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Holocaust Memory Reframed

Museums and the Challenges of Representation

by Jennifer Hansen-Glucklich

Publication Year: 2014

Holocaust memorials and museums face a difficult task as their staffs strive to commemorate and document horror. On the one hand, the events museums represent are beyond most people’s experiences. At the same time they are often portrayed by theologians, artists, and philosophers in ways that are already known by the public. Museum administrators and curators have the challenging role of finding a creative way to present Holocaust exhibits to avoid clichéd or dehumanizing portrayals of victims and their suffering.In Holocaust Memory Reframed, Jennifer Hansen-Glucklich examines representations in three museums: Israel’s Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Germany’s Jewish Museum in Berlin, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. She describes a variety of visually striking media, including architecture, photography exhibits, artifact displays, and video installations in order to explain the aesthetic techniques that the museums employ. As she interprets the exhibits, Hansen-Glucklich clarifies how museums communicate Holocaust narratives within the historical and cultural contexts specific to Germany, Israel, and the United States. In Yad Vashem, architect Moshe Safdie developed a narrative suited for Israel, rooted in a redemptive, Zionist story of homecoming to a place of mythic geography and renewal, in contrast to death and suffering in exile. In the Jewish Museum in Berlin, Daniel Libeskind’s architecture, broken lines, and voids emphasize absence. Here exhibits communicate a conflicted ideology, torn between the loss of a Jewish past and the country’s current multicultural ethos. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum presents yet another lens, conveying through its exhibits a sense of sacrifice that is part of the civil values of American democracy, and trying to overcome geographic and temporal distance. One well-know example, the pile of thousands of shoes plundered from concentration camp victims encourages the visitor to bridge the gap between viewer and victim. Hansen-Glucklich explores how each museum’s concept of the sacred shapes the design and choreography of visitors’ experiences within museum spaces. These spaces are sites of pilgrimage that can in turn lead to rites of passage.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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Preface and Acknowledgements

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pp. xi-xvi

Writing, as often lamented by those like myself who struggle with the written word in a perpetual battle for clarity and simplicity, is at times difficult as well as lonely work. As Ernest Hemingway famously quipped, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Bringing this project to a close, I realize how deeply indebted I am...

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pp. 1-7

In a personal meditation on exile and homesickness titled “How Much Home Does a Person Need?” (1966) the Jewish, Austrian- born Holocaust survivor and essayist Jean Améry writes, “Anyone who is familiar with exile has gained many an insight into life but has discovered that it holds even more questions. Among the answers there is the realization, which...

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1. Zakhor: The Task of Holocaust Remembrance, Questions of Representation, and the Sacred

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pp. 8-26

These famous words, attributed to the Ba’al Shem Tov, express the sacred duty of remembrance in Judaism. The dynamics of remembrance and forgetting, belonging and banishment, fairly vibrate in these simple lines, while their epigrammatic conciseness and clarity, combined with a symmetry of expression and poetic commingling of physical and spiritual...

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2. An Architecture of Absence: Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum Berlin

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pp. 27-56

Goethe’s famous description of architecture as “frozen music” resonates on a visceral level as one stands before Daniel Libeskind’s zincclad Jewish Museum Berlin for the first time. Across the building’s gleaming surface stretches a series of jagged, disconnected window bands that suggest a fractured Star of David. These fissures in an otherwise smooth surface...

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3. Architectures of Redemption and Experience: Yad Vashem and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

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pp. 57-84

While Daniel Libeskind’s Berlin architecture resonates with the image of Berlin as a ruined topography and seeks to preserve traces of that ruin, instability, and uncertainty, architect Moshe Safdie’s Jerusalem architecture resonates with an image of Jerusalem as a palimpsest or a layered topography. The architect emphasizes structures rich with symbolic meaning...

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4. The Artful Eye: Learning to See and Perceive Otherwise inside Museum Exhibits

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pp. 85-118

The third floor of the permanent exhibition of the USHMM displays a large, rectangular photo mural that dominates an entire wall. A photograph of four Jewish Auschwitz survivors from Salonika, Greece, appears in the center of the mural. Three of the men grasp a vertical pole with bare arms, while the fourth leans his cheek upon his open palm. The ...

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5. “We Are the Last Witnesses”: Artifact, Aura, and Authenticity

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pp. 119-148

Flying Spice Box, an oil painting by Israeli artist Yosl Bergner (1966), depicts an ornate spice box hovering against an ominously dark sky. Beneath the spice box lies a dusky, low- hanging sun and ruined landscape with a border of crumbling stone walls. The spice box plays a special role in the Havdalah ceremony that marks the end of Shabbat and transitions...

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6. Refiguring the Sacred: Strategies of Disfiguration in String, the Memorial to the Deportees, and Menora

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pp. 149-182

We have seen that Holocaust museums and exhibits draw on a number of unique framing and display strategies to evoke particular kinds of vision and remembrance. One technique not yet discussed— and one of the more unusual strategies for encouraging a critical encounter with symbols of Holocaust remembrance— is the disfiguration of memorial objects or images. Drawing on aesthetic techniques indicative of a postmodern...

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7. Rituals of Remembrance in Jerusalem and Berlin: Museum Visiting as Pilgrimage and Performance

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pp. 183-214

The traditional pilgrim has been the individual who embarks on a hajj to Mecca or who journeys to the banks of the Ganges River, the Dome of the Rock, or the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. Such travelers understand their journeys in religious terms, and it was this religious understanding that made their journeys “pilgrimages” rather than simply...

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Conclusion: “Now All That Is Left Is to Remember”

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pp. 215-218

In his article “On Sanctifying the Holocaust: An Anti-theological Treatise” (1987), Israeli philosopher Adi Ophir warns readers that in Israel a “religious consciousness built around the Holocaust may become the central aspect of a new religion” and that this religion may become the “core of Jewish identity in the future, overshadowing the role of traditional Judaism or of contemporary...


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pp. 219-234


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pp. 235-248


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pp. 249-262

About the Author

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pp. 263-264

E-ISBN-13: 9780813565255
E-ISBN-10: 0813565251
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813563244
Print-ISBN-10: 0813563240

Page Count: 280
Illustrations: 20 photographs
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 873806710
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Holocaust Memory Reframed

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Museum architecture.
  • Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) -- Museums.
  • Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945), and architecture.
  • Memorialization.
  • Symbolism in architecture.
  • Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) -- Study and teaching.
  • Museum techniques.
  • Jüdisches Museum Berlin (1999- ).
  • Yad ṿa-shem, rashut ha-zikaron la-Shoʼah ṿela-gevurah. Muzeʼon.
  • United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
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