Bringing the Dark Past to Light: The Reception of the Holocaust in Postcommunist Europe

Bringing the Dark Past to Light: The Reception of the Holocaust in Postcommunist Europe

Bringing the Dark Past to Light: The Reception of the Holocaust in Postcommunist Europe

Bringing the Dark Past to Light: The Reception of the Holocaust in Postcommunist Europe

Synopsis

Despite the Holocaust's profound impact on the history of Eastern Europe, the communist regimes successfully repressed public discourse about and memory of this tragedy. Since the collapse of communism in 1989, however, this has changed. Not only has a wealth of archival sources become available, but there have also been oral history projects and interviews recording the testimonies of eyewitnesses who experienced the Holocaust as children and young adults. Recent political, social, and cultural developments have facilitated a more nuanced and complex understanding of the continuities and discontinuities in representations of the Holocaust. People are beginning to realize the significant role that memory of Holocaust plays in contemporary discussions of national identity in Eastern Europe.

This volume of original essays explores the memory of the Holocaust and the Jewish past in postcommunist Eastern Europe. Devoting space to every postcommunist country, the essays in Bringing the Dark Past to Light explore how the memory of the "dark pasts" of Eastern European nations is being recollected and reworked. In addition, it examines how this memory shapes the collective identities and the social identity of ethnic and national minorities. Memory of the Holocaust has practical implications regarding the current development of national cultures and international relationships.

Excerpt

John-Paul Himka and Joanna Beata Michlic

Engaging with the “Dark Past”

In the last two decades the subject of memory has become a compelling preoccupation of sociologists, historians, public intellectuals, and artists. the French scholar Henry Rousso has pointed out that “memory has become a value reflecting the spirit of our time.”

We live in the era of memory and delayed remembering of traumatic experiences, and it is accompanied by two interwoven developments— the cultures of apology and of repentance. Jeffrey Olick, an American scholar of public memory, has referred to this phenomenon as an “increase of redress claims” and a “politics of victimisation and regret.” the “politics of regret” has emerged simultaneously with the rise of multiculturalism and the transformation, in the West, of the meaning of the Holocaust from a crime empirically committed by Germans, Austrians, and other Europeans against the Jews to a paradigm for innocent suffering and victimhood.

A difficult but important aspect of the study of memory is that of “the dark past” of nations in relation to their ethnic, religious, and national minorities—the ways in which nations recollect and rework the memory of their “dark pasts” and how this memory shapes their collective identities and the social identity of ethnic and national minorities. Discussions about national identities cannot escape from an orientation toward the past, especially the uncomfortable past, which does not pass away. the memory of the Holocaust and the Jewish past in postcommunist Eastern Europe fits into this category of empirical problems. It is an exceptionally interesting case for the study of the painful process of coming to terms with “the dark past”

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