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The Broken VoiceReading Post-Holocaust Literature$
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Robert Eaglestone

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780198778363

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: June 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198778363.001.0001

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The Public Secret

The Public Secret

(p.9) 1 The Public Secret
The Broken Voice

Robert Eaglestone

Oxford University Press

The knowledge of the murder of the European Jews was a public secret in the Third Reich. What is a ‘public secret’? How does it shape or reshape a society? The answers to these questions are key to understanding the Holocaust and other genocides. However, the public secret is elusive because of its nature: when it is at its most powerful, it cannot be explicitly discussed; when it no longer holds such power, people deny their knowledge of it and complicity in its concealment. Both the ‘subjective experience’ of the public secret and its wider meaning are beyond the limits of the discipline of history and are better elucidated obliquely through a work of fiction: in this case Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, a novel which reflects on the past in the way historians cannot. Significantly, the public secret and the consequences of complicity are important concepts for understanding the post-Holocaust world.

Keywords:   wartime Germany, the public secret, complicity, Kazuo Ishiguro, Holocaust, genocide, Hannah Arendt

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