In our latest guest blog for Holocaust Memorial Day 2017, Regional Ambassador Liberty O'Hagan reflects on the importance of memory in the light of her participation in the Trust's Ambassador Study Visit to Yad Vashem in Israel in 2016.
I never fully appreciated how disinterested people can be with issues of recognition, tolerance or acceptance until I returned home from our 10-day Ambassadorial Study Visit to Israel last summer.
Like many Regional Ambassadors, I came back to the UK with a greater commitment to value memory in a society that offers incredibly insubstantial news coverage of many of the global events we see today. Too often, once the hype around an event has passed, interest moves on. Sadly, this can also include the Holocaust. This is frustrating to those of us who had the opportunity to visit Israel, where we having experienced an intense schedule of lectures and seminars learning about a process that intentionally aimed to destroy 5,000 Jewish communities.
At Yad Vashem, we had the privilege of listening to Noa Mkayton, Deputy Director of the European Department in the International School for Holocaust Studies: Noa taught us about a Jewish museum which the Nazis had intended to be built in Prague. This museum had no intention of representing Jewish history from the objective standpoint of the historian or from a Jewish perspective; it was intended to be a piece of Nazi propaganda. Fortunately, this museum never materialised, but many of the materials which were collected for it have survived as evidence for the history of Jewish life in Prague and of the reality of the Holocaust. It is to our great benefit we have archives that represent the Holocaust from the voices of such victims who recorded what they could hear, see or feel.
This sense of memory also ran parallel to one defining moment that really impacted on me during my study visit to Yad Vashem. It was in the Children’s Memorial that I felt frustration that I could not fully understand the experiences of these children, that what I could hear was an interpretation. As you enter the pitch-black memorial, the maze that follows includes multiple reflected images of lit candles, whilst a voice reads out the names, locations and ages of 1.5 million children who died during the Holocaust. The repetition of such statistics is difficult to ignore, and it encouraged me to return back to the memorial again.
It took me a long time to realise that, even though I had returned, no matter how many times I could listen to this recording, I would not know the extent of the suffering these children endured. Neither could I learn every name, or know every location. I was confronted by a bottomless pit of identity, searching for a narrative that is so incomplete.
There is no doubt that remembrance is a struggle. It is difficult to hold people’s interest in a narrative that cannot be adapted to a short, rationalised news headline or a 140-character tweet of the type that we have become accustomed to.
Nevertheless, I challenge myself and hopefully the reader to recognise that when life goes on, in spite of the attempt to destroy identities, and when statistics fail to humanise, repetition can be one important answer.