Essay about the holocaust museum

Abstract The Holocaust was a human event, perpetrated for human reasons which can be historically explained. Issue Section:. You do not currently have access to this article. Download all figures. Sign in. You could not be signed in. Sign In Forgot password? Don't have an account? Sign in via your Institution Sign in.

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View Metrics. Email alerts New issue alert. We ended up choosing Berlin because it was close enough to both of our families, affordable and more mysterious and interesting. As soon as we dropped our belongings two overly stuffed suitcases and a couple of laptops in the Airbnb apartment, we headed out to explore the neighborhood. Everything seemed so new, yet so very familiar; a mixture of German, Middle Eastern and cosmopolitan vibes.

In the past two years, at least five Syrian restaurants have opened on this street. Mussa—whom I interviewed for an article in —opened the Umkalthum pastry shop on 50 Sonnenallee, which goes by the same name as the pastry shop his family previously owned in Beirut. The Umkalthum storefront features tall pyramids made up of hundreds of baklavas, and inside Mussa offers several kinds of Cremeschnitte, a German cake filled with vanilla pudding.

About thirty meters down the street from Umkalthum, on Sonnenallee 54, is my favorite eatery in town: a popular Palestinian-Lebanese restaurant called Azzam, where one can get a juicy, warm Musabbaha, with pita bread, olives and pickles on the side, for three and a half euros. I love eating at Azzam because of the inexpensive, tasty food but also because I enjoy being in an environment where Arab families are eating, talking and laughing.

Back in Israel, I never hung out in Arab communities, I knew nearly nothing about Arab culture and had fewer Arab acquaintances than fingers; when I thought of Arabs, it was almost always in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In Azzam, as I slowly wipe my plate clean and observe the people around me, I see Arab people having regular lives, enjoying a meal with their friends or loved ones. The dehumanization of Arabs that was socialized into me in Israel has disintegrated since I started spending time in Azzam and Sonnenallee. I visited Sonnenallee a lot in my first two years as a Berliner because we found an apartment half a mile away.

For my Facebook cover photo, I chose a photograph showing the tall cement Berlin Wall filled with graffiti and behind it on the East Side a watchtower and our building. When I first discovered this photo online, I went outside to the exact location it was shot, and stared at the spectacle. The peacefulness of that scene was inspiring.

It was a much-needed reminder that humans have the ability to turn bloody conflict zones into peaceful residential areas. Some segments of the Berlin Wall were purposely kept to remind locals and visitors of the time when the city was divided and its residents were physically and socially disconnected. Only one lonely watchtower in the adjacent park has been preserved.

Getting a bicycle was an essential stepping-stone in my Berlinization process. In the warm months, we put our bicycles on the train going to the outskirts of the city, to take rides in the forests and dips in the lakes.

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Step by step, I was becoming a Berliner, and loving it. I started working as a freelance journalist, writing articles in English for American and international media. The focus of my journalism since I arrived in Berlin has been on migration and minorities—topics that are relevant to my present, past and future.

US Holocaust Museum opens new research centre

Reporting on these issues felt personal to me, and it was also very relevant because the number of asylum seekers arriving in Germany dramatically increased in and editors in news organizations I worked with desired articles on refugees. On reporting assignments to refugee reception centers I saw family members who had been disconnected in Syria reunite in Germany, and kids who grew up in war zones playing around in a safe space. Throughout Germany, I have met dozens of people who fled countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq because they encountered a situation that is similar to the reality my grandmother Alice faced in Berlin of the s.


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  • Talking with these people—some of whom lost their parents just like both my Berlin grandparents did—was another way for me to learn about the experiences of my family during and after the Holocaust. While I came to Berlin under very different circumstances, I have often identified with refugees I met because we do have a shared experience: we were both trying to learn German and find our place within a foreign society. I have managed to learn some conversational German, but most of the social interactions I have even today as I start my fifth year in Berlin are in English.

    Staging a Critical Encounter. My colleague Cayo Gamber and I both teach a freshman writing seminar that asks students to engage with the memory of the Holocaust.

