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Holocaust Memorial Day

Holocaust, Home and Memory in Literature

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The following post has been adapted from the author’s contribution to a Holocaust Memorial Day vigil, held in the Winter Garden, Sheffield City Centre on 28.01.19.

 The home, both as a place of dwelling and as a more abstract yet instinctive sense of belonging, is a frequently evoked image within Holocaust literature. Home can mean many different things to different people: it can constitute a country of origin or birth, encompass friends and family and is often central to the creation of selfhood and identity. Yet to not have a home, to be home-less, is a fear (or realisation) that can be universally related to. The act of being ‘torn from home’—this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day theme—whether a house, nation, people or a combination of all three, affected all those who experienced the Shoah to some degree. Under Nazi persecution, European Jews were dispossessed of land and property, were forced to evacuate their homes to be deported or killed, or to go into hiding. They were also physically displaced in ghettos and/or camps. Those who survived returned to homes and formerly thriving communities destroyed by war, and faced the very difficult task of re-establishing new ones.

The home features in the work of Holocaust memoirists, in survivor testimonies, film, graphic novels, poetry and other media. In many instances, it remains an image of hope for refugees and those imprisoned and forced into slave labour in concentration camps – although, as late survivor Jean Cayrol reflects, to linger on memories and dreams of home was often detrimental to survival. In Charlotte Delbo’s short story ‘The Teddy Bear’, the uniting power of the word ‘home’ is enough to carry the author and her fellow inmates through a Christmas Eve dinner spent in a death camp, even when spoken in another language. ‘The Frenchwomen […] tried to repeat the magic words’ of their Polish inmates, Delbo writes.[1] ‘Do domou, do domou—at home.’[2]

In other accounts, the home is an irrevocably ruined construction: a traumatic reminder of a pre-war past. In her autobiography A Lesser Child, Kindertransport refugee Karen Gershon had to write about her ‘German self’ in the third person as ‘Kate’ and in her mother tongue when articulating the traumatic experience of growing up as a child in Nazi Germany, which she escaped in 1938 after Kristallnacht.

For those with families who survived, the postwar return home at least meant reuniting with loved ones. Yet repatriation was often a disillusioning process for survivors, some of whom were welcomed by racial hostility and violence as well as stolen property. Even the voyage back was itself arduous: many prisoners freed from camps were malnourished and diseased, with either no means of getting home or a lengthy journey ahead of them via rail or foot. Primo Levi’s The Truce documents the treacherous journey home across Europe from Auschwitz to Italy, which entailed further starvation, marching and work in a Russian rehabilitation camp before reaching his homeland nine months after liberation.

The alternative to these desolate realities was the adaptation of victims to new wartime lives and temporary homes – as was the case with Anne Frank and her family, who took refuge, in Amsterdam, 1933, from an increasingly hostile antisemitic climate in Germany. The hiding place of Anne Frank and her family from July 1942—an attic in the building of her father’s business—constitutes perhaps the most famous example of the home in collective Holocaust memory and literature, visited by thousands each year. Much of the global interest in the Anne Frank House owes to its authentic traces of a life that continued despite perilous political and domestic conditions. These include the displayed pages of Anne’s diary and posters of German film stars cut from magazines and plastered onto walls, which gesture toward the popular culture of the period and illustrate the interests of a ‘normal’ (albeit persecuted and later revered) teenager. The diary itself provides an intimate portrait of a home life filled with the happiness and tensions of a typical family despite limited space and the ever-present fear of their discovery.

Sites such as Auschwitz, however, represent the antithesis of home. This is exemplified by Polish survivor Tadeusz Borowski’s ironic use of the phrase ‘Auschwitz, Our Home’ as one of his short stories in This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen.

The luxury of being able to choose one’s home rests on their right to move. Today, this is increasingly undermined and threatened by the strictures of hard borders and tightened immigration laws. Among those who are unable to pinpoint a specific location or physical construction they call home are refugees and asylum seekers – an especially important consideration on Holocaust Memorial Day.

On July 23, 1943, Anne Frank wrote of her wish ‘to be able to move around freely’ in her own home despite her successful assimilation into a new culture, language and way of life in the Netherlands.[3] This desire deeply resonates with the kinds of discourse surrounding EU separation and an escalating global refugee crisis exacerbated by detainment and deportations. It also exposes the fact that, contrary to erroneous depictions of migrants as job-takers and exploiters of national services, many refugees long to return home to a place of familiarity, but are prevented from doing so due to circumstances beyond their control. An event often described as historically ‘unique’, this reminds us that the persecution of minorities central to the Holocaust is not confined to the past, but manifests today in the refusal of a home or place of safety within society to those targeted on the basis of race, class, ethnicity, religion, sexuality or gender.

