II. A brief insight into the Europeans’ “remembering process” of the Holocaust.
Once established what remembering means and how the memory of a certain past comes into being, before asserting the reasons in favor of the existence and persistence of a memory of the Holocaust, a short look must be taken over the evolution of this event within European, American or Israeli consciousness in the last 60 years. Therefore, the paper will briefly point out some of the essential moments in the remembering and coming to terms with the past process in countries like Germany, France, USA or Israel.
Thus, generally speaking in the immediate aftermath of the World War II, trauma, fear of responsibility and guilt silenced both Europe and America as far as the experience of the Holocaust was concerned. The Americans were animating by the “Let’s go on with the things”5 credo, being more interested in reconstructing Europe and fighting the Communism than dealing with the Nazi past of a country that was becoming more and more important in the newly emerged circumstances of the Cold War. On the other hand, the Europeans were trying to move on as well, showing little or no interest at all in discussing a subject that could have shed the light on sensitive questions like “Who were the perpetrators?”, “Who were the bystanders?”, “Why there were bystanders?”, “Whose to be blame, along with the Nazi dictatorship, for the atrocities taking place all over Germany and Poland in the well known concentration and extermination camps?”, “Who collaborated with the Nazis?”. Meanwhile, the Israeli were facing important identity forming experiences as the state of Israel was created in 1948, while their priorities were to fight the Palestinians and not to deal with a trauma that couldn’t be used as a positive experience.
The wounds were too deep, the trauma was too recent, both individual and collective consciousness were too difficult to face, the political stakes were too high, the public openness to deal with tragedies was to little during this period so that there was a general state of oblivion regarding the Holocaust!
Another decade had to pass, new generations (not part of the World War II experience) had to come into both public offices, politics and academia so that the Holocaust and the Nazi past could be brought to the foreground and debated upon. Only in the 1960s Europeans started to have the courage to come to terms with the past, to discuss it and, eventually, to assume it. In West Germany for example, a new critical perspective over the past emerged while new trials took place (Frankfurt, Auschwitz)6 but the Holocaust as such was approached only beginning with the 1970s. Approximately in the same period the Holocaust became a core issue for Israeli as well, once the 1967 Eichmann trial was over and the 1973 war ceased. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, the Americans started to ask questions as well, this time about the Allies’ attitudes in the controversial issue of bombing the concentration camps. As a result, in 1978 the American President Jimmy Carter decided to found the President’s Commission on the Holocaust, having as main goal to inform and educate people about this tragic phenomenon7.
Little by little, Europeans, Americans and Israelis understood that “a nations’ identity is the totality of its past, the bad as well as the good”8, so that the Holocaust, its significance for Europe and its very nature (that of a genocide) became an important issue. Meanwhile, East Europe had to wait for the fall of the Communist regimes and the emergence of democratic and pluralist societies until the moment it could question its history. Despite expectations, East Europeans proved too immature to deal with their pre- Communist past being too absorbed with the process of forgetting their Communist one.
Still, what matters the most is that, in spite of the initial reluctance and fear to deal with issues such as the Holocaust or the Nazi dictatorship, Europeans, Americans and Israelis alike eventually ended up into transforming the former into “an absolute moral reference”9 and a unique cultural phenomenon as well.
Moreover, they finally decide to remember the Holocaust, to assume it: to commemorate it and mourn its victims, to stigmatize perpetrators, to speak publicly about “collective responsibility”10 for it and, nevertheless, to have a memory of it.