On October 28th our students were privileged to participate in the fifth installment of our cooperative efforts to foster Israeli-German academic dialogue. In this effort we have partnered with our colleagues at the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum, Massuah Institute, and the Freidrich Ebert Foundation.
The topic of the fifth session of our Researchers Seminar was Holocaust Memory in the 21st Century. Dr. Daniel Uziel, of Yad Vashem and the Weiss-Livnat International MA Program in Holocaust Studies at the University of Haifa, chaired the discussion. The two presenters were Professor Norbert Frei and Dr. Kobi Kabalek. Professor Frei is the Chair for Modern History at the Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena and Director of the Jena Center for 20th Century History. Dr. Kobi Kabalek teaches at the Weiss-Livnat International MA Program in Holocaust Studies at the University of Haifa and is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the ERC Project “Judging Histories,” at Hebrew University.
The title of Professor Frei’s talk was “the Future of Holocaust Memory in Germany.” Frei opened by admitting that he is a little suspicious about memory. He worries that the recent trend in focusing on memory studies is to the detriment of a necessary emphasis on historical knowledge. Frei shared his belief that there is a danger of imprecision of language and a simplification regarding the Holocaust. For example he identified a recent phenomena to refer to the entire Nazi period as the Holocaust as early as 1933. This is problematic as it fails to distinguish between the periods of persecution and extermination and suggests that the Jews of Nazi Germany should have been able to predict their fate. Frei also discussed the challenge of teaching about National Socialism to an increasingly heterogeneous student body as more migrants enter German society and schools. The solution to this challenge suggested by Frei is to discontinue the focus on memory and return to history and consciousness. As a result all people, even migrants whose ancestors were not involved in the Nazi Regime, will become responsible for consciousness of the Holocaust.
Dr. Kobi Kabalek entitled his talk “What do we talk about when we talk about the future of memory?” Kabalek surveyed friends on Facebook from Germany to find out what they thought the future of Holocaust memory in Germany would be. He spoke about his findings from their responses during his talk. Kabalek mentioned two important things he noticed in the responses to his question. First, the future is the present. Most respondents spoke about the current state of Holocaust memory in Germany and not what they thought the future would hold. Most respondents said remembering the Holocaust is a moral duty and should lead to the fulfillment of “never again.” Second, many respondents saw the future as being beyond the nation. There was a pessimistic view of the future of Holocaust memory that took into account political and social developments outside Germany’s borders. Kabalek ended with the intriguing idea that memory of the past is always a vision of the future.
Professor Frei and Dr. Kabalek both shared different perspectives that were thought provoking with our students who were fortunate enough to be able to engage in a dialogue with the speakers and ask them questions following both presentations. The event was intriguing and enlightening and our students gained a lot through the experience of hearing from international scholars.
Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program? You can find the application and more information at our website: http://holocaust-studies.haifa.ac.il/