Emily-Rose Baker is a second-year WRoCAH funded PhD student based in the School of English at the University of Sheffield. Her research examines central-eastern European Holocaust memory and dreams in the post-communist era.

[1] Charlotte Delbo, ‘The Teddy Bear’, Auschwitz and After: Second Edition, trans. by Rosette C. Lamount (London: Yale University Press, 1995) p.164.

[2] Delbo, p.164.

[3] Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl: Definitive Edition, eds. Otto H. Frank and Mirjam Pressler (London: Penguin, 2011) p.112.

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Why Holocaust Memorial Day is equally important and problematic

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I struggle with memorial days. I can’t help thinking that they make little impact on the notion of memorialism, and before you know it we’ve all moved on without giving a second thought to the event which we are supposed to be remembering.

On Holocaust Memorial Day 2017 UK Prime Minister Theresa May wrote in the Holocaust Educational Trust’s book of remembrance “our commitment to remember the Holocaust is about more than words — it is about action. It is about raising awareness, spreading understanding, ensuring the memory of the Holocaust lives on, and standing up to prejudice and hatred wherever it is found today.” The same day she stood with President Donald Trump, who was in the process of attempting to block, wholesale, the entrance to the US for citizens of selected ‘Muslim countries’. Such stark and obvious moments of hypocrisy cause me to wonder what the point of Holocaust Memorial Day is?

Of course, primary among the objectives of Holocaust Memorial Day is to bring the events of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides into the public’s consciousness. Knowing about and understanding an event which shook the foundations of Western Civilisation and, in part, shaped the world we live in today should be regarded as more than enough of a task. But remembrance means more than this. Remembrance entails response, action, and reaction to what has happened.

The ‘never again’ mantra is trotted out amid a world in which genocide has been present in every decade since 1945 and atrocities are part of the daily news cycle. It seems that remembering for one day in the year is not enough to change patterns of human behaviour. When memorialising is a passive process, based on unimaginable statistics and empty phrases it can do little more than generate a momentary response. For people to engage with the memory and implications of the Holocaust and wider genocides, I’d argue that we must go a little deeper than this.

The British government stated clearly that Holocaust Memorial Day was about “articulating a particular vision of Britishness”.[1] What that vision of Britishness is remains unclear. Memory Scholars Jann Assmann and John Czaplieka suggest that the values which are highlighted from memory “tells us much about the constitution and tendencies of a society.”[2] So, beyond the memory of the Holocaust, Holocaust Memorial Day can be seen as an ideological tool which promotes a contemporary narrative.

In the case of the UK this narrative is limited to Britain as righteous liberators of camps, and fighters against Nazi tyranny. Holocaust Memorial Day is not the time to discuss the refusal to accept more than a few thousand Jewish refugee children before the war, restrict Jewish immigration to British Mandated Palestine, or fail to act on the intelligence from Eastern Europe of the unfolding atrocities taking place. What is admitted into and omitted from our national image of Holocaust memory seems to create a somewhat skewed picture.

Before its inception in 2001, Historian Dan Stone registered his concern predicting that it would be a ‘a day of fatuous ceremonies when the great and the good will congratulate themselves for not being Nazis’ while also reliev[ing] the community of the burden of memory.’[3] The example above does little to refute such a fear and, in some ways, renders the meaning and value of such a day as lost. But despite the grandiose, yet simultaneously half-hearted, statements from statemen and women I would argue it is important that we devote time to remembering this cataclysmic event, and the subsequent genocides perpetrated in the 20th and 21st centuries. The challenge is making the memory meaningful.

Meaning can be found through personal engagement with the past, addressing complexities and moving away from simplistic and universalised statements. This can ignite genuine thought and consideration of the events, and their implications for us. If Holocaust Memorial Day is about more than remembering as knowing what happened, then it must be challenging to us in a way which causes us to think, and react through behaviour rather than ceremony. There is a place for ceremony in so-far-as it marks the occasion, but memorialisation of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides should be an active process.

‘Never again’ is often a trite statement which, despite good intention, fails to achieve the active change it demands. Moreover, it won’t stop failing to make an impact while we keep thoughtlessly saying it. What Holocaust Memorial Day should be about is asking why it has failed, challenging ourselves with the stories of past genocide, and starting a process of thought and action that doesn’t stop at midnight on January 27th.

Ben Fuller was a 2004 graduate of Sheffield University, with BA in Politics and Sociology. He now teaches History at Tapton School in Sheffield, and is also currently completing his MA in Holocaust Studies at Royal Holloway, University of London. He works freelance with The Holocaust Educational Trust and has written educational materials for the Winston Churchill Archive on the Holocaust and WW2 History.

This blog is part of a series of posts for National Holocaust Memorial Day – they will appear here as they are posted.

Image: Holocaust memorial, Budapest [via WikiCommons].

