Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Memory of the Holocaust

MY has left this comment to an earlier post:

Another case of over-reaching?
I am deeply attached to the idea of naming those who were murdered, because the nazis wanted to rob them of everything including their death. Yet making a living child "adopt" a murdered child creates deeply conflicted reactions in me.
I am quite ill-at-ease with the idea of "entrusting" a murdered child's life and name to a living 10-year-old in order to help children "understand" the extermination of European Jews by the Nazis (haShoah).
This "identification" process seems dangerous for children this age. Currently the Shoah is part of the history syllabus "to be broached through a few concrete examples" and The Memorial produced a remarkable website for children that age, entitled 'Sarah's attic'. Have the previous policies been examined and found wanting? Did the CRIF ask for this measure? Are there foundations or precedents for this kind of process?
Isn't it another of President Sarkozy's "speak first/think later" ideas?

The proposal of the president's to which MY refers is discussed here. In essence, he wants every fourth-grader in France to be assigned the name of a victim of the Holocaust. The child will then become the "guardian" of that person's memory.

This device to facilitate "identification" with the past is similar to that used in the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., where visitors are issued "identity cards" bearing the image and biography of a victim. I have seen young children accept this identification readily, so I wonder if the burden is really as potentially "traumatizing" as some critics claim. Nevertheless, like MY, I am wary of the proposal, as I am wary of all approaches to history that encourage suspension of the critical faculties and identification with victims. As with the reading of the Guy Môquet letter, the device might nevertheless be useful if incorporated into a well-designed syllabus by sensitive teachers. That said, I still wonder, as does MY, whether Sarkozy has really thought through the complexities. To single out one group of victims rather than others will of course be controversial, but this is a type of controversy that Sarkozy seems to court rather than avoid. This is unwise and probably a disservice to the Jewish community that he clearly hopes will be pleased with his proposal. Some French Jews may be pleased, but others certainly will not.

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