11 June 2009

How do we remember?

NYU professor of American Jewish history Hasia R. Diner was troubled for a long time by the widely-held belief that, following the Holocaust, American Jews did little to memorialize the 6 million Jews murdered in Europe.

Her quest to investigate this for herself - over seven years - is the subject of a Forward interview by Jeri Zeder.
Based on research that took her seven years to complete, and fills 24 file cabinet drawers, Diner refutes the notion in her new book, “We Remember With Reverence and Love: American Jews and the Myth of Silence After the Holocaust, 1945–1962” (NYU Press).

The book details how, nationwide, Jews in those years memorialized the victims, documented the catastrophe, mobilized for survivors, sought justice from Germany, and used the Holocaust both to advance a political agenda and to build a Jewish future in America.

She spoke with Forward contributor Jeri Zeder about memory, truth and the ethical obligations of historians.
Zeder asks how people are receiving Diner's message that the myth of silence is a myth?
Hasia Diner: It flies in the face of what they know… they often will say, “But I don’t remember it that way.” I think certain narratives about the past get planted in the public consciousness, and people in essence re-remember their own experiences in light of what seems to be the dominant motif.
What made scholars and other writers perpetuate the myth and believe it?
... But from my point of view, the myth of silence began in the late 1960s and was pioneered by young Jews involved in a thoroughgoing critique of American culture generally, and American Jewish culture in particular. Many of them went on to become academics, rabbis and community leaders, and repeated the same message in their public writings. What they said remained part of the historical
record and was used as evidence by later historians. ...
Diner addresses the scope of memorials:

... Memorials come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, formats and flavors. For example, the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods worked very actively for the passage of the Genocide Convention. They would say, if this is passed, it will be a fitting memorial to the 6 million. How could one argue with that position? That’s how they saw it.
Diner accuses historians of a failure to take their own professional obligations seriously, and discusses American Jewry's complicated relationship with Israel.
Read the complete article at the link above.

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