bomb the trains?’ We aren’t very different,” she said.
I should underscore that this discussion about the West’s powerlessness in the face of fascist evil was taking place in Munich.
Though I am sometimes critical of attempts to compare current-day atrocities to the Holocaust, Slaughter’s analogy seemed appropriate. The Holocaust is the Holocaust, a sui generis, industrialized and scientifically advanced attempt — and a partially successful one — to exterminate an entire ethnic group without regard to nationality or borders. But Slaughter is right to argue that Syria exists on the same continuum of horror and that the response of the so-called civilized world should be a source of shame.
Perhaps a pair of tweets from Allen’s former muse could place that last sentence into context:
And note that Farrow co-starred in Allen’s 1989 film Crimes and Misdemeanors, which was Woody’s movie-length apologia for the same Nietzschian Will to Power that fueled those who built Dachau in 1933. And Crimes and Misdemeanors also ties into the placement of Philip Roth in Goldberg’s photo. As Goldberg very likely knows, the two men have long had strangely intertwined and feuding professional careers. Claire Blume played the spouse of Martin Landau’s coldly-plotting lead character in that film, and would be married to Roth for six years, beginning the year after Crimes and Misdemeanors’ release.