[1] Jean-Marc Dreyfus and Marcel Stoetzler.Holocaust Memory in the 21st Century: between national reshaping and globalisation. European Review of History: Revue européenne d’histoire, 18:01, pp69-78. 2011.

[2] Jann Assmann and John Czaplieka. New German Critique, No. 65, Cultural History/Cultural Studies, pp. 125-133. Duke University Press. 1995.

[3] Jean-Marc Dreyfus and Marcel Stoetzler. Holocaust Memory in the 21st Century: between national reshaping and globalisation. European Review of History: Revue européenne d’histoire, 18:01, pp69-78. 2011.

 

 

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Anne Frank Revisited

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It is more than seventy years since the first publication of the first Dutch version of Anne Frank’s diary appeared in print. It was followed by both English and American editions in 1952 and subsequently translated into more than 60 languages to become perhaps the most iconic text to emanate from the Holocaust period.

The writings of a young girl, albeit in extreme circumstances, trying to make sense of growing up and writing about her hopes and fears, struck a chord with successive generations of young people across the globe. Sales figures bear witness to its popularity as a text, but that also made it a target for Holocaust deniers – undermine the veracity of the text and you undermine the veracity of the Holocaust itself. One of the deniers’ arguments was that there were different versions of the diary and they could not have been written by the same person.

In response, the custodians of the diary, the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation published what they described as the ‘critical’ edition in 1989 where they placed the various versions side by side, to show how they had been edited and changed by Anne herself. The book also contained chapters about the Frank family and the circumstances of their betrayal.

An unwieldy tome and not really designed for the mass market, it inevitably did nothing to convince hard-line deniers, and was itself subsequently undermined by the admission that there were a number of diary pages that had been withheld from previous publications because Otto Frank had deemed them too critical of Anne’s mother, Edith.

Twenty five years on and with the copyrights on the various versions of the diary coming closer to expiry, albeit staunchly defended by the lawyers of the Fondation Anne Frank in Basle, funds were found to mount a comprehensive re-evaluation of the diary. Martin van Gelderen (Lichenberg Kolleg) and Raphael Gross (Fritz Bauer Institut) led a team of scholars and translators who have gone back to the original manuscript diary to produce a new version. Their work has uncovered innumerable flaws in the earlier transcriptions.

For example, a fresh look at the manuscript shows that Anne often made errors and used German rather than Dutch grammatical constructions in her writing. This is especially ironic given the sometimes cruel jibes she made about her mother’s lack of competence in the language. Such errors seem to have been elided out in earlier versions.

A close reading of the diary also betrays Anne’s reliance for her writing style on the various Dutch authors she read as a child, not least the novels of Dutch children’s author Cissy van Marxveldt. Moreover, the sections that she was rewriting in 1944 show how her style changed as she got older and was influenced by other authors she read while in the Achterhuis. This on its own will force a literary reappraisal of the diary and provide a much more nuanced view of her writings.

This new set of publications will undoubtedly change the scholarly landscape surrounding Anne Frank’s legacy, not least in encouraging comparison with another recently discovered contemporary diary of Carry Ulreich, a teenage Jewish girl who survived the occupation in hiding in Rotterdam. That said, Anne Frank the symbol shows no sign of losing its status. Within the last six months alone, there have been at least two major controversies.

The first involved a Deutsche Bahn plan to name one of its new ICE trains after Anne Frank. While the idea sparked a great deal of debate, it was mediated by the Fondation’s insistence on a contextual explanation in the train itself. Far more extreme and deliberately provocative was distribution by neo-fascist fans of SS Lazio football club of stickers showing Anne Frank wearing a shirt of their arch rivals AS Roma. Such was the public outcry that the Italian football federation ordered a reading from the diary at all Serie A matches the following week – something that rather backfired when it led to further ugly scenes elsewhere.

Although an updated and more accurate version of the diary will undoubtedly be of benefit to academic and scholars, will it put an end to the use and misuse of Anne Frank as a symbol? Somehow I doubt it.

The Dagboek van Anne Frank will be published in Dutch by Prometheus in 2018 and in English and German translations by Cambridge University Press and Fischer Verlag respectively in 2019. Carry Ulreich‘s Nachts droom ik van vrede. Oorlogsdagboek 1941-1945 was published by Uitgeverij Mozaïek in 2016.

Professor Bob Moore is Professor of 20th Century European History at The University of Sheffield. His research is centred on the Second World War and Holocaust in Western Europe. He is currently a vitisting fellow at the Lichtenberg-Kolleg in Goettingen and Distinguished Research Fellow at the Institut fuer Zeitgeschichte, Munich.

This blog is part of a series of posts for National Holocaust Memorial Day – they will appear here as they are posted.

