Israeli Holocaust Memorial Strategies at Yad Vashem: From Silence to Recognition – Natasha Goldman

pg 103 – The memorials installed from 1953 until the late 1970S are either figural or minimalist in style and focus on the fighters, heroes, and martyrs of the Holocaust. Those installed since the 1980s,in contrast, tend to be conceptual or installationoriented, often employing visual strategies of absence and disorientation-what one may call postmodern approaches-and are dedicated to the victims and survivors of the Holocaust

105 – Yadvashem’s figural Wall ofRemembrance, a modified copy of Nathan Rapoport’s Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Monument (1948), epitomizes Zionist ideology: it embodies a heightened contrast between the passive old Jews and the fighting new Jews, thereby heroizing the resistance fighters. Until the 1990S, the relief of the fighters functioned as a sign for YadVashem as a whole (and was on the cover of the 1967YadVashem information pamphlet, reprinted until the 1980s). It is located on the square of the same name where Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day takes place, Signifying a work to be viewed by large groups of people. Groups or representatives of groups are expected to leave the memorial with a sense of pride in the ghetto fighters and a clear message of Israeli strength. An acknowledgement of the difficulties ofsurvivors or sympathy for victims is markedly absent

107-108- ‘ Only the fighters, Bar-On states, were lauded and made welcome: “In the political atmosphere of the War of Independence, there was a tendency to legitimise only those who fought in the ghetto uprisings or with the partisans.”The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising became a principal element in the developing myth of heroism in Israel’s 1948War of Independence-the order calling for national mobilization even cited the uprising as a heroic Jewish precedent.

pg111- Bernie Fink’s Memorial to the Jewish Soldiers and Partisans Who Fought against Nazi Germany (1985) is dedicated to the Jewish heroes of the Holocaust who fought against the Nazis as Allied soldiers, as partisans, in the resistance movements, and in the ghettos. Even during the changing atmosphere regarding opinions about the Holocaust in the mid- 1980s,YadVashem still filled its function as a memorial dedicated to “heroes and martyrs.” Six great, oblong, hexagonal granite blocks (representing the six million) rest in two stacks of three, forming an opening in the shape of a Jewish star.The monument stands in front of a tiered sunken plaza in the shape of the menorah, recalling ancient Jewish rebellion. Clearly symbolic elements heighten the connections to heroism, while the imposing sleek forms are linked, as is Schwartz’s memorial, to minimalism. Fink’s memorial was built just on the cusp of a historical moment when attitudes were beginning to change radically

pg 112- 115 .Upon entering the memorial, the visitor passes a large. mounted square of clear glass, inscribed to the memory of the children, and walks into a bunkerlike tunnel that leads to a hollowed-out underground cavern. On the right hangs a plaque of Uziel Spiegel, Abraham and Edita Spiegel’s son. Through a door and around the bend, the visitor is greeted by atonal music and a recorded recitation in English and Hebrew of children’s names, ages, and places of origin, coinciding with large-format photographic portraits of children. They appear to represent a range of nationalities and religious backgrounds. A small door allows people to enter Single file and leads to a darkened room. Reflected in mirrors, five memorial candles splinter into millions oflights. The Talmud states that souls of unburied dead never find rest in their endless wanderings about the universe, and the reflecting flames are for Safdie “the souls of the children.t'< A path leads visitors single-file through the space: As the room is disorienting and filled with both darkness and light, it might very well be the kind of visual code that Laub and Podell speak of when they write that art about trauma is marked by empty spaces, disorientation, and discomfort.e- The change in attitudes in Israel allowed viewers to accept the visual metaphors and aesthetic codes employed in the Children’s Memorial. Regardless of visitors’ reactions (some have called it “pure kitsch”), the memorial clearly does not depict Zionism in the guise of ghetto fighters. The move toward sympathizing with the-innocent victims who were not fighters coincided with an acceptance ofsurvivors and their stories that started in the early 196o~ with the Eichmann trial. These attitudes visually coalesced in Safdie’s memorial in 1987.’when trauma had become an accepted medical condition for which the survivors and their families were treated. The psychotherapist Dina Wardi describes the role children play in family memory and inherited trauma. The sign of the candle, for instance, takes on heightened significance when viewed in terms of Israeli psychotherapeutic practice that addresses trauma. While ‘candles in the Children’s Memorial signify deceased children, the metaphor of the candle more broadly signifies the memory of deceased family members in survivors’ families. About the work Safdie said: “The more I entered the material, the more I became convinced that what was needed was a ner neshama, a memotial candle, multiplied to infinity through its mirror imag’e.”45 A ner neshema, in the Jewish tradition, is a sign for the dead. Wardi describes the role of children of Holocaust survivors who are singled out to represent those who died in the Holocaust. Following ancient Jewish tradition, children often bear the names of dead relatives.When named after relatives who died in the Holocaust, she explains, these children, whom she calls “memorial candles,” often bear the burden of Holocaust mourning for the entire family. Wardi observes that survivors often Single out one child to bear the burden of memory and death. That child often functions as a metaphor on whom parents unload their needs and conflicts.s” Survivors considered the establishment of new families a response to the central element in the Nazi plan: to exterminate all Jews of Europe, and very important, mothers and children. “I was born in 1946, “relates one survivor, “I have three given names: Arye, Zvi, Moshe, and three family names. I am actually carrying the whole family around-on my shoulders.”47The other children in the family, at least consciously freed of these burdens, grow up to have semi-normal lives, while the memorial-candle child often has trouble with relationships, careers, and family.The memorial candle is the emotional healer, while the Siblings are the physical healers, establishing their own families and thus “rebuilding” entire families.t” Bar-On contributes to this research by demonstrating that not only the memorial-candle children, but also their Siblings bear the burden of memory and trauma.t? Classical memory theory orders images in empty spaces (such as empty buildings) , so as to ensure better memory. In the case of the memorial candle, the memory of a dead relative is “shelved,” so to say, on the body of a living child, and memory spaces become a kind of memory body, for which there seems to be no precedent.P It might be safe to say, followingWardi, that the memorialcandle child functions for the parents as a continual, if rarely expressed, shock of past trauma. A memorial for victims who are children is easier to make than a memorial for victims who are adults-and it is here that this memorial comes close to fulfilling what Bennett calls the “moralizing” function of works of art that clearly spell out “good” victims versus “evil” perpetrators, thereby leaving the position of the viewer allied with the victim and never contemplating his or her potentiality for sadistic behavior.” In this instance, children obviously are not able to lead a resistance fight; their passivity is accepted as morally right and just. One could argue that the memorial embodies Zionist ideology that heroizes the fighter and blames the victim-the only reason these victims are not blamed is because they are children.P If the tradition of private mourning existed in the naming process described above, a more public shift in attitudes slowly developed. Bar-On’s study of Israeli families coincided with a noticeable change in Israeli society in the ‘970S and ‘980s, marked by a less judgmental attitude toward Holocaust survivors and a need to speak: “Acknowledgment of complex emotional processes, of the need for self-actualization, and of differences between individuals and generations came about only in the seventies and eighties. A more mature society emerged, which learned to acknowledge the high cost of previous patterns.l’P


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