Eyewitness: Holocaust Remembrance Day

January 26, 2001

Britain will mark its first Holocaust Memorial Day with a televised ceremony in central London tomorrow.

Leading political, religious and community figures are expected to attend the ceremony. The event is intended to set the tone for educational and community activities throughout the United Kingdom.

Brian Brivati, reader in history at Kingston University, said: "The Holocaust is central to the 20th century. One cannot understand the 20th century without addressing this and other genocides."

Last year, a public lecture series on the theme of evil focused specifically on the Holocaust. Dr Brivati said a discussion period after each lecture revealed "a gap in our human sciences programme".

Kingston is trying to develop modules in Holocaust studies and comparative genocide in the undergraduate history and social sciences programme.

Royal Holloway, University of London, introduced a third-year option in Holocaust history this year. Dan Stone, a lecturer in 20th-century history, had doubts: "I was worried that some students might be doing it for sensational reasons. But, when I marked their first set of essays, I saw that it was not so. They showed a serious concern with the material.

"I think that if concern over the Holocaust is going to be counter-productive, that is more likely to happen at the popular level."

Remembrance turning into a refusal to forgive might be seen in the continuing ban on Richard Wagner's music in Israel and on the teaching of his work at some Jewish universities.

Paul Lawrence Rose, professor of European history and Jewish studies at Pennsylvania State University, believes that the ban is an essential part of the memorial process.

"I think the whole concept of forgiving in this context is arrogant and absurd. It is impossible to say we should both remember and forgive. The problem is that the more one tries to fix up the memory of the Holocaust, the more one picks at the scab, expecting it to heal, the worse it gets. The problem with Wagner is not just a few anti-Semitic essays, but rather lies embedded in the music itself as well as in the Bayreuth tradition. My view is that Wagner should continue to be banned in Israel not only because the music distresses survivors but also because Wagner is the man who created the whole discourse of modern German anti-Semitism."

Alexander Knapp, lecturer in Jewish music at the School of Oriental and African Studies, has wrestled with this complex conundrum for many years:

"As the son of refugees who fled Vienna in 1939, I cannot condone how Wagner expressed himself nor how his views were used to reinforce the terrors and crimes of the Third Reich.

"However, I do not believe that Holocaust Memorial Day should be used as an opportunity for perpetrating hatred and inducing guilt in generations of Germans and Austrians who had no part in genocide and who feel revolted by it. Nor do I believe that (Wagner's) music should be judged according to his personal views. To me, the value of Holocaust Memorial Day is not only to remember the suffering of all victims of genocide throughout the world but also to explore ways of preventing future inhumanity."


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