Reprinted with permission from Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought.
Some people want to forget where they’ve been; other people want to remember where they’ve never been.
–Eli Cohen and Gila Almagor, from their film, Under the Domin Tree
How is a post-Holocaust generation of artists supposed to “remember” events they never experienced directly? Born after Holocaust history into the time of its memory only, a new, media‑savvy generation of artists rarely presumes to represent these events outside the ways they have vicariously known and experienced them.
This post‑war generation, after all, cannot remember the Holocaust as it actually occurred. All they remember, all they know of the Holocaust, is what the victims have passed on to them in their diaries, what the survivors have remembered to them in their memoirs. They remember not actual events, but the countless histories, novels, and poems of the Holocaust they have read, the photographs, movies, and video testimonies they have seen over the years. They remember long days and nights in the company of survivors, listening to their harrowing tales, until their lives, loves, and losses seem grafted onto their own life stories.
Coming of age after–but indelibly shaped by–the Holocaust, this generation of artists, writers, architects, and even composers does not attempt to represent events they never knew immediately but instead portray their own, necessarily hyper‑mediated experiences of memory. It is a generation no 1onger willing, or able, to recall the Holocaust separately from the ways it has been passed down to them.
By portraying the Holocaust as a “vicarious past,” these artists insist on maintaining a distinct boundary between their work and the testimony of their parents’ generation. Such work recognizes their parents’ need to testify to their experiences on the one hand, even to put the Holocaust “behind them.” But by calling attention to their vicarious relationship to events, the next generation ensures that their “post‑memory” of events remains an unfinished, ephemeral process, not a means toward definitive answers to impossible questions.