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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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II You Are My Witnesses (Isaiah 43:10): Holocaust Museums in the United States 89


89 II You Are My Witnesses (Isaiah 43:10): Holocaust Museums in the United States 90 91 The architecture of American Holocaust museums is, in most cases, powerful and compelling, even to the extent of overshadowing the museums’ displays and becoming itself the central experience of the museum visit. The architecture contributes greatly to the museum’s specific narrative in conveying the messages, values, and ideology of its founders. This chapter examines the foundation and architecture of six Holocaust museums in the United States, and presents their unique role in the social and cultural fabric of contemporary American society. The motivation to establish the first major Holocaust museum in the US, the USHMM in Wash- ington DC, was political. In 1978, Jimmy Carter, the American President at that time, was seeking a project to alleviate the tension that had been building up between the government and the Jewish- American community. His advisors for Jewish affairs recommended the construction of a Holocaust memorial and in May 1978, during a ceremonial meeting to mark Israel’s 30th anniversary, Carter announced the foundation of the “President’s Commission on the Holocaust”. This commission was appointed initially to build a memorial, but the magnitude of the project grew beyond anyone’s expectation. The commission, headed by author and Holocaust survivor Eli Wiesel, insisted on creating a “living memorial that will speak not only of the victims’ deaths but of their lives.”176 Wiesel suggested that the “living memorial” consist of three components: a memorial museum, an educational foundation,...

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