Daniel Levy, Natan Sznaider. The Holocaust and Memory in the Global Age. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2005. 240 pp. $27.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-59213-276-8; $78.50 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-59213-275-1.
Reviewed by David E. Marshall (Department of Social Sciences, Suffolk County Community College)
Published on H-German (January, 2007)
The Holocaust in a Global Age
What kind of meaning does the Holocaust hold in a world that has changed considerably since 1945? Indeed, what kind of meaning does the Holocaust have in a world that has undergone serious transformations since the end of the Cold War in 1989? Readers interested in these questions should consider Daniel Levy and Natan Sznaider's latest volume. This work does not study the Holocaust as a historical event. Indeed, the actual "history" in the book consists of an analysis of how the Holocaust came to be received in West Germany, the United States and Israel. Instead of focusing on the Holocaust's meaning to its Jewish victims and German perpetrators, the authors examine how changing representations of the Holocaust have contributed to the emergence of so-called cosmopolitan memories. They want to show how the Holocaust has faced the various forces that have attempted to universalize, particularize and nationalize it. What has emerged is a transnational symbol based upon a cosmopolitanized memory that has not replaced national collective memories but has been able to exist alongside them (p. 13). By raising these issues, by showing how the Holocaust has been transformed into a model for global collective memory, the authors demonstrate that certain norms for human rights must, at the very least, be acknowledged in these uncertain times. This conclusion, in the end, could leave the reader with some hope, even as the struggle over the Holocaust's meaning for the future continues.
The volume is divided into three parts, consisting of seven total chapters. Chapter 1's revised introduction to the English edition explains the authors' objectives, providing readers with a clear idea of what they will encounter in the book. Chapters 2 and 3, "Cosmopolitan Memory" and "Holocaust and Diaspora" discuss how the long-accepted definitions and boundaries in the Holocaust, such as those between perpetrator and victim, have become blurred in the twenty-first century. While the barriers between German perpetrators and Jewish victims have not completely vanished, the analysis shows that today's world needs room for the millions of post-1945 immigrants to Germany who cannot and should not accept roles held by those from pre-1945 Germany. Both chapters also show how the Holocaust continues to stand out as both historical event and example, which can be seen as groups within the United States use it as a model to raise troubling questions about their historical treatment. Finally, these chapters discuss the lifting of taboos surrounding the Holocaust. While the Holocaust remains a sacred event in the memories of many, lifting this status, at least somewhat in the 1990s, has enabled world leaders to try to use it to contend with contemporary moral crises.
In part 2, the authors provide the reader with some historical context. Chapter 4 shows how memory in West Germany, the United States and Israel unfolded from "silence but not repression" to a framework with a universal message (pp. 58-9). The silence in the immediate postwar years in West Germany resulted mainly because people lacked the means to come to grips with their past. Indeed, the authors draw positive conclusions from the initial German postwar silence regarding the Holocaust. West Germany's embrace of German victimhood in the 1950s and the newly created Federal Republic's attempt to help its suffering citizens are seen as an example of the German attempt to salvage a positive sense of nationhood in light of the horrors of National Socialism (pp. 76-77). Focusing on collective suffering resulted in denying the uniqueness of the Holocaust and was, apparently, a necessary and therefore positive step towards democratization in Germany. Similar phenomena, albeit for different reasons, appeared in the United States and Israel, where Holocaust memory was also infused with universalism. As the authors show, these steps were necessary for the emergence of the universal perspective that influences Holocaust memory today.
Like its predecessor, chapter 5, "Debates and Reflections," contains material of interest to German historians. The authors discuss the changing climate in West Germany in the 1960s, as public attention to the Holocaust increased. Among the events summarized are the Eichmann and the Auschwitz trials, both of which helped the younger generation begin to acknowledge German culpability in the Holocaust. The authors discuss how the German New Left dominated Holocaust memory in the 1970s and therefore provoked a conservative reaction in the 1980s that, again, sought to universalize the suffering of the Second World War. German debates over the statute of limitations for prosecuting perpetrators of crimes committed during the Nazi era are also discussed in this section. Finally the reader learns something about the German reception of the American miniseries Holocaust (1978) and the ongoing attempt by revisionist historians in West and reunified Germany to deny that the Holocaust was unique or exclusively German.
While chapter 5 contains information about post-1945 West Germany, its objective again is to explain how memories of the Holocaust were transforming into something more relevant for a cosmopolitan world. Holocaust was crucial to this transformation. This televised event showed how other forms of memory, as in those outside the realm of professional historians, could shape memory of the Holocaust. The popularity of this miniseries, the fact that it was an American presentation and therefore a sign that the Holocaust had entered the realm of mass culture and its global impact pushed memory of the Holocaust further towards universalism.
Chapter 6, "The Holocaust between Representation and Institutionalization," continues the discussion into the 1990s. In this chapter the authors discuss the Goldhagen debate, among other more contemporary issues. The authors are much less interested in the content of Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (1996) than they are in the surprising popularity of the book. They conclude that historians, generally, had failed to communicate the horrors of the Holocaust in a compelling way and that this was Daniel Goldhagen's accomplishment. His graphic depiction of the Holocaust enabled his readers to connect emotionally with the sufferings of Germany's victims. Finally, Goldhagen is of interest to the authors because he argued against the universalist trends in Holocaust memory. Of course this position would shift a few years later, when, though not equating Slobodan Milosevic with Hitler, Goldhagen would nonetheless find plenty of similarities between Serbian crimes in Bosnia-Herzegovina and German crimes during National Socialism (pp. 162-165).
Chapter 7, "The Consequences of Cosmopolitan Memory," contains the authors' conclusions and a message of hope. In an increasingly uncertain world, witnessing a renaissance of so-called counter-modernity, one in which tradition and xenophobia pose renewed risks to world stability, the possibility remains that the horrors of the twentieth century could still provide a foundation for a brighter future. While the transformation of Holocaust memory from the particular to the more universal has not yet achieved real justice for the victims of post-1945 crimes against humanity, the fact that people continue to use the Holocaust as a model for what must never happen again provides hope for a better world. Of course much work remains to be done (pp. 203-7).
This volume provides an interesting addition to ongoing debates over the memory of the Holocaust. It may not be for everyone. Indeed there is little mention of the former German Democratic Republic in the authors' analysis of the post-1945 transformations of memory in Germany. Nonetheless those wishing to read something beyond the long list of works on the Germans' struggle over their past and consider questions about the future might wish to give this work a glance. While there is obviously no answer yet to how the role of the Holocaust in our future will unfold, those who read this volume will, at the very least, have the opportunity to consider questions that are likely to become even more serious in the coming decades.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-german.
David E. Marshall. Review of Levy, Daniel; Sznaider, Natan, The Holocaust and Memory in the Global Age.
H-German, H-Net Reviews.
Copyright © 2007 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.