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Constructing Memory

Architectural Narratives of Holocaust Museums

Stephanie Rotem

This book reveals the critical role of architecture in the assimilation of the ideologies and values conveyed at Holocaust museums around the world. Through the architectural analysis of sixteen museums, social, cultural and political agendas will be unfolded.
While the distance in time and place raises the need to create innovative forms of display to reach an audience removed from the Holocaust, the degree to which this can be done by the museums’ exhibits alone is limited. This book shows that architecture, as an abstract form of expression, plays a major role in the conception of Holocaust museums. By conveying values that cannot otherwise be expressed, the museums’ architecture becomes integral to its narrative and, through it, to the construction of collective memories of the Holocaust.


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Introduction: Constructing a Collective Memory of the Holocaust 9


9Introduction Constructing a Collective Memory of the Holocaust In the past few decades we have witnessed an increasing number of Holocaust museums being estab- lished around the world. These institutions have become the most prevalent form of Holocaust com- memoration, drawing enormous crowds from all over the world. This book addresses the role played by Holocaust museums in general, and their architectural designs in particular, in constructing our collective memory of the events. As “realms of memory” (lieux de mémoire, as coined by Pierre Nora) Holocaust museums both conserve the official narrative of events and retrospectively construct new ones to suit contemporary social values.1 Serving the ideology and values of their founders, they therefore constitute not only sites of memory and commemoration, but also political institutions. Each possesses a political agenda that differs from its official mission – Holocaust education and commemoration. These museums serve as stages from which the particular stories of their communities are told, creating a competition over whose historical account will serve to construct our collective memory of the Holocaust. Museums, in general, are controlled by powerful organizations, either public or private, which use them to influence public opinion: they display exhibitions in order to increase public awareness and debate over certain issues, while deliberately ignoring elements that are adverse to their cause or ideol- ogy. All museums are thus essentially political entities that both reflect their society’s ideology and, at the same time, contribute to forming it. Political agendas are particularly apparent in history museums,...

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