Nazi Germany
The Problem of Memorials and Museums

Assignment:  Excerpts from James E. Young, The Texture of Memory: Holocaust  Memorials and Meaning (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993): 60-72; 126-144; and 335-347.  These selections deal with the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. and memorials at the Concentration Camps of Dachau and Auschwitz and  These are examples of the type of questions your museum essay should address.  We will discuss them during the last four classes (Tuesday, April 18th and Thursday, April 20th will be on the Holocaust Museum; Tuesday (April 25th) will deal with Dachau; and Thursday (April 27th) will deal with Auschwitz.)

Questions for the reading and the film on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

1. Michael Berenbaum, the Director of the National Holocaust Museum, asserts the museum will bring about the “Americanization of the Holocaust.”  Analyze what this phrase means with regard to the museum’s founding legislation, its site, and its link to the American past and fundamental American traditions.

2. How did James Iago Freed, the architect who designed the National Holocaust Museum, use architecture to symbolize the Holocaust?  What does he mean when he asserted:  “We wanted an evocation of the incomplete.  Irresolution, imbalances are built in. . . .  [The objective was to] make it [the building] cohere without being explicit, without being one thing.”

3. How are the museum’s exhibits arranged so as to convey the history and the experience of the Holocaust?  What is the purpose of the artifacts exhibited in the museum?  How do artifacts convey meaning?  What is the visitor expected to take away from a visit to the National Holocaust Museum?

4. How and why does the film begin with the image of the railway car?

5. One problem facing the organizers of the museum was to tell the story of the Holocaust and make it believable.  How did they seek to address this problem and how did their conception of the museum change over time?

6. Describe the symbolism and meaning of the museum’s architecture?  Does the architecture convey the desired message?

7. What are artifacts?  How are they preserved and conserved?  How are they arranged at the Holocaust Museum?  Why are these artifacts and their arrangement important?  How does the personal involvement of the curators of the museum influence the story told?

8. How are photographs (specifically those of people) and oral histories used in the museum?  How does the museum seek to preserve the “spiritual life” of pre-World War II Jewish culture in Eastern Europe?  Why is this undertaking important?

Dachau (near Munich, Germany).

1. Why is Dachau an appropriate site for a memorial to those who suffered and died in Nazi Concentration Camps?  What happened at Dachau in the twenty years when it evolved from camp to memorial?  How did these events shape Dachau as a memorial?

2. What sort of memorials were set up at Dachau?  How did they change over time?  What does James Young mean when he writes:  “Dachau exemplifies how memorials can supplant the events they commemorate, even as they embody the gulf of time between past and present”?

3. How might a visit to Dachau be an ambiguous experience for a modern student who wants to learn about Concentration Camps during the Third Reich?

Auschwitz (Poland)

1. Read and analyze (in the section dealing with Auschwitz) the introductory section called “The Veneration of Ruins” (pp. 126-127).  What does it tell us about how we remember the past?  What is the relationship between ruins and historical memory?

2. Describe the process of transforming Auschwitz from a Concentration Camp into a memorial?  What is preserved and how?

3. What do visitors to Auschwitz remember?  Why?  What does this tell us about how we recall the past?

4. What sort of memorials have been proposed and built at Auschwitz?  Why has the process of constructing memorials become so controversial?

5. What does Young mean when he writes:  “For most of those removed from the site, Auschwitz has come to exist primarily as symbol, its physical topography supplanted by historical significance.  Little by little, time and memory have turned the ground into sacred space, seemingly inviolable.  It has become a place of the mind, an abstraction, a haunted idea”?  Do you agree or disagree?  Why?

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