History and Memory of the Holocaust since 1945
On Holocaust Memorial Day 2023, join Daniel Kowalsky, Lecturer in European Studies at Queen’s University Belfast. The starting point for his talk is the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau by the Soviet Red Army on 27 January 1945.
In the eight decades that followed, the world struggled to document and represent an event that would soon be understood as a rupture with civilisation – a ghastly horror whose cruelty and scale were hitherto unimaginable. Even choosing a name for this crime proved problematic: Primo Levi observed that thousands of new words would need to be invented to describe what he had experienced as a prisoner at Auschwitz.
A collective dilemma over-representation was one problem: could the extermination of the Jews faithfully and respectfully be put on the page, on the stage, on the screen or in a song? Disbelief and denial were another; until the 1970s, few survivors came forward to tell their stories, for an audience had yet to materialise.
But the floodgates suddenly opened: memorials were created at sites of massacres, Holocaust research centres were funded and staffed, new museums welcomed the public, a cinematic genre was born, a new academic field of study flourished, and eyewitnesses became central figures in Holocaust pedagogy around the world.
This talk will conclude by considering how post-9/11 memory wars and resurgent antisemitism have nonetheless failed to undo the remarkable collective progress made over the last half-century in understanding the Holocaust.