"Holocaust capitalism at its funniest "

This review by of MY HOLOCAUST, by Tova Reich; HarperCollins,

With lacerating humor Tova Reich manages to pay tribute to Holocaust victims, while coming down hard on those who try to cash in on the survivors' pain and suffering, and the disturbing memorial "businesses" that have sprung up around them.

A quick glance at the perky cover of "My Holocaust," with its garlands of barbed wire, tiny figurines -- some in striped prisoner garb and some with shovels -- and candy-striped signposts to Auschwitz and Birkenau, all done in the manner of a cutesy toy village, is your first tip-off.

And soon after beginning this viciously funny, head-spinning novel about the commoditizing of victimhood and the marketing of memorialization, you're hesitant to touch its pages, lest the coruscating satire burn your fingertips.

And once you've been introduced to the venal camp survivor Maurice Messer, who speaks with a Jackie Mason-style accent and once manufactured girdles but now runs Holocaust Connections Inc.; his son Norman, nerdy and self-aggrandizing in equal measure; and Norman's mysterious daughter Nechama, who converts and becomes Sister Consolatia of the Cross -- not to mention the finagling Rabbi Monty Pincus; the ditzy donor Gloria Bacon Lieb; her dopey, DustBuster-toting daughter Bunny; a Polish interpreter with a heart of malice and assorted other charlatans, true believers, conspirators and just plain loons -- you'll know why this book is different from all other Holocaust books.

There have been countless deeply serious, heart-rending, stomach-turning, mind-boggling accounts of man's inhumanity, Nazi-style -- but this novel is clearly in its own class.

With humor that excoriates and rage that radiates from the page, Tova Reich lays into people who, in the process of avenging the 6 million Jews who died in Nazi concentration camps during World War II, sell their own souls.

Reich, the author of three novels and a contributor to Harper's Magazine and The Atlantic Monthly, takes no prisoners in this Swiftian satire. Not only does she mercilessly caricature Jews who find power, prestige and perks in merchandizing the response to the slaughter by creating a museum with "Teach a Terrorist" programs and box-car replicas and piped-in narrations -- and then must go whoring after funding to support it -- she also cudgels representatives of other religions and groups who want their own piece of that grief-filled, guilt-filled, "gelt-filled" pie.

Reich, by the way, is no disinterested observer of this subject. Her husband, Walter Reich, a champion of keeping the U.S. Holocaust Museum focused on academic research, was ousted as its director in 1988 during a brouhaha over whether Yassir Arafat should be allowed to visit. Her brother, Rabbi Avi Weiss, made headlines when he scaled a fence during protests over the Carmelite convent on the grounds of the Auschwitz camp. He gets tagged in the book as "that crazy Spiderman rabbi." But while Reich might have a few large axes to grind, the book soars far above any personal settling of scores.

In the end, though, she abandons the lacerating humor for a cry from the heart. Nechama/Sister Consolatia glides unnoticed through the hubbub at the museum, and she expresses what is owed -- not memories, not memorials, not museums, but eternal pain. She prays:

"It also is my passion -- to keep all the suffering that ever was and ever will be everlastingly fresh in my mind ... to be forever in a state of shock, of not believing my eyes, of being unable to breathe, of not being able to comprehend. ... Don't let me get used to it, Lord; that's all I ask."

"Let it always hurt just as much."

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