“CODOH” – Where everything is.
SMITH’S TALK IN TEHRAN at Iranian Holocaust Conference in 2008
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
USHMM and the Fantasies of "Return"
Professor Marianne Hirsch Columbia University Department of English and Comparative Literature Office: 508a Philosophy Hall Mail Code 4927 1150 Amsterdam Avenue New York, NY 10027 Email: email@example.com Phone: (212) 854-5121 4 April 2011 Dear Professor Hirsch: I read that you are to give a lecture on “Fantasies of Return: the Holocaust in Jewish Memory and Postmemory" at the U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum this April 12th. Your hypothesis on “postmemory” has been stated as: Postmemory describes the relationship of the second generation to powerful, often traumatic, experiences that preceded their births but that were nevertheless transmitted to them so deeply as to seem to constitute memories in their own right. Focusing on the remembrance of the Holocaust, this essay elucidates the generation of postmemory and its reliance on photography as a primary medium of transgenerational transmission of trauma. Agreeing with the commonplace observation that the first casualty of war is Truth, our premise is that some real tragedies are exaggerated and exploited for propaganda purposes while other equally horrible tragedies are ignored. This perspective influences how we should look at any discussion of postmemory. The Great Bengal Famine of 1943 was the result of the “scorched earth” policies of Winston Churchill and his general antipathy to the Indian masses. Over 3 million people, mainly unphotographed women and children, starved to death. Yet the first and only western book on the horror was published only last year with Madhusree Mukerjee's Churchill's Secret War. The dreadful famine that engulfed Ukraine in 1932-1933 is another unphotographed and forgotten horror where perhaps millions starved to death. The Second Congo War, with over 5 million dead, is probably the most deadly conflict since World War II. How many have heard of it? Again, unphotographed and forgotten. Ironically, one of the very few references to the brutal Congo War on the Holocaust Museum Website is entitled "Never Again or Never Remember?" This title underscores fundamental questions about postmemory. When I contrast the sickening but ignored tragedies of Bengal, the Ukraine, or Zaire with your theories of the transmittal of “trauma” over generations, I end up wondering if postmemory might not be a “luxury” of the photographed? A "luxury" that can be, and can be argued is, exploited for gain. Will descendents of brutalized Ukrainians, starved Bengalis, or slaughtered Tutsi end up without postmemory trauma because “inconvenient” photographs of starving mothers and babies ended up on the cutting room floor of British or Soviet censors and/or the indifference of news editors? Is letting go of “transgenerational transmission of trauma” perhaps a decent and normal process that should be encouraged? Society itself chooses to transmit transgenerational trauma by choosing which horrors it will remember. It chooses to remember some, chooses to discard others. Our own government has chosen to not tally the deaths of civilians caused by our 2003 invasion of Iraq. Will the lack of numbers and photographs of maimed and murdered Iraqi children equal no postmemory trauma for future Americans? How convenient. But there is a more important question about postmemory. It has been noted that history is "only" a story that we believe is true. Some history achieves the status of political iconography. Some history becomes "sacred." Questioning a sacred memory, a sacred history, is treated as blasphemy. As with any perceived blasphemy, doubters are punished with a cruel severity. The venue of your lecture is the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. That being so, it would seem that the discussion of postmemory needs to address, among its other issues, the line between Museum and Memorial. A museum needs to retain the intellectual spark to question the historicity of what it displays. A memorial through its displays seeks to convert what we believe into "sacred" history. Would the "Museum" ever display materials that question what the "Memorial" holds to be sacred? Is "postmemory" a hypothesis that implies we can have it both ways? Best Regards, David Merlin C/O CODOH Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust PO Box 439016 San Ysidro, CA 92143 Telephone: 209 682 5327 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: www.codoh.com