"You shall never be a bystander." How We Learn About the Holocaust When the Last Survivors Are Gone

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tags: Holocaust, Holocaust history

Gundar-Goshen is the winner of the JQ-Wingate Prize for Waking Lions. She is a clinical psychologist, has worked for the Israeli civil rights movement, and is an award-winning screenwriter. Her new novel is The Liar.


On the morning of January 27th, 1945, the first Red Army soldier walked into Auschwitz death camp, and the 7,500 remaining prisoners knew they were finally free. More than 1.1 million people died in the camp, and those who survived are now facing a new struggle – the fight over remembrance. January 27th is not just the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, it is also the last major Holocaust anniversary where survivors may be alive to tell their stories.

When the last survivor will leave this world, there will be no more people able to say, “I’ve been there.” No more testimonies. Of course, one can always open a history book, but most people are likely to rely on cinematic representations made by Hollywood. Without living memories, pop culture will inevitably become the main source of knowledge for many of us. That’s not entirely bad – pop culture can actually be a powerful way of remembrance. Holocaust films make sure that the memories will stay even after all witnesses are gone. Spielberg’s “Schindler List” for instance, is still screened in many schools across the world, as a way to introduce the new generation to the horrors of the past. How can you grasp a number like 1.5 million kids murdered in the Holocaust? You can’t. Hollywood takes this number and turns it into one, memorable image – the girl in the red dress, for instance. Many authors and filmmakers dealing with the subject feel it’s their moral mission to make sure that the survivors’ stories are heard, and that the crimes will never be forgotten.

But at the same time, pop culture representations of the Holocaust can easily create a biased version of history. Counting on Hollywood to keep history alive is a bit naïve. Currently on screens is JoJo Rabbit, where a German boy eventually saves a Jewish girl, with the silent help of a Nazi officer. The Boy in the Stripped Pajama also presented us with a German boy who tries to help his Jewish friend. Every Man Dies Alone became an international bestseller, depicting the German resistance during the war. If you’re a teenager living on a diet of pop culture, it seems more Germans opposed the war than actually took part in it. Of course, a single film is just a stone in the mosaic of collective memory. One stone is not enough to affect the color, meaning or quality of the whole. But when more and more stones are added into the mosaic, it eventually changes.

Read entire article at Time

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