Gitit Levy-Paz
Gitit Levy-Paz

Holocaust remembrance the day after

Man walks at Holocaust Memorial in Berlin Designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold. Berlin - July 1, 2016 (Stock)
Man walks at Holocaust Memorial in Berlin Designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold. Berlin - July 1, 2016 (Stock)

According to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, there are currently 195,000 Holocaust survivors living in Israel and around the world. The information is based on a voluntary registration of Holocaust survivors and their families in 59 different countries, mainly in North America. There are 178,000 registered survivors in Israel. However, these numbers are inaccurate and indicate the difficulty of obtaining reliable information about the number of survivors living today. In fact, question marks and uncertainty are also related to the question itself and to the definition of the concept of Holocaust exploitation. Are Holocaust survivors just those who were in the camps? What about refugees who during the war years hid in hiding places or fled on the run from place to place? What about Jews who fled Europe when Hitler came to power, but never returned home or met their families again? Either way, there is no dispute that the number of survivors is dwindling.

Today, there are no survivors who were older people during the war, and Holocaust researchers are increasingly engaged in “the day after.” The day when there will be no living survivors, the horrors of the Holocaust will not be given as direct testimony and young children will no longer know people who were “there.”

The preservation of memory is of course at the center of the various commemorative enterprises. Museums and historians have been recording and filming videos with witnesses and survivors for many years, and holograms have recently been used in the United States. However, new questions are now being sharpened. How can future generations be taught about the Holocaust without a “live” encounter with witnesses and survivors? What would Holocaust ceremonies look like without them? What will be the nature of the visit to the extermination camps without an escort? The main difficulty, as pedagogical experts in the field explain, is not in the “preservation” of historical memory, but in the educational aspect, in the absence of a personal connection that makes the historical episode a significant and relevant event for future generations.

Art is one of the means to create meaning and emotional connection even in the absence of survivors. Literature, cinema, poetry, music, painting, all of these constitute a bridge to the preservation of meaning and personal human experience, which will be lost with the departure of the last survivor. Works of art about the Holocaust are nothing new, of course. In Israel, you can find a wealth of cultural works related to the Holocaust. In the first years of the state’s existence, the Holocaust gained artistic and other representations but was mostly present – absent and in any case, the reference to it passed through the Zionist narrative that emphasized the transition from beacon to revival. In the 1960s around the Eichmann trial (1961) a certain change took place and a more complex approach began to develop in relation to survivors and evidence, but it seems that the significant change occurred mainly in the 1980s as the topic moved towards the forefront of the public and cultural stage.

Along with the quantitative change, there have also been significant changes in the way we remember and deal with trauma. Among other things, the status of the Holocaust as a sacred taboo has weakened and it has undergone an Israeli secularization process, sketches and satires on the Holocaust are now a common or at least accepted phenomenon and no longer “sacrilege.” Contemporary major change is related to the rise of social networks as a new major cultural site. The encounter between the Holocaust and social networks is diverse. On the one hand, the networks have enabled a wealth of information available, access to materials and expanding distribution circles.

All the museums and memorial sites have active pages on the various networks: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Groups, organizations as well as individuals, open Facebook pages for the victims of the Holocaust and upload personal stories, photos and thoughts related to their commemoration. The networks, on the other hand, are associated with the practices of popular culture that “lowered” the “sacred” and “honourable” Holocaust and sometimes even vulgarized it. The networks did not create the socio-cultural change in relation to the Holocaust, but as a medium for the masses they accelerated and strengthened these processes. It can be said that along with the increase in the intensity of the mention of the Holocaust and its presence in our lives, there has also been a certain devaluation in the manner of representation and the nature of the various mentions on social media.

Holocaust researcher Liat Steyer Livni, for example, describes the politicization of the Holocaust in Israel, the use of Holocaust memory, right and left for political purposes. At the same time, she describes the processes of banalizing

the Holocaust, especially on social media. According to her, Israelis often use and mention the Holocaust in their daily lives, even in a banal and insensitive way. Thus, from the description of a difficult experience as a “Holocaust” to the description of behavior as a “Nazi.” All this compared to the sanctity of these words in the past.

Along with these changes, it is important to note that both in Israel and in the United States, the Holocaust continues to be a significant Jewish identity mark. According to a 2016 survey, 73 percent of American Jews and 65 percent of Israeli Jews believe that the memory of the Holocaust is significant to their Jewish identity. In fact, the memory of the Holocaust was the only Jewish characteristic that was found in the survey to be of great importance to Jewish identity, both among Israelis and among Americans. As for other Jewish characteristics that were presented to the respondents, no such significant agreement was recorded. This figure is important for the question of the affinity and (weakened) connection between Israeli and American Jews. Thus, not only Holocaust scholars should address issues related to Holocaust remembrance and preservation in culture and in general, but also those who engage in relations between Jewish communities. To the pedagogical task associated with educating future generations regarding the Holocaust, the importance of Holocaust education as a bridge between the two Jewish groups, in Israel and in the United States, must therefore also be added. However, Jewish educators and leaders from Israel and the United States need to be asked about the significance of these findings, and is it really possible to strengthen the bond between communities through past memory and trauma alone or should (and how should we act?) Find meaningful common denominators now and certainly in the future?

About the Author
Dr. Gitit Levy-Paz is a fellow at JPPI and she teaches at Bar Ilan University.
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