How is the Holocaust Best Remembered?

Reflections on History, Religion and Morality after the Holocaust
  • John K. Roth
Chapter

Abstract

The holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel says that memorialization and study of the Holocaust should bring people together and make them more sensitive. The extent to which this has happened bears reflection. It does so, at least in part, because of recent events that included what some have called ‘the Roth affair’, a controversy that swirled around my aborted appointment to direct the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. If memorialization and study of the Holocaust can bring people closer together, it is also true that those activities have aggravated Holocaust politics and ‘memory wars’ that reveal and exacerbate serious divisions. For example, as Holocaust memorialization, research, and education become institutionalized, the ways in which this happens have been criticized in multiple ways. Among the criticisms is the fear that the Holocaust will be ‘de-Judaized’, trivialized, or even hijacked by special interest groups. What do such fears mean? What responses should they receive? How is the Holocaust best remembered? This essay focuses especially on the last of those questions. Responses to it have far-reaching implications when one considers the future — and especially the ethics — of Holocaust memorialization and scholarship.

Keywords

Burning Europe Cyanide Defend Toll 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Elie Wiesel, ‘Let Him Remember’, in Against Silence: The Voice and Vision of Elie Wiesel, 3 vols., ed. Irving Abrahamson (New York: Holocaust Library, 1985), 1:368.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jems, 3 vols., rev. and def. ed. (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1985), 3:1220.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    My discussion of Mengele is indebted to Robert Jay Lifton, The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (New York: Basic Books, 1986), 338–44.Google Scholar
  4. In addition, both my narrative about Mengele and Pope Pius XI and the following account regarding Gerda Weissmann Klein and Telford Taylor draw on my contributions to John K. Roth et al., The Holocaust Chronicle: A History in Words and Pictures (Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, 2000).Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    Martin Gilbert, The Holocaust: A History of the Jems of Europe during the Second World War (New York: Henry Holt, 1985), 54.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    My discussion of the ‘hidden encyclical’ is indebted to Georges Passelecq and Bernard Suchecky, The Hidden Encyclical of Pius XI, trans. Steven Rendall (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1997).Google Scholar
  7. See also Saul Friedländer, Nazi Germany and the Jems: The Years of Persecution, 1933–1939 (New York: HarperCollins, 1997), 250–52.Google Scholar
  8. 6.
    Gerda Weissmann Klein, All But My Life, expanded ed. (New York: Hill and Wang, 1995), 249–50.Google Scholar
  9. 7.
    See Michael Berenbaum (ed.), Witness to the Holocaust (New York: HarperCollins, 1997), 135.Google Scholar
  10. 8.
    Israel Gutman et al. (eds.), Encyclopedia of the Holocaust (New York: Macmillan, 1990), 3:1085.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    See Joseph Freeman, Job: The Story of a Holocaust Survivor (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1996).Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    See Joseph Freeman, The Road to Hell: Recollections of the Nazi Death March (Minneapolis: Paragon House, 1998).Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    James E. Young uses the concept of memory-work in his insightful book The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993). Two more excellent works on Holocaust memories and memorializations are: Lawrence L. Langer, Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memory (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991).Google Scholar
  14. and Edward T. Linenthal, Preserving Memory: The Struggle to Create America’s Holocaust Museum (New York: Viking, 1995).Google Scholar
  15. 14.
    Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved, trans. Raymond Rosenthal (New York: Summit Books, 1988), 23.Google Scholar
  16. 17.
    For an excellent study of Holocaust denial, see Deborah E. Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory (New York: Free Press, 1993).Google Scholar
  17. 18.
    See Oskar Mendelsohn, The Persecution of the Norwegian Jews in World War II (Oslo: Norges Hjemmefrontmuseum, 1991), 5.Google Scholar
  18. 19.
    Lawrence L. Langer (ed.), Art from the Ashes: A Holocaust Anthology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 6.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2001

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  • John K. Roth

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