- The Holocaust and Memory in the Global Age
"The past is not dead. It is not even past." Faulkner's words might serve as the epigraph to the entire field of collective memory studies. Its key insights – that groups are constituted by what and how they remember, that contemporary identities and representations of the past are mutually informing – have been developed primarily through examinations of nationalism. Daniel Levy and Natan Sznaider's significant new book, The Holocaust and Memory in the Global Age, brings the study of collective memory into the era of globalization. Can we imagine a "cosmopolitan" memory that not only fosters supranational political identities, they ask, but that does so in open, non-exclusionary ways? It is an Andersonian project, analyzing the imagining of community in a context where supranational entities like the European Union are chipping away at state sovereignty.
Levy and Sznaider argue compellingly that collective memory remains key to the articulation of political identity in this new context. The emerging global community in the West is indeed a community of memory. However, [End Page 873] in contrast to the pasts invoked to support nationalist claims, today's remembrance is done not in the heroic mode but the penitential. "Since the end of the Cold War," they write, "the Holocaust has become the new founding moment for Europe," the abyss from which its post-nationalist politics emerge. Remembrance of "the fanatic attempt by ethnonationalist Germany to eliminate transnational Jewish cultures" becomes the grounds for an increasingly transnational society to curtail national sovereignty in the name of human rights.
The book traces Holocaust memory from the 1940s through the 1990s in Germany, Israel and the United States. The national memories borne by the perpetrators, victims and witnesses have increasingly been transformed by what Levy and Sznaider call "cosmopolitan memory." This deterritorialized remembrance does not supplant national memories but interacts with them in a process of "globalization." Whereas national memories had been torn between a vision of the Holocaust as a particular tragedy of Jewish victims and German perpetrators or a universal tragedy of humanity or of modernity or of nationalism, cosmopolitan memory transcends the dichotomy. Personalization of the Holocaust through mass media representations fosters an identification with the victim that helps people generalize from the particular case to other situations deemed "analogous." The universal is perceived through the particular, not in place of it. Evidence for the potency of such memories is found in NATO's military intervention in Kosovo, justified in terms of the "lessons of the Holocaust."
Levy and Sznaider succeed in synthesizing a broad range of important themes. Their cultural approach to the question of globalization addresses not only the Holocaust, but also European unification, the transition from "First Modernity" to "Second Modernity," global human rights, humanitarian military interventions, identity politics, the Arab-Israeli conflict, philosophical questions of universalism and particularism, and more.
The major contemporary issues that are not covered – 9/11 and its aftermath, the Iraq War and the genocide in Darfur – are absent largely because the book is older than it seems. It is a translation of a German edition published in 2001. The failure to address recent developments beyond a cursory two paragraphs in the new introduction is the book's major shortcoming.
Consideration of these more recent issues would have shed light on the crucial but missing fourth case – Holocaust memory in the Islamic world. For those factions seeking to articulate an anti-Western discourse, explicit rejection of Holocaust remembrance serves as one important means of accomplishing this. This cannot be reduced to an epiphenomenon of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Iran launched its Holocaust cartoon contest to respond in kind to Danish newspaper cartoons ridiculing the prophet [End Page 874] Mohammed. The Iranians' target was European sacred memory. Their decision to aim at Holocaust memory rather than something else serves as independent, albeit unsavory, confirmation of Levy and Sznaider's thesis. The same can be said of the 2006 Holocaust denial conference in Tehran, whose attendees – Islamic fundamentalists, ultra-orthodox Jewish...