Topics: Holocaust, Holocaust Commemoration, Holocaust Memorials, Jewish Space, Main Topic: Holocaust and Memorial, Memory
Abstract: Silence appears frequently in discourses of the Holocaust – as a metaphorical absence, a warning against forgetting, or simply the only appropriate response. But powerful though these meanings are, they often underplay the ambiguity of silence’s signifying power. This article addresses the liminality of silence through an analysis of its richly textured role in the memorial soundscapes of Berlin. Beyond an aural version of erasure, unspeakability, or the space for reflection upon it, I argue that these silent spaces must always be heard as part of their surrounding urban environment, refracting wider spatial practices and dis/order. When conventions are reversed – when the present is silent – the past can resound in surprising and provocative ways, collapsing spatial and temporal borders and escaping the ritualized boundaries of formal commemoration. This is explored through four different memorial situations: the disturbing resonances within the Holocaust Memorial; the transgressive processes of a collective silent walk; Gleis 17 railway memorial’s opening up of heterotopic ‘gaps’ in time; and sounded/silent history in the work of singer Tania Alon. Each of these examples, in different ways, frames a slippage between urban sound and memorial silence, creating a parallel symbolic space that the past and the present can inhabit simultaneously. In its unpredictable fluidity, silence becomes a mobile and subversive force, producing an imaginative space that is ambiguous, affective and deeply meaningful. A closer attention to these different practices of listening disrupts a top-down, strategic discourse of silence as conventionally emblematic of reflection and distance. The contemporary urban soundscape that slips through the silent cracks problematizes the narrative hegemony of memorial itself.