Are we remembering to forget or are we keeping memory alive?
Recently there has been an increased focus directed towards how Britain remembers the Holocaust – emphasised by David Cameron’s launch of the Holocaust Commission. The pledge is that ‘the commission will work to ensure Britain has a permanent memorial to the Holocaust and educational resources for future generations’. As Andrew Pearce puts it – within the ‘last quarter of the twentieth century’ the remembrance of the Holocaust has undergone ‘a profound transformation in Britain’. However, Britain’s Holocaust consciousness is more complex than first thought because teaching aims within schools and within exhibitions, such as the Imperial War Museum, have adopted a national master narrative that limits our ability to ask difficult questions.
The focus at a recent conference “Between Obsession, Routine, and Contestation: Remembering the Holocaust in Europe today” revealed how some publications have suggested that ‘the Germans have had enough of Hitler and the Holocaust’. Harold Welzer has stated that, “Hitler can be forgotten”. While Ulrike Jureit has illustrated that ‘the Holocaust Memorial was more of the 1968 generation’s pathological identification with Jewish victims than of anything else’. There seems to be a contrast between Germany and Britain: is one forgetting while another is keeping memory alive? However, this question is too simplistic because Britain as well as other countries up until the 1970s experienced, as Barbie Zelizer points out, the ‘period of amnesia’. This period saw an increased interest in survivor’s memories that had largely been previously ignored. When we discuss remembering to forget it could be that through the creation of many memorials to the Holocaust we have grown to think more in-depth about their purpose and who is doing the remembering and on behalf of what group?
The next questions to consider are – will the current debates within Germany affect Britain and will Britain’s new energy to memorialise and educate impact upon Germany? Here we will consider the affect of transnational memory on these two countries, especially with regard to Britain. Today, survivor’s memories are now at the forefront of memory because we are able to watch them recount in documentary films, read their memoires and listen to them speak at events, which are produced in many countries. But with regard to memorialisation of the Holocaust has Germany reached a moment of fatigue? As previously stated there are numerous memorials in Germany but very few in Britain, although one memorial that is visible in Britain is the memorial to the Kindertransport in Liverpool Street, London. This memorial is physically imprinted onto Britain’s consciousness because it is outside a busy train station but is increasingly having a mental impact due to the national curriculum, the Holocaust commission and through the work of Beth Shalom, The National Holocaust Centre and Museum.
‘While countries around the globe are moving the Holocaust to the centre of their historical and memorial consciousness’, Britain has an opportunity to ask questions that have previously been too taboo to ask or considered too complex to address within schools and museums. However, Beth Shalom’s exhibitions are making us think about topics that have previously adopted the national narrative in a new way. It is important to keep this memory alive – the topic of the 2015 Holocaust Memorial Day in Britain – but we have to ask more challenging questions. For example, if we consider the Kindertransport how do we reflect upon Britain’s role as both a rescuer and a bystander? How do we ‘commemorate’ the perpetrator – we remember their crimes – but how do we represent this in a museum exhibition and in a memorial?
This post was written by Amy Williams. Amy is currently undertaking an internship at Culture Syndicates and studying for her MA in Holocaust and Related Studies at Nottingham Trent University. She is blogging about her experiences with Culture Syndicates on their Linked In page: http://linkd.in/1Mqo46v