Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Permutations of Memory

Back in the early 1990s one of the projects I invested considerable effort in was working with German (and Austrian) educators, journalists, clergy and even a few politicians on facing our diverse perspectives on Nazism and the Shoah. It was a dramatically intense effort, quite draining. I remember, however, one discussion that was the result of a meeting I had with a group of teenagers, whose perspective was in a way much more natural than that of their teachers. At the time I wondered if this was because they were young, and with time they would acquire the complexes of their elders, or because they lived later in history, and would permanently be different than their elders.

Today I'd guess it's more of the second than of the first. And the NYT has an interesting story that sort of demonstrates this. It tells of a new school book about the Holocaust which is apparently generating lots of interest, and more significantly, is quite successful - and it's in comic book form.

Of course, journalists, even at the NYT, are generally not particularly knowledgeable about whatever it is they're telling us, and this one is no exception. He manages to tell the entire story with nary a mention of the fact that this is not a novel idea at all, dealing with the Shoah in comic book form; it was first invented - very successfully - by Art Spiegelman, in his important Maus series. The creators of the new book clearly knew about their predecessor, indeed, probably knew they had nothing to fear from a public backlash precisely because they weren't breaking new ground in using the comic book form.

What is interesting, however, is the identity of the creators of the book: a team from the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam. Here you have a serious new attempt to educate young Germans about Nazism and the Holocaust, and it's coming not from Germans, nor from Israelis or American Jews, but from the Netherlands. In a way, it's an illustration of the extent to which memory of the murder of the Jews is and remains an important element in the creation of a new European identity.


annetteb said...

Just one comment: the NYT article mentions that there are versions in Dutch, German, Hungarian, Polish and English. So the book is not just "an attempt to educate young Germans about Nazism" but is for everyone, really.

Yaacov said...

Exactly. The subject has become part of the European identity. Mildly astonishing, if seen with historical perspective, and not totally positive, but there it is.