John D. RothJohn D. Roth is Professor of History at Goshen College, where he also serves as editor of The Mennonite Quarterly Review and director of the Mennonite Historical Library. He is the author of numerous books and articles on subjects related to the Radical Reformation and contemporary Anabaptist and Mennonite theology, including Teaching that Transforms: Why Anabaptist-Mennonite Education Matters (2011).
A Review of John K. Roth's Sources of Holocaust Insight: Learning and Teaching About the Genocide
by Bill Younglove, Holocaust Specialist
Ethicist John Roth has done it--again. His latest volume--to be added to the fifty-plus volumes written by him over a half century--represents a kind of "bringing it all together," the "it" residing in the title and subtitle--The Holocaust as genocide, extraordinaire.
In almost classical fashion, Roth establishes in a Prologue exactly what the essence of an ethical pursuit should be--and in an Epilogue some 250+ pages later, outlines, via thirteen bulleted points, key Holocaust insights gleaned.
Sandwiched in between is a compendium from decades of testimonies by surviving witnesses, conversations, conferences, scholarly research, and writings by, literally, hundreds of well-known--and perhaps not so well-known figures. One format aspect, which this reader really appreciated is that genuine footnotes (at the foot of most pages!) make for easy connections. Likewise, bibliographic and post-bibliographic electronic notes allow for easy, extended, referencing.
En route, Roth's customary straightforward prose, strengthened by apt analogies or even figures of speech, help the reader understand the very winding--and often seemingly duplicitous--path that ethical explorations take. As the Table of Contents notes, the eleven chapters are populated with names familiar to every scholar of Holocaust history and literature. At the same time, Roth includes friends and teachers whom he met during his years of academic pursuit, noting their contributions, also, to the whole spectrum of Holocaust Studies.
Particularly important to this writer is Roth's inclusion of teachers--thus the "learning" in the subtitle. No one who has attempted to impart the importance of the events (principally) between 1933-1945 in Europe to young people has ever forgotten the challenges that students have given, rightfully so, to anyone standing in the front of the classrooms.
Herein is the essence of John Roth's pursuit in Sources of Holocaust Insight. If you are quite new to the field, but are a determined teacher, you will find that Roth's personal odyssey will provide you with a wealth of resources to help you respond to the dilemmas posed in Wiesel's half dozen questions. For the more seasoned teacher, Roth will provide context for that which you may already have broached, if not explored thoroughly. For those steeped in Holocaust scholarship, Roth's references to Albert Camus, and Sartre parenthetically, may cause said reader to (re)visit, existentially, what Kafka called the language of the absurd. Dramatist Samuel Beckett, himself active in the French Resistance during World War II, questioned the absurdity of that world in his play, Waiting for Godot. When pronounced correctly, God-ot suggests that humanity's wait will long test its faith in its capacity for compassion, as well as survival. Roth is a consummate faith tester.