Is there a European memory creating a sense of belonging and encouraging civic participation?
This is the prepared text of a contribution to a conference of the Europe for Citizens Forum in Brussels on January 28th, 2014.
The title of this discussion employs the metaphors that describe walking into the calamity of WWI, as framing both the ways Europeans remember the 20th century, and even more alarming, as reflecting a mode of uncritical observation which may lead to other calamities, wittingly or unwittingly, in the 21st.
Before we mark the “will to memory” by disasters past and present, informed by a version of a quote from Primo Levi, which one encounters upon entering the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin: “it happened, and therefore it can happen again. This is the core of what we have to say”; before this, I say, we ought to take a step back, to the division between remembrance as a form of thinking, and remembrance as warning (In German: gedenken, mahnen). …
This is a lightly abridged version of the keynote address to the conference of the Europe for Citizens Forum in Brussels on January 28th, 2014. Goldfarb was asked to address the question of the title. Siobhan Kattago, Irit Dekel, and Anna Lisa Tota also contributed to the Forum. The latter two are forthcoming.
Open up the newspaper, even in the U.S., and almost every day there is evidence that many Europeans have not learned from the horrors of the 20th century. Although there are powerful forces working against this, the politics of racial and religious hatred is still very much with Europe.
There are alarming manifestations of both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia on a regular basis in Europe, east and west, north and south. The latest include the antics of the anti-Semitic “humor” of Dieudonne M’bala M’bala and his popularization of the “quenelle,” and the attempts of the French authorities to control this latest fad. Thus, as I composed this lecture, I read in my morning New York Times that a French appeals court ruled to uphold bans on Dieudonne’s performances. …
Diversity, tension, relief, and the Stolpersteine
“…and this woman in the chic coat: is she going to clean also?”
Responding to advertisements calling for people to “actively remember,” on November 9 and 10, 2013, in Berlin and other German cities, the commemorative Stolpersteine (or “the stumbling blocks”) were physically cleaned. The Stolpersteine are little brass plaques placed at the entrances of houses whose inhabitants, most often Jews, were deported and murdered in the Nazi period. This form of commemoration was initiated in 1993.
The cleaning of the plaques was itself commemorative, marking the events of the once-named “Reichskristallnacht” of 1938. Though taking place on November 10 and 11, and often in broad daylight, the infamous attacks on Jews in Germany and Austria are officially remembered in Germany on November 9 and commonly thought to have been only nocturnal. The attacks have since been renamed, in both state and popular language, as the “Reichspogromnacht,” or the November Pogrom, foregrounding the anti-Semitism at their core…