Monday, April 23, 2012

Yom HaShoah.

The poster seen above was produced for this year's observance of Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom HaShoah, which happened last Thursday. I discovered this image via Deacon Stephen Hayes' blog Khanya, which ultimately led me to another page where the poster's creator, artist Dorielle Rimmer Halperin, explains what this image is meant to convey:
"My design shows that the shadow of the family lying on the road is the shadow of the family who perished and will always be there with the survivors. But this is also the shadow of their new family of survivors, which is there to remember, to preserve them and their heroism," she said.

"We are often ‘asked’ to remember the Holocaust through famous photographs, movies and the ‘usual’ characters. I tried to remove the memory from what we are so accustomed to seeing, removing a little of the ‘national’ collective memory and making it more personal by showing how it comes into the homes of every one of us and casts a shadow over our daily lives."
What strikes me about this image is the way that it reminds us, in a simple but powerful way, that Holocaust survivors are an aging group; indeed, the youngest people who lived through the Shoah are now in their seventies and eighties. I'm very interested in how the death of the last living witnesses of an event changes our perception of that event, and I've occasionally written about that phenomenon on this blog, particularly in the context of the disappearance over the past few years of the last remaining veterans of the First World War. Will the words 'never again' sound different when none are left who can speak about their own experiences during the Holocaust? I suppose that we will find out in the coming years.

A couple of weeks ago, for reasons unrelated to the coming of Yom HaShoah, I asked the students in my freshman course how many of them had either personally met a survivor of the Holocaust or heard one speak at a public event. Five out of twenty-one students in the class raised their hands, which was more than I had expected. My own encounters with Europeans who lived through that period have been fortunately varied: hearing from survivors of the concentration camps has been valuable, but so has speaking with a German Jesuit who served in the Wehrmacht and with an Austrian woman who huddled in a bomb shelter as American bombs fell on her home city. I fear that future generations will be poorer for lacking the opportunity for such encounters, and I hope that those of us who find ourselves in between can pass on something of value to those who come after us. AMDG.


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