Holocaust

Meditating on Memory

CINEMA IS poetry, not prose, and so looking for “realism” in movies is an ambiguous task. Perhaps the better comparison would be with memory, for the way we experience the past might feel a little bit like a film unspooling in a low-lit room, the images urging themselves onto a wall with frayed paper, red-hued, with the sound fading as I get older. Like the opening of the film of Carl Sagan’s novel Contact in reverse, in which all the radio signals that have ever been broadcast speak their way into deep space, the further away I get from a memory, the more like an old movie it seems.

The role that cinema plays in memorializing the past is unparalleled—for both the way we experience memory and the memories themselves are uniquely bound up in each other—Casablanca or There’s Something About Mary alike may remind us of past loves, and perhaps also of the time and place we saw those movies, and watching either of them again enables us to re-experience the very emotions we may have first experienced by watching it. When we experience movies like memories, we meditate rather than consume, and do what Pascal suggested was the antidote to all the problems in the world: sitting still for 10 minutes and thinking. At the cinema we take a walk in our minds and, through an art form that is usually less controllable than reading or listening, we are taken somewhere new.

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Thai University Apologizes for Banner Featuring Adolf Hitler

Photo courtesy RNS/wiesenthal.com.
Thailand’s most prestigious university apologizes for offensive "congratulations" banner. Photo courtesy RNS/wiesenthal.com.

Thailand’s most prestigious university apologized to the Simon Wiesenthal Center on Monday for allowing its campus to hang a huge, hand-painted “Congratulations” banner illustrated with Captain America, Batman, and other comic superheroes, topped by Adolf Hitler giving a Nazi victory salute.

The apology came three days after the Simon Wiesenthal Center published on its website a photograph of a female student in a university graduation gown posing in front of the larger-than-life banner with her arm outstretched in a Sieg Heil salute.

“Hitler as a superhero?” asked Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Simon Wiesenthal Center’s associate dean, in a statement posted on July 12.

As Holocaust Museum Turns 20, Ranks of Survivors Dwindle

Photo courtesy Matt Dean of Matt Dean Photography
Holocaust survivor Norman Frajman. Photo courtesy Matt Dean of Matt Dean Photography

WASHINGTON — The adult survivors of the Holocaust are mostly gone now, and those who survived as children — and were old enough at the time to remember their ordeals — are now in their 70s and 80s.

It won’t be long before no eyewitnesses remain.

That’s why, as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum marks its 20th anniversary today (April 29) with more than 750 survivors, museum officials are calling it one the last large gatherings of those who managed to escape Hitler’s death machine.

For those who have dedicated themselves to teaching future generations about the Holocaust and its victims, the demise of the survivors means looking backward in a different way — a way that no longer includes people looking others straight in the face and recounting what they saw and what they lived.

HBO Documents Unlikely Saviors of 50 Holocaust Children

Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus lived a comfortable life in 1930s Philadelphia. Photo courtesy RNS.

Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus lived a comfortable life in 1930s Philadelphia, where he made a good living as a lawyer, and she kept a stylish house.

 

They were secular Jews who sent their children to a Quaker school, and unlikely candidates for the mission they assigned themselves. Gilbert revealed the plan to his wife as he was shaving in the bathroom, so their young son and daughter would not hear.

He wanted to go to Vienna and save 50 Jewish children from the Nazis.

From Particular to General

When and how one may draw general conclusions from particular evidence is a frequently debated question. One example is museums – do historical museums exist to preserve the evidence and artifacts of a particular experience, or should they attempt to draw generalized lessons from that experience? A thoughtful piece by Edward Rothstein in the New York Times examines how Holocaust museums in Israel are being retooled to educate on what are seen as the “universal lessons.” 

Rothstein takes issue, arguing that this

“leaves Holocaust museums intellectually orphaned. What “lessons” are we supposed to take away? The impulse has been to generalize, to say that a Holocaust museum can’t be “just” about the murder of Jews during World War II.

