Writing in the journal History and Memory in 2016, art historian Rachel Perry of the University of Haifa’s Holocaust Studies Program considers the impact and implications of Living Landscape, the entrance art installation created by Michal Rovner at Yad Vashem’s new Holocaust History Museum. Perry discusses the message and thematic expression of Living Landscape as embodying the message of the new Holocaust History Museum, with reference to the concept of hospitality as conveyed by Emmanuel Levinas and Jacques Derrida.
Born in London, Simon Goldberg was raised in Jerusalem and later moved to New York, where he obtained a Bachelor’s degree in History from Yeshiva University and founded the Student Holocaust Education Movement (SHEM), a student-run movement advocating the preservation and propagation of Holocaust memory. A national finalist in the Fellowship for Noble Purpose in 2012, Simon has taught for the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation in Europe and, most recently, at Elsa International High School in Hong Kong, where he helped develop the Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Centre as a mainstay for awareness and education of the Holocaust in East Asia. Simon presently directs Triangles of Truth, a global movement of students who honor and remember Holocaust victims by giving charity in their names to help meet the humanitarian needs of current genocide refugees. We are pleased to share Simon’s experience in one of his courses with you today:
As we near the end of this first term, the words of Dr. Rachel Perry, who teaches our elective on Holocaust representation, echo in my mind: be a good guardian of this memory, she implores us.
We try. Because underlying the multifaceted, often fastidious historical study we are undertaking, isn’t this the mission? To wrestle with the legacy with which the Holocaust endows us—to mold and shape it before it eludes us, disarms us, encouraging us instead to forget.
Dr. Perry’s course was a long thought experiment that centered on the meeting point between the Holocaust and visual culture. What questions haunted Felix Nussbaum, the German-Jewish artist who hid in Belgium during the war, as he decried the transformation of his identity under Nazi occupation? Looking back on Charlotte Salomon’s remarkable series of 769 gouache paintings, telling of her exile to South France and interment in Gurs, what questions abound on the experience of displacement? We learned about the medium of art as an assertion of creative resistance—a reclamation of self and humanity
After Auschwitz, Steven Spielberg created a stirring film on the person and actions of Oscar Schindler, now renowned throughout the world. But what are the ethics of a filmmaker operating in the realm of memory? Is it ignominious to reconstruct a scene that places Jews in the gas chambers? The method of representation matters, and for Claude Lanzmann, who over eleven years made the ten-hour long Shoah, certain images are prohibited. Nor can the Holocaust be redeemed, for it is endless, as evidenced by the film’s last frame of a train in perpetual motion. Yet if Lanzmann is right, if there is “no moral right to give a happy ending,” what of the attempt to make meaning of the Holocaust through the appropriation of its lessons?
Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus offered a window into a memory-architect’s workshop. Spiegelman, caught at the turn between generations, tells multiple stories including the story of his own telling—thus pulling the reader into the process of narrative construction. For a while, we stepped into Spiegelman’s shoes; scrutinized his creative dilemmas; fiddled with his juxtaposition of images and words on pages that seek not resolution but legitimacy—a testament to honor the dead, a compass to navigate the borders and contradictions of post-memory. We weren’t there, but how close can we get? How close should we get to the event?
The future of Holocaust memory will not so much depend on whether or not it is propagated, but how it is propagated. How, as Yehuda Amichai’s poem instructs, will the rememberers remember? What is the proper way to cast one’s eyes as the flag lowers to half-mast? How are we to look at a photograph without re-victimizing the victims it portrays? Without looking too often? We who came after but not so long after, with which song do we cry over Treblinka?