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The Holocaust can dominate any conversation, says Errol Morris

Ari M. Brostoff
June 18, 2009

Errol Morris’s fascinating, rambling seven-part New York Times essay on the Nazi-era art forger Hans van Meegeren has wrapped up, but it has given birth to a postscript that is fascinating (and rambling) in its own right. Van Meederen was a Dutchman whose Vermeer forgeries made him a wealthy man “in the atmosphere of crooked dealings and deception of Amsterdam after the invasion” by Germany, Morris wrote. The con artist even sold a painting to Hermann Göring, and for this he was arrested as a collaborator after the war—to which he replied that he was a forger, and had fooled a Nazi war criminal.

Morris’ postscript, like the earlier installations of his essay, uses all this as a jumping off point to ponder questions of authenticity (could a robot produce a Vermeer?) and aesthetics (what would the canon of important art look like if the Nazis had won the war?). But then it moves, as though inexorably, from these thoughts on art, to questions of Nazi collaboration, and finally to Morris’s own representation throughout his essay of the Holocaust in the Netherlands—which was the subject, he writes, of many of the 700-odd comments he received. Like some corollary to Godwin’s Law, it seems that, however far-reaching the subject matter, the Holocaust dominates the topics around it. In a postscript to the postscript, Morris acknowledges this himself, quoting something his wife once observed in a different context: “Hitler is not a spice. When you put Hitler in the soup. It becomes Hitler-soup.”

Ari M. Brostoff is Culture Editor at Jewish Currents.