A magazine review of a new film about Anne Frank starts out: “Holokitsch. That is artist Art Spiegelmann's word for the banal and manipulative uses to which the Holocaust has been put in popular culture. Holokitsch reduces an egregious crime to the mechanics of cloying melodrama - dewy-eyed victims and sneering villains." 1
Three years later, Gabriel Schoenfeld weighs in on that very theme with an op-ed bannering “The Holocaust as kitsch” by remarking that among “40 fun things to do” in St. Petersburg, Fla., "Remember[ing] the Holocaust" was No. 11 on the list. Tourists to St. Petersburg, so inclined, might drop by their local Holocaust museum, where for $39.95 they could pick up a scale-model replica of a Polish boxcar the Nazis had used to send Jews - and others, too, of course - to the concentration camps. 2
For Schoenfeld, this was yet another in a series of telltale signs of the increasingly nonchalant way the memory of the Holocaust was “now being summoned in the United States.” Old, post-war taboos were fast disappearing, replaced by a five-and-dime nonchalance.
For Dick Meyer, broadcast journalist wth NPR, such casual and self-indulgent nonchalance is part and parcel of a general social trend across America. In Chapter One of Why We Hate Us, he lists many of the off-putting aspects of this behaviour. One example: “I don’t like people who go to the Holocaust Memorial Museum wearing T-shirts that say ‘Eat Me.’” 3
Between the kitsch and the nonchalance, not to mention historical illiteracy, we can’t expect much in the way of any enlargement of a visitor’s moral resources after a tour of a Holocaust museum. He or she may as well be wandering through the spookhouse at the local circus.
1. Richard Corliss, Time, "Saints in the Neighbourhood," March 4, 1996.
2. Toronto Globe and Mail, March 23, 1999.