Sunday 31 October, 3.45pm until 5.15pm, Courtyard Gallery
The UK’s Holocaust Memorial Day Trust believes the ‘Holocaust must have a permanent place in our nation’s collective memory’ in order to teach people today the consequences of hatred and discrimination. It advocates listening ‘to the voices from the Holocaust and Nazi persecution, so as to realise its lessons of hope for a safer, inclusive and tolerant society’. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum describes itself as providing ‘a powerful lesson in the fragility of freedom, the myth of progress, the need for vigilance in preserving democratic values’. It has a ‘unique power and authenticity’ to cultivate ‘a sense of moral responsibility among our citizens’. The Holocaust is argued to have an ongoing relevance - it ‘could happen again anywhere and at any time’ - that demands our vigilance. In fact, for some, it has happened again in places like Cambodia and Rwanda, or it will happen again, if we do not check xenophobia, racism and bigotry.
Great store is put in the ability of memories and representations of the Holocaust - as maybe the only contemporary moral absolute everyone can agree on - to have a transformative effect on the young, and to create active and engaged citizens. This emphasis on remembrance, the charged ideological and political backdrop, poses a real difficulty, however, for treating the Holocaust as a normative field of historical study, that is for attempts to try and understand it. Understanding the history of the Holocaust, necessarily, means recognising that it happened in the past, in a very different set of circumstances than obtain now. In collective memory, however, it is the continuing presence of the Holocaust that is emphasised.
Is it possible to hope to understand the Holocaust in all its scope and complexity through the individual accounts of its victims? Is there a danger that as we try desperately to remember and never forget, that this is precisely what ends up happening? That a film like The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, or the Anne Frank Trust’s attempts to tackle bullying in schools through drama and performance poetry, may leave the complexities and ambiguities of the past behind in favour of a simple moral made relevant to the present? Why do we not trust history and historians to maintain the record? If the aim in keeping the Holocaust alive in memory is to teach the young to be good citizens, to transcend barriers of race, sexuality and religion, then why bombard them with the clearest example of man’s inhumanity to man? Might this not be an easier lesson to teach if we drew instead on the best that humanity has to offer us, rather than the worst? Is it unthinkable that the Holocaust be left to history rather than to memory?
Listen to session audio:
|Dr Jean-Marc Dreyfus|
reader in history and Holocaust studies, University of Manchester
professor of contemporary literature and thought, Royal Holloway, University of London; author, The Holocaust and the Postmodern
convenor, The Academy; author, Being Cultured: in defence of discrimination
executive director, The Anne Frank Trust UK
Dr James Gledhill
fellow in political theory, LSE; co-convenor, IoI Postgraduate Forum
Initially called the Paris Project, but since dubbed Speak Up Speak Now!, the program connects detectives, crime victims and Holocaust survivors with teens and preteens attending summer camp programs.Howard Altman, Tampa Tribune, 23 July 2010
Before questioning the value of Holocaust education,one should first address its goalsKofi Annan, New York Times, 29 June 2010
Holocaust studies is at a paradox: while historians of the Holocaust defend it as a legitimate and well-defined area of research, they write against a complex political and ideological background that undermines any claim for it as a normative field of historical study.
Jean-Marc Dreyfuss & Daniel Langton, Hodder Education, 28 May 2010
Holocaust Memorial Day rips the slaughter of millions out of its historical context to teach us that we are all capable of evil.Angus Kennedy, spiked, 26 January 2010
A new TV drama about the Holocaust victim recasts her as a hero for the iPod generationGillian Walnes, The Times, 2 January 2009
Robert Eaglestone argues that postmodernism, especially understood in the light of the work of Emmanuel Levinas and Jacques Derrida, is a response to the Holocaust. This way of thinking offers new perspectives on Holocaust testimony, literature, historiography, and post-Holocaust philosophy
Robert Eaglestone, OUP Oxford, 28 February 2008
How and when did the Holocaust come to loom so large in postwar Jewish and American and international life? In the first decades after World War II, the Holocaust was little talked about, but after the Six-Day War (1967) and the Yom Kippur War (1973) it began to assume central importance as a defining factor of Jewishness. With the release of Claude Lanzmann's documentary "Shoah" (1985), the Holocaust had become the moral issue of the twentieth century.
Peter Novick, Bloomsbury, 2001