Image: Anne Frank, 1940 [Via WikiCommons]

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Remembering The Holocaust: Ukraine and The Holocaust by Bullets

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This week marks the eighteenth National Holocaust Memorial Day, an occasion on which to mourn and remember the annihilation of six million Jews by Nazi Germany. Symbolised by the very existence of this day, public memory of the Holocaust in Britain, as in the west more broadly, remains highly developed and manifests in the cultural, political and educational spheres. Yet in Ukraine, as in other Eastern European countries such as Belarus, Moldova and Bosnia, these memory-cultures are considerably less established despite the passing of over 70 years since the end of the war, and the 1.5 million Jews killed there between 1941-44.

In the post-communist nations of Eastern Europe, Soviet rule ensured that the Holocaust, Nazism, and its victims occupied a peripheral position among the nation’s memories. That is, until the late 80s-early 90s, when the confrontation of their pasts catalysed a proliferation of public memories and testimonies of the Holocaust. Such restorative commemoration processes were decidedly less radical in Ukraine, however, where the emergence of memoirs after its independence in 1991 were less pronounced and often entailed the erasure of Jewish voices.

Contrary to the sophisticated nature of Holocaust memory in neighbouring Poland, not only does the Holocaust barely feature in cultural production in Ukraine, but many of its residents are not familiar with the term ‘Holocaust’. Here, the Holocaust is often confused with the ‘Holodomor’ – the name given to the famine of 1932-33, during which 3.5 million ethnic Ukrainians starved to death under Stalin’s colossal grain requisitions. This tragedy signifies the country’s dominating narrative of national suffering.

While death and labour camps such as Auschwitz have gained considerable global attention since 1945, much less remembered modes of extermination were those perpetrated by mobilised killing squads in Ukraine called Einsatzgruppen. Aided by German and Ukrainian police, Einsatzgruppen carried out mass shootings of Jews at sites such as Babi Yar, a ravine where 100,000 Jews and other minorities were shot during the course of the war, before depositing their bodies into mass graves dug by the victims prior to their deaths. Knowledge of the ‘Holocaust by Bullets’, as these murders are known, is scarce, as is the location of hundreds of Ukraine’s unidentified mass graves.

The legislation of 1996 incorporating the Holocaust into the Ukrainian curriculum did not materialise until the year 2000, where its significance on Ukrainian territory was muted and its details distorted. What is more, the Ukrainian Institute for National Memory (established in 2006) committed itself to the disproval of Ukrainian nationalist complicity in war crimes, rather than commemorating the lives of its Jewish victims and condemning collaborators of the Holocaust.

Under the governance of president Viktor Yushchenko (2005-2010), the same decade also witnessed the glorification of antisemitic military groups such as the OUN (Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists) and UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army). These groups played a significant role in the routine killing of Jews as well as Poles during WWII. It is hardly surprising, then, that the racial hostility and collaboration of ethnic Ukrainians who participated in the persecution and murder of Jews, and benefited economically from their destruction, has largely gone unrecognised.

The dissolving of the Holocaust into Ukraine’s general memory of the war has thus obscured the reality of its history. This ‘forgetting’ evokes what Edward T. Linenthal calls ‘comfortable horrible’ memory – that which allows us to obtain security from memories that are in some way uncomfortable or threatening.[1]

As Melanie Klein wrote in her 1937 work Love Hate and Reparation: ‘on the whole we do not like the idea [of aggressive feelings] so unconsciously we minimise, and underestimate their importance’, keeping them always in ‘the outer edges of our field of vision’.[2] In order to combat the insufficiency of Holocaust memory in Ukraine, it must strive toward a remembrance of the Holocaust that recognises its own role in the ‘aggression’ and brutality of Nazi genocide, and acknowledges the identities of its Jewish victims.

The UK also has a responsibility to cultivate a more transnational memory of the Holocaust for the prevention of future catastrophes – one that includes the nations of Eastern Europe where it remains difficult to do so. Applied to contemporary political aggression and aggressors, this refusal to ‘forget’ or to underestimate that which makes us uncomfortable is also critical to the ways in which we respond to the pressing crises of white supremacy and the rise of the alt right gaining traction in Britain, the USA and Poland.

Emily-Rose Baker is a first year PhD student at the University of Sheffield, researching the emergence of Eastern European Holocaust memory post 1989-91. Based in the School of English, she is funded by the White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities (WRoCAH), as part of ‘The Future of Holocaust Memory’ Network at Sheffield, Leeds and York.

This blog is part of a series of posts for National Holocaust Memorial Day – they will appear here as they are posted.

Image: Einsatzkommando shooting action in the aftermath of Operation Barbarossa [via WikiCommons].

[1] Edward T. Linenthal in Michael Rothberg, Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in an Age of Decolonisation (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009) p.9.

[2] Melanie Klein and John Rickman, Love, Hate and Reparation (London: W.W. Norton & Co., 1964) p.6.

 

 

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