- Revisiting Holocaust Representation in The Post-Witness Era by Diana I. Popescu, Tanja Schult
The question of how Holocaust memory will be transmitted beyond the lives of survivors has, in recent years, become a pressing one for scholars, as indeed for Jewish communities and descendants of survivors. This is evident in the wide body of work dealing with children of survivors, and in more recent volumes that are preoccupied with how the so-called “Third Generation” carries on the Holocaust legacy. Bringing together papers that consider the current trends in Holocaust memorialization in central and northern Europe, this rich volume tackles the question of how the Holocaust can be most effectively represented in a future where there are no longer survivors to underpin the work of artists and memory-makers. Very much concerned by what happens with Holocaust memory when there are no longer any survivors to tell their stories, it asks: what does it mean to remember at a distance, both spatial and temporal? How will imaginative forms of memorialization fill the loss of the “living connection” between artists and audiences and the Holocaust?
In examining these questions, the editors have thoughtfully curated a collection of essays that are wide-ranging and yet successfully bring together the ways in which a host of artists (visual artists, writers, and filmmakers) have [End Page 199] tried to grapple with the fleeting and changing nature of memory. Two central questions underpin this volume: first, how is the Holocaust being transmitted to future audiences who will have no material connection to the victims and perpetrators of the Holocaust? Second, how do artists, audiences, and scholars make sense of the gaps and absences that are increasingly part of the memorial landscape?
In answer to the first question, there are numerous ways the Holocaust is being transmitted beyond the witness era in the European context. One way is through increased use of technology, such as video installations that place survivors and their stories at the center of the project and bring survivors into contact with future audiences. Another example is an audio-monument in Berlin that uses mobile technology, allowing audiences to carry a monument with them in their pocket and examine stories deeply. Holocaust memory is also reaching a broader audience through new genres and through reinventing established genres: Polish zombie fiction, Holocaust comic books, tourist guides, and video installations. A number of these are concerned with immersive experiences. Increasingly, transmission of memory does not rely simply on storytelling or museum exhibits but on experiences that are tactile and active, and that involve exploration, movement, and discovering things that are hidden. The final section also demonstrates the ways in which Holocaust memorials in the public sphere are changing through greater recognition by governments and educational institutions, to the extent that the Holocaust has come to be seen, as Larissa Allwork writes, as its own “civil religion” within Europe.
The other major theme that runs through the volume is that the contributors are almost uniformly concerned with the silences and absences that underpin these artworks. Some chapters focus on what memorials and artworks hide or obscure. Ernst van Alphen shows that listing names in memorials, a practice becoming more widespread, depersonalizes the victims, as visitors become overwhelmed by lists of names without stories. James Young is particularly erudite in describing how counter-monuments tap into deep memory of the Holocaust.
On the other hand, some contributors see the Holocaust as overwhelmingly present. Representation, according to Jacob Lund, has taken on a different purpose. Whereas it used to be concerned with establishing the truth of the past, now artists assume broad knowledge of the Holocaust and are concerned with transmission. To this end, many artists produce works that assume prior knowledge of the Holocaust. In Ceri Eldin’s chapter on the (im)possibility for forgiveness in Holocaust art, she observes that Felice Hapetzeder’s video installation Limits of Forgiveness does not contextualize the stories of the participants. “Holocaust imagery is so ingrained in...