“Why? Is there a problem, say, with an American slavery museum being “just” about American slavery? Why should Holocaust museums deal with notions of tolerance or racism in general, or even genocide in general? Why do we think that the proper lesson comes from generalizing rather than comprehending the particular? The moment we generalize, we strip away details: we lose information and create equivalences that may be fallacious.”

I’m inclined to agree. Some events in history deserve to be remembered and pondered in their own right, not simply as things from which to draw general lessons.

Why Would Jews Vandalize a Holocaust Memorial?

The news that Israel’s memorial to Holocaust victims had been grafittied in early June with bitterly anti-Semitic and anti-Israel statements was shocking.

More shocking still was the news that the three men arrested for the crime are Jewish.

How could Jews desecrate the memories of millions of fellow Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis?

The religious identities of the culprits -- however surprising to many who read of their arrests last Tuesday (June 26) -- did not surprise many Israelis, however. They know that a number of ultra-Orthodox Jews, for religious reasons, believe the State of Israel should not yet exist.

Driving Home

Image by Eugene Ivanov /Shutterstock.

This past spring break, I took my 14-year old daughter to the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.

My daughter has had a difficult middle school experience, especially these last two years. This last year, we have both, in describing it, used the word “hell.”

We have been frequently at odds in these months, my daughter and me. I often feel that I have failed her, that I have failed myself.

One point of connection has been her explorations around World War II and the Holocaust. She has read books about it — novels, mostly. We have watched movies that, in my naiveté, I didn’t imagine she would watch for a while. There have been questions, discussions, recollections of stories her grandfather, a WWII vet who is now deceased, once shared with her, with me. There have been nightmares, too, where I wonder if we are, yet again, making the best choices in our twisting, turning journey through this year, this path.

Transcript: Obama's Remarks at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
President Barack Obama and Elie Wiesel reflected in a wall in the Hall of Remembrance. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

President Barack Obama on Monday vowed to crack down on Iran and Syria and promised to "never again" allow atrocities like those seen during the Holocaust. Speaking from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Obama first toured the facility with Holocaust survivor and Elie Weisel. 

Following is the transcript from Obama's remarks. 

 

Historians race clock to collect Holocaust survivor stories

Entrance gate to Auschwitz, wiktord/Shutterstock.com
Entrance gate to Auschwitz, wiktord/Shutterstock.com

One Holocast survivor dies in Israel every hour, according to the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, a nonprofit group based in Tel Aviv that helps care for needy survivors. Today, there are 198,000 survivors in Israel; 88% are 75 or older.

Israel's Yad Vashem memorial contains the largest archive in the world of historic material related to the Holocaust — or Shoah, as it is known in Hebrew — and it has been intensifying its campaign to record the accounts of survivors. Teams of historians have been dispatched to interview elderly survivors in their homes and collect artifacts.

"We are really racing against the clock to find every survivor and get their stories told before they die," said Cynthia Wroclawski, manager of the Shoah Names Recovery Project.

Remembering the Holocaust

Today is the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in 1943, and the day designated as Holocaust Remembrance Day. Ari Shavit, senior correspondent and editorial board member of Haaretz newspaper has some important reflections on how that remembrance is used and misused.

We are being torn between those who mention Auschwitz so that Israel will be deemed innocent in every situation, and those who distance themselves from Auschwitz so that Israel will always be guilty. As a nation, we have lost the ability to experience the Holocaust both as a universal event with humanitarian significance and as a unique event with Jewish and Israeli significance. …

It is our duty not to speak harshly and not to exploit it. The Holocaust was a terrifying event of insanity. The true imperative to be derived from the Holocaust is the imperative of sanity. Not to be enslaved to the past but also not to be alienated from it. To observe death, and to remember death - and to choose life.


In a world that seems dominated by death – from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria; to South Sudan and the Congo; this day should allow us to reflect on the 6 million Jews who died in Europe and to redouble our efforts to work for life for the millions dying or threatened with death today.

Duane Shank is Senior Policy Advisor at Sojourners. You can follow him on Twitter @DShankDC.

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