Fair warning to the easily offended: No activist on behalf of any suffering class, however worthy, gets by unscathed in My Holocaust, Tova Reich’s incendiary, important, furiously hilarious satire of the victim-commemoration industry. And the bulk of the blaspheming is directed at prosperous living Jews who have devoted themselves to Shoah business — that is, to the institutionalized sanctification of the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis in the hell of 20th-century history.
Take wily, old, Polish-born Maurice Messer, creator of the consulting firm Holocaust Connections, Inc.: Along with his adult son, Norman (who’s got problems with his meshuga daughter, now cloistered in a Catholic convent), he escorts rich prospective donors on luxury tours of Auschwitz. For $5 million, Maurice promises one moneyed lady, he’ll put a donor’s plaque on a cattle car exported to the museum! (During a tour of the camp, the lady’s pampered grown daughter is distracted by the sight of disrespectful visitors with lighted cigarettes, adamant that ”Auschwitz should remain a smoke-free zone.”)
But these four only front the gaudy parade of nudniks, poseurs, partisans, and sacred fools in Reich’s rollicking novel, a creation that surpasses mere chutzpah on its way to the profound, and, together with Francine Prose’s A Changed Man, begins a new kind of serious post-post-post-Holocaust literature. Reich’s outrageous tale of well-intentioned tastelessness threatens to spin out of control on every page, yet the buffoonery twirls confidently on its own diamond-sharp tip of erudition. Reich trains her eye on Jewish-Buddhist gurus; deniers (”the new heresy”); Polish pensioners living near concentration camps and fishing in the river ”for ash-fattened Jewfish”; unsentimental Israelis; Jewish-American filmmakers shooting The Triumph of the Traumatized on location; the hierarchy of survivors (those with tattoos are more elite than those without); Mormons eager to baptize dead Jews; and representatives of every other aggrieved population who, observing the success of the Holocaust trademark, want in on claiming the pain. George Orwell and Christopher Buckley might salute the book’s outrageous conclusion, a crazy free-for-all revolution by me-too groups for children, gays and lesbians, Christians, Muslims, Tibetans, and animal lovers (”all broilers are my brothers!”), all demanding inclusion under a united Holocaust tent.
The idea is so goggling, and this book so special, that it’s fitting to end on an inscription in the visitors’ book imagined by Reich at her dream/nightmare victims’ museum: ”I enjoyed it very much. Thank you for making the Holocaust possible.” A