This week the United States observes the Days of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust. Congress passed the resolution to observe an annual period of remembrance and reflection under President Jimmy Carter in September of 1978. In their Frequently Asked Questions feature, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website offers guidelines and suggestions for commemoration:
[Question:] When planning a commemoration, what are appropriate and inappropriate approaches/activities?
[Answer:] Because Days of Remembrance is meant to memorialize the millions of victims of persecution and mass murder, it is important to organize commemoration activities that show respect for the victims and survivors, and recognize the scope and scale of the Holocaust. Such activities may include remembrance ceremonies, names readings of the victims of the Holocaust, creating displays, inviting a Holocaust survivor to speak, or even organizing film series or book clubs focused on some aspect of Holocaust history. Simulations (e.g. asking participants to wear a yellow star to create a sense of solidarity with Jewish victims, etc.) are not appropriate. Even when great care is taken to make such activities seem solemn, they can often be perceived by survivors and others as a trivialization of the history.
The final sentence of this paragraph draws attention to the delicate nature of memorialization. The line between honoring and offending is very thin. Even following the criteria that the Museum advises, it is quite easy to fall into controversial territory. “Simulation”— or to reference the example—pretending to be a victim, is taboo. (A quick Google News search for “Holocaust remembrance” this morning returned a one example of how this kind of activity can be perceived by many as offensive.) But what about the suggestion to “organize a film series?” Aren’t films simulations? They may be produced to depict reality, but do they aim to portray all of the horrors of the Holocaust? Are documentaries more culturally sensitive than feature films? What about other Holocaust dramas? Television and theater? What about literature and artwork?
What is lost in representing the Holocaust? How many representations do we encounter in popular culture that might “trivialize the history?” How do we teach the Holocaust? How do we honor the memory of millions?
Special Collections supports research that delves deeply into these questions through the Imaginative Representations of the Holocaust Collection. We present this material to scholars in order to confront and investigate the ways in which the Holocaust has been mythologized, distorted, or banalized.
Submitted in somber remembrance.