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The ‘Jewish narrative’ in the Yad Vashem global Holocaust museum

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The 2005-inaugurated new historical museum of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem is one of the most significant and influential global Holocaust memorial sites of the twenty-first century. At the same time, it is also a very local Israeli ‘lieu de mémoire’. This essay explores the interactions between these two levels of representation while suggesting a critical analysis of the museum's narrative. I contend that for various cultural and political reasons this museum encourages most of all identification with the Jewish victims. This morally necessary and very much justified empathy is achieved, however, in a way that blocks almost any nuanced historical understanding of the event. Thus by melancholic means the museum suppresses any ‘otherness’ that would make the story of the Shoah more complex, interrupt in the melodramatic processes of identification, and destabilize the identity of the Western (individual and collective) self.

“Museums convey a sense of permanence, the idea of ‘collection’, as opposed to separation and loss. In a museum I feel that I belong, though nothing belongs to me… art and literature can be a home for those without citizenship, because they remind us of our common race, and they sop you up, yet simultaneously feed you like a magic sponge. They make you part of what you see and what you hear and yet let you stand back and choose.

The various Shoah museums and reconstituted concentration camp sites do the exact opposite. That's why I find them so hard to take: they don't take you in, they spit you out. Moreover, they tell you what you ought to think, as no art or science museum ever does. They impede the critical faculty” (Ruth Kluger)1
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2012

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