Abstract: Reviewing the musical Imagine This for The Guardian, Michael Billington wrote: ‘they said it couldn’t be done: a musical about the Warsaw ghetto. And now that I’ve seen it, I know that they were right’. A few weeks later in the same newspaper, Anne Karpf suggested that one could be forgiven for thinking that every day was Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) in the United Kingdom. The plethora of Holocaust-related films and other ‘cultural’ events (I use the term loosely, to include the musical of the Warsaw Ghetto and other such ill-considered phenomena) indicated to Karpf that there is an excess of attention being paid to the Holocaust and that, especially at a time when Israel was pounding the life out of the Gaza Strip, such attention is unjustified. Karpf, unintentionally recapitulating a standard trope of British responses, writes that we have ‘now become saturated with images and accounts of the Holocaust’
Abstract: At the time of writing, two major landmarks have occurred in what might be called the history of the ‘afterlife of Holocaust memory’ in Britain.1 Most recently, the beginning of a new academic year in schools and colleges in England and Wales brought the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the National Curriculum — an event of immense significance in relation to Holocaust education in the United Kingdom. Whereas previously the presence of the Holocaust in educational curricula varied considerably, the incorporation of the genocide into the statutory content for the first National Curriculum for History in 1991 ensured that school history would become a core conduit in the expansion of knowledge and awareness among a new generation of young people. Beyond the chalkface, the other noteworthy anniversary of 2011 took place on 27 January when Britain held its tenth annual Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD). A day which ‘provides an opportunity for everyone to learn the lessons from the Holocaust, Nazi persecution and subsequent genocides and apply them to the present day to create a safer, better future’, HMD speaks to and of a process of heightened insti-tutionalisation which began in earnest at the turn of the millennium and has continued unabated since.2 HMD thus provides an illuminating window onto the preconceptions, priorities and politics which currently envelop and influence the shape of memorialisation in Britain, but it also does much more than this: as one of the first such days to be created in Western Europe following the Stockholm Declaration of 2000, Britain’s HMD also gestures to a gamut of issues related to memorialisation in general and Holocaust memory in the contemporary world in particular. Amongst others, these include the practices and procedures of collective remembrance, the forces behind a ‘turning’ to memory in the postmodern epoch, and the rationale for (and consequences of) the emergence of the Holocaust as a global phenomena in the past quarter of a century.
‘We Should Do Something for the Fiftieth’: Remembering Auschwitz, Belsen and the Holocaust in Britain in 1995
Abstract: Six years before Britain’s first annual Holocaust Memorial Day was observed in 2001, the 50th anniversaries of the liberation of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen were remembered as part of a wider public calendar of war-re la ted commemorative activities.1 Holocaust Memorial Day has (rightly) been the subject of much scholarly attention, some of it critical of the day’s ‘pathos’ approach to commemoration.2 In contrast, there has been markedly less discussion of how the anniversaries in 1995 of the liberation of the camps were remembered in Britain. This chapter attempts to supplement previous studies that have focused on aspects of Holocaust commemoration in Britain in 1995, notably those by Judith Petersen and Joanne Reilly et al. 2 The aim is to question whether the ways in which Holocaust commemoration was performed and articulated in 1995 helps us to think about how subsequent commemorations have been organised and understood. The approach that this discussion takes is both empirical (setting out salient features of the public discourse of Holocaust memory in 1995 under various genre headings) and critical (commenting on some of the implications of these discursive features for thinking about Holocaust memory in Britain). Part of the justification for this study is that the imbalances between scholarly interest in the commemorations of 1995 and 2001 could be usefully readjusted, if only because of the ways in which they relate to certain methodological possibilities for analysing ‘Holocaust memory’ in a British context. After all, as Jeffrey Olick has argued, commemorations should not be conceptualised as isolated, discrete occurrences.
Topics: Holocaust Commemoration, Holocaust, Main Topic: Holocaust and Memorial, Museums, Post-Colonial
Abstract: Relatively little comment has been passed on the role of the Holocaust at the Imperial War Museum (IWM). There is a critical discourse about the role of the exhibition in the museum of course, and Rebecca Jinks’s and Antoine Capet’s essays contribute admirably to that discourse, yet the specific question of the relationship between thinking about the Holocaust and thinking about Empire and imperial genocide has seldom been asked. Yet as Jinks’s essay makes clear, Britain has an imperial past and as such it is not possible for the Holocaust exhibition to just avoid that context. It would be very difficult anywhere in Britain, but in the IWM, the official repository of the nation’s war memories, it is impossible. What is more, the IWM specifically tasks itself, in its Crimes Against Humanity exhibition, to engage with genocide in a wider context and as such to place the Holocaust in that context. And the British Empire was a site of genocide. One might expect then to find that the IWM grapples with the problem of genocide in the British Empire (in Australia, in Ireland, in India for example). It does not. As such, I want to use this commentary to think more about the relationship between the galloping British memory of the Holocaust that Capet identifies, and Britain’s memory of genocide in its Empire that Jinks highlights, using the IWM as a case study.
Holocaust Memory and Contemporary Atrocities: The Imperial War Museum’s Holocaust Exhibition and Crimes Against Humanity Exhibition
Abstract: n the last decade or so, research has begun to address the ways in which global discourses of memory, within which the Holocaust is paradigmatic, often ‘borrow’ Holocaust iconography and tropes of memorial-isation to discuss or commemorate other tragedies.1 This utilisation of Holocaust memory is indicative of the position that the Holocaust now generally holds throughout the Western world, and yet it also raises questions about how we represent, and respond to, the other tragedies of the twentieth century. In this vein, this chapter explores the interactions between the memory of the Holocaust and other contemporary mass atrocities in Britain, using as case studies the Imperial War Museum’s (IWM) Holocaust exhibition, which opened in 2000, and its Crimes Against Humanity exhibition, which first opened in 2002 and then moved to a different part of the building in 2009. While on the face of it, the sheer difference in size and visitor numbers between the two exhibitions could easily function as a metaphor for the disparity between the status of Holocaust memory, and the memory of ‘other genocides’ in Britain and the West, my object is to explore the symbiotic and perhaps even dependent relationship between the two exhibitions, and by extension the wider categories of ‘Holocaust’ and ‘genocide’.
Abstract: It can be supposed that most people interested in twentieth-century history are familiar with the Imperial War Museum (IWM) and that most will have visited its permanent Holocaust exhibition since this was formally opened in June 2000. What Suzanne Bardgett, the curator who runs the exhibition, calls its ‘artifacts’ cover 1,200 square metres but before 2009 it showed only one piece of ‘art’ indirectly derived from the discovery and liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp by the British Army in April 1945: Edgar Ainsworth’s drawing Wem Berger, Aged 13, after a Year in Ravensbriick (near Bélsen), April 1945 It is not always realised that the IWM has, in fact, many more drawings and paintings connected with what is now known as Holocaust Art. The museum now publishes a history of the ‘hangings’ from which each of these works has benefited and this indicates that, while there were many hangings immediately after the war, there was then a long period of ‘purgatory’ from which these works are only now re-emerging. In a revealing article of 2004, Bardgett suggested that it was the whole issue of representing the Holocaust in the Museum which was taboo until the 1980s.2 Inevitably, the paintings and drawings suffered from this reticence, which largely explains their neglect as an iconographie source for Holocaust studies in Britain.