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On Commemoration

Global Reflections upon Remembering War

Edited By Catherine Gilbert, Kate McLoughlin and Niall Munro

How, in the twenty-first century, can we do commemoration better? In particular, how can commemoration contribute to post-war reconciliation and reconstruction? In this book, a global roster of distinguished writers, artists, musicians, religious leaders, military veterans and scholars debate these questions and ponder the future of commemoration. They include the world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tony Horwitz, the award-winning novelists Aminatta Forna and Rachel Seiffert, and the human rights lawyer and Gifford Baillie Prize-winner Philippe Sands. Polemics and reflections together with poetry and creative prose movingly illuminate a subject that speaks to our common humanity.

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Daring to Remember (Rachel Seiffert)

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rachel seiffert

Acclaimed novelist Rachel Seiffert reflects on writing about uncomfortable histories and the ways in which such history serves both as a reminder and as a warning.

Two of my novels, The Dark Room (2001) and A Boy in Winter (2017), concern themselves with the Third Reich and the Holocaust. I wrote these, bluntly put, because I am of German heritage. My mother is from Hamburg, a child of the Third Reich. Her parents, my grandparents, were both Nazis. Not high-ranking, but they were party members by conviction. ‘Stinknormal’ as the German phrase has it, one I like for the disdain it conveys. At that time they were stinkingly normal. My mother made a point of being open with me about her parents. Not necessarily because she feared that failure to learn from our history would condemn our family to repeat it. Rather she read me Martin Niemöller’s famous poem ‘First They Came…’ and taught me about individual and collective responsibility. Niemöller’s poem offers a rather wary view of humanity. For the most part, it seems to appeal to the altruist among readers, cautioning against the moral error of not speaking out for others. But its closing line ‘Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me’ turns to address self-interest, perhaps recognising this as the more reliable motivating factor. It is an uncomfortable thought, but I have carried it with me, holding my family’s history...

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