Abel J. Herzberg
Sparkling observations of human nature and values
Amor Fati, the collection of essays that Abel Herzberg (1893-1989) published in 1946 include some of the earliest and most impressive reflections on the Holocaust. Their analytical profundity and clarity of perception places them among the greatest works of Holocaust literature, on a par with those of Tadeusz Borowski, Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel.
Unlike them, Herzberg wrote within a year of his liberation from Bergen-Belsen, which lends his essays a unique combination of direct experience and raw anger on the one hand and, on the other, given what he had undergone, an almost superhuman rationality. The seven essays were originally written for the weekly De Groene Amsterdammer, to mark the first anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands from German occupation. They have since found a new readership many times over, as younger people discover in Herzberg’s work an answer to the existential questions raised by the Holocaust. As a survivor he wanted readers of his essays to understand ‘what human beings are capable of, and to what, unless we are vigilant, they can be reduced’.
In Amor Fati we find the ethical question that preoccupied Herzberg for the rest of his life: why did the Nazi hate the Jew? In 1946 he concluded that the Jew, purely by existing, challenged the Nazi to choose monotheism. The Nazi, however, was drawn to heathenism, to a world without principles, law, restraint and any desire for justice. This preference being problematic, the Nazi blamed the Jew for his dilemma. Few survivors attained such abstract level of thought, let alone as early as 1946.