Lost Memories, Found Lives
With the recent advent of “reality” shows on television that explore the dysfunctional “real” relationships of people, and the premises of movies such as The Truman Show and EdTV, the notion of reality has become subject to relativism, often indistinguishable from fiction and trivia. The poverty, racism, and oppression that exists in our lives are now less important than our daily conversations about whether Gerry on Survivor will be kicked off or not.
It is not surprising then that, in our current hyperreal era, historical periods such as the Holocaust are not even considered “real” anymore by many, but literally “hyperfictive.” After many generations of being inculcated with “real” television and movie reels, we have found the Holocaust equivalent to less than fiction - a reified historical memory that frequently appears in our lives through various media outlets and forms, but little more. While fiction in our lives is known to be imaginative representations of understandable human contexts, the hyperfictive are imaginative representations of unbelievable and uncomprehensible human contexts; thus the hyperfictive is that which is not possible and not real.
Fortunately, The Holocaust’s Ghost: Writings on Art, Politics, Law and Education, edited by F.C. DeCoste and Bernard Schwarz, tries to bring the Holocaust from the hyperfictive back to the real. It is a collection of papers about the Holocaust, presented at a conference held at the University of Alberta in October 1997. The 35 essays contain a melange of well-written, unpedantic, potent, and sobering topics ranging from the role of the Holocaust in history to the exploration of the Nazi legalization of its “race laws.”
Memories of the Holocaust and its inducements are among the central themes in this collection. One of the many remarkable pieces is James E. Young’s “Memory and Counter-Memory: Toward a Social Aesthetics of Holocaust Memorials,” in which Young examines the differences between art and public monuments and their distinct roles. For Young, art is a self-reflexive medium while public monuments such as the Holocaust Museum are historically referential, evoking a collective public memory. Tragically, as Karen R. Mock rightfully asserts in her essay “Holocaust and Hope: Holocaust Education in the Context of Anti-Racist Education in Canada,” Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism is on the rise. According to her, and Samuel Totten in his section “The Critical Need to Teach the Holocaust in a Historically Accurate and Pedagogically Sound Manner,” the rise of these problems can be at least partially ascribed to the lack of critical education and dissemination about the events that led to and caused the Holocaust.
The irony about this collection is that it focuses primarily on the Jewish Holocaust, with only slight mentions of the Roma Holocaust and the German mandate to destroy the handicapped, Slavs, and other non-Aryans. This is not surprising, however, considering how the term “Holocaust” only refers to the Jewish annihilation in the minds of many who have forgotten that a total of 11 million people were destroyed by the Germans and their immoral lunacy to rid itself of “impure” beings. In a sense, The Holocaust’s Ghost subverts its own call to reconfigure our memories because it subverts the memory of the remaining five million who perished in the Holocaust. This does not mean that the six million Jews who died should be minimized to a different degree of memory, but it does mean that the others should be promoted to the same memorial plane as that in which these authors seek to place victims of the Jewish Holocaust.
In our hyperreal age The Holocaust’s Ghost struggles to bring the Holocaust back into the realm of the real. Nevertheless, it will continue to linger between the hyperfictive and the real unless we also invoke the other lost memories of that tragedy. When those other lives are rediscovered as well, then perhaps the reality of the Holocaust will transcend the hyperreal and penetrate our collective mind.