    I am interested in the distancing effects of the museum-as-framework, and I want students to interpret the Holocaust museum as a text—to attend to the ways in which American cultural politics shape this text. We share the hope, I believe, that the difficulties of writing the Holocaust can bring students to a higher stage in their intellectual development. Holocaust memorials, even the work of commemoration itself, may have the unintended effect of reducing people to tragic symbols. My colleague wants students to get beyond the staggering numbers of the dead, to try to know the victims as individuals.

    By researching primary documents like photographs, students learn the skills of archival research, but more importantly, they may be able to restore a sense of individuality to the figure in the photographs—to rediscover a name and a history for a person who, in many cases, has been deprived of a grave or a family to remember him or her.

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    Through the attempt to restore individual identities to victims, students learn the process of research in a way that is deeply motivated. Influenced by writers like Philip Lopate, Peter Novick, and Lawrence Langer, and also by my own observations about how the collective memory of the Holocaust is deployed, I have come to emphasize the uses of the Holocaust in American culture.

    This critical approach brings students closer to understanding, from the inside, how scholars in cultural studies do their work: reading cultural artifacts for ideological subtexts, trying to understand the uses of cultural memory. In some ways, this is a more difficult approach because it pushes against the reverent attitude towards the event that most students bring with them. This might strike some as odd.

    Are you not closer to your own dead than to those others? In encouraging resistance to the Holocaust, Novick works to counteract the effects of identity politics, which impelled this rightward turn. Things have perhaps changed since Novick was writing in the late s; some Israeli leaders have become more willing to compromise. However, the Israeli people remain divided, with many still adopting this inflexible posture, and as a result, the region remains blocked in its efforts to achieve peace.

    Even when the rhetoric about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not intransigent, it can be self-righteous and sentimental. Novick and Langer would both be deeply troubled by this passage. Langer would cringe at this litany of positive sentiments and the notion that truth, resilience, and even triumph could emerge from the memory of the Holocaust.

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    The Holocaust

    For Langer, this rhetoric is a grotesque distortion of the truth of the event. Watching these recorded testimonies, he came to an awareness of the disjunction between the experiences of survivors and the redemptive narratives imposed upon Holocaust stories. While representations often depict survivors as heroic and resilient, the victims who tell their stories on video, on the contrary, suffer with permanently damaged selves—still riven by choices made under impossible circumstances. Exemplarists, on the other hand, approach the Holocaust with the intention of finding support for a pre-conceived moral: as evidence of a universal human experience of suffering, as proof of human resilience, or as a reason for working towards world peace.

    Even though Langer critiques such distortions of the Holocaust, he also sees the impossibility of finding language to represent the reality accurately. So we can hardly ask first-year composition students to invent such a language. To help beginning writers make meaningful claims about the Holocaust, we must stage the process for them as an encounter with texts, rather than as an attempt to face the vast and incomprehensible historical event.

    I argue for staging the process in part to make the daunting task of writing the Holocaust more manageable; to envision a space for performance in which the student stands alone with only a few texts, rather than a space crowded with historical evidence. They take a long-term view the entire college experience when they say that learning happens in stages, but this is a helpful principle even when designing the work of a single semester—often, we can give students stepping-stones to help them across the next writing challenge. That is what I hope my staging process does.

    Visual Essay: Holocaust Memorials and Monuments | Facing History and Ourselves

    Beginning to look at the museum as a text, to regard artifacts and museums as available for interpretation, is another kind of paradigm shift. We linger in this crucial stage as I try to help students formulate focused questions that will invite analysis. Like Novick, Bartov is alert to the ways that Holocaust commemoration can minimize contemporary social problems or divert attention from them; through demonizing the Nazis, we can feel morally secure and free of anxiety about our own system, however inequitable. Does its existence or material within the exhibit convey an underlying political message?

    Should it be about the politics? According to Bartov, all important cultural institutions are about the politics. If so, why? If not, then what is the duty or responsibility of a cultural institution in terms of the past, present, and future? Once students have extracted a set of questions based on their lens texts, they are ready to visit the museum with these questions in hand, looking for evidence to help them build an argument in response.

    If the process goes well, students will move beyond merely confirming or refuting the lens text with material from the museum.