The paths that memories make

Some memories can be too painful to deal with and people will choose to bury them in the back of their mind, letting it collect dust then face up to it head-on and deal with lasting consequences. They can either leave scars that retain bitter reminders of a dark time but they can also serve as a way to redemption and reconciliation but only if the memory is brought out from the darkness and brought to light. Like Hugo Spiegel who returned to his hometown to rebuild his life after the war, he also sought to rebuild and remind those of the tragedy that not only he endured but Jews everywhere. People did not want to be reminded, or think about that dark time but just because something is hard to deal with doesn’t mean you can push it down and block it out. Remembrance is an essential part of the healing process, confronting what happened in all forms from Spiegel’s attempt at erecting a simple memorial plaque is a very simple reminder of the essence of Holocaust remembrance. It is what gave us culturally significant moments such as “Schindler’s List; the Stockholm Declaration of 2000 making commemoration of the Nazi genocide central to European identity; and the 2005 dedication, after years of debate and controversy, of the vast Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in the center of Berlin.” (Walser Smith, 2021)

While rekindling a memory can help heal, it can also cause blowback. The holocaust was a tragedy of epic proportions but the changed meaning of Holocaust memory has become distorted as we get further and further away from the end of WWII. Comparisons have been utilized by conservative thinkers that have used the juxtaposition of Nazism with Stalinism and liberal thinkers who focus more on colonial violence, slavery, and, more broadly, coming to terms with anti-Black racism. Was the gulag system similar to concentration camps? Was the forced migration of Africans comparable to the forced deportation of Jews? It doesn’t matter if one group suffered more than the other as it dilutes and lessens the necessity for responsibility. More so, it is important that the relationship between the oppressed and the oppressor can come to terms with the past through mediums such as “community work, the necessity of reaching across divides, and the crucial role that local school teachers, archivists, retirees, hobby historians, and preservationists may well play in the great transformations of a nation’s memory.” (Walser Smith, 2021)


Michael Rothberg, “Comparing Comparison: From the “Historikerstreit to the Mbembe
Affair” Geschichte der Gegenwart September 23, 2020

Helmut Walser Smith, “It Takes a Village to Create a Nation’s Memory” Zocalo Public

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