As we all know, the process of remembering implies the emergence, the existence and the working of memory. Therefore, in order to be sure that the Holocaust is remembered, one must make sure that there is a memory of the Holocaust. But what is memory? Scientifically speaking, memory is defined as “the process of recording, retaining and retrieving information”2 and is considered as one of the basic guarantees of our own existence, an element of paramount importance for individual identity, survival and adaptation to the surrounding realities. Thus, for each and every individual memory equals survival and self- preservation! Keeping the proportions, we may consider that the process goes the same for each community: memory matters, playing a crucial role in the identity building process for that community, in the way that community relates to other groups and, nevertheless, in the way that community blueprints its future.
When referring to communities, we usually speak about the so called “collective memory”, a long debated concept by historians and sociologists alike. One of the most convincing definitions and explanations of this concept belongs to the French sociologist Maurice Halbwachs, who defined it as “an elaborate network of social mores, values and ideals that marks out the dimensions of our imagination according to the attitudes of the social group to which we relate”3. Thus, individual memory is influenced, shaped, even reconstructed by the group (community) in which that person lives. Using the force and legitimacy of tradition reinforced by each and every commemoration, the community imposes over its constituent members a certain, specific representation of the past.
In this situation, the process of remembering, the existence of a memory regarding a past
event, be it the Holocaust or the Nazi dictatorship, becomes a much more sensitive yet intricate problem as it implies not only individual choices and decisions to assume and deal with a certain past, but also the decision of an entire community (in the case of the Holocaust of several states), common people and political elites alike. Furthermore, memory of the past becomes both a privilege and a responsibility of the ruling elites and decision makers, as they are the ones deciding what is to be officially commemorated, and thus established as being part of collective memory, what should be remembered and what should become part of the identity formation process of that specific community.
Considering all these, before approaching the actual issue of the memory of the Holocaust, several conclusions can be drawn regarding the process of remembering and the concept of memory.
First of all, remembering a certain past event, experience or phenomenon, implies the idea of the emergence and persistence of a “memory of it”. Considered as one of the essential elements for both individual and group survival, memory designates both a process of individual recollection of the past and a set of values, norms and ideals belonging to an entire group, according to which individual memories are to be reconstructed and shaped.
Secondly, taking into account the afore mentioned understanding of the “memory” concept, the following aspect comes as a logical conclusion: the issue of remembering the Holocaust and perpetuating a memory of it must be discussed upon by considering memory as a product of the community’ evolution, maturity and availability to assume a certain past.
Last but not least, when referring to memory and its significance for a certain group, one must understand that memory becomes a matter of power4 as well, because it represents a tool used by top level leaders in order to shape individual existences and by this to gain individual allegiances. Bluntly speaking, leaders use collective memory as a political leverage so as to dominate and rule a community. And from this perspective, the question of speaking and assuming the Holocaust can be interpreted as being an issue extensively decided at top political levels.
All these elements must be kept in mind when referring to the Holocaust because only in this way one can have a clear and deep understanding of the real stake of admitting, assuming, remembering and commemorating the Holocaust!