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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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III The Memory Void: Holocaust Museums in Europe 137


137 III The Memory Void: Holocaust Museums in Europe 138 139 The discussion of Holocaust museums in Europe is, for many reasons, more complex than that of those in Israel or the US. European museums are located in countries with different cultural and social sensibilities and, most importantly, different, even contradicting, political agendas. These countries’ standing and degree of involvement in WWII is reflected in the museums’ objectives, plans, and de- signs – and in the messages conveyed by them. The previous chapters have shown that architectural analysis of Holocaust museums can reveal values, ideology and political agendas that may otherwise be officially concealed or denied. Thus, Yad Vashem conveys a Zionist ideology despite its declarations of representing Jewish-universal Holocaust commemoration; the GFH memorializes the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising as a generative myth of the kibbutz movement; and Yad Mordechai also highlights the Warsaw uprising – but as an inspiring force for the Israeli fighters of 1948. Although these latter museums portray differing narratives of the same events, they all represent a society that holds multiple, but not contradicting, values and beliefs. This is also true for American Holocaust museums. While the national museum uses “the lessons of the Holocaust” to teach democracy, other museums tend to accentuate the importance of humani- tarian values like equal rights and the fight against racism – thus delivering different, but not contra- dicting, messages. In Europe, however, there is genuine cultural disparity between the many countries that have established Holocaust museums: Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, and the...

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