Research focus III:

Bearing Witness – Memorial Culture after the Shoah

Memory and remembrance are intrinsic characteristics of Judaism. The practice of Jewish life is extensively determined by the Thora’s commandment to remember. Also foundational to the Thora is that memory does not only include the positive but negative experiences as well. Collective and individual memories are interwoven. Over the course of history, the culture of memory and of remembrance has developed numerous forms.

At the core of the Jewish memory of the Shoah is the question of its singularity: Although the history of European Judaism has seen catastrophes time and again the aporia of the National Socialist extermination of Jews represented an incomparable break within this history precisely because there was no choice.

Modern research of Jewish history relies on sources, dates and chronology even in the historization of the history of Jewish religion, and in the secular history of Jews. In so doing, the research parts from the essentially ahistorical religious memorial culture and its rituals. Museums, archives and libraries turn into memorial sites of modern Jewish scientific memory. While according to premodern rabbinical understanding God was the great mover and thinker of Jewish history, the Jewish people write their own history in the conception of the science of Judaism and, in the modern historiography, in their secular interrelations with the non-Jewish environment. After the Shoah, memorial sites such as the central Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, or the Libeskind building of the Jewish Museum Berlin, were significantly initiated by non-Jews. Here, modern historical memorial culture and its institutions like archives and museums, as well as elements of the traditional religious memorial culture such as the cemetery or the sukka meet again.

The central issue for all discussions of the National Socialist crimes in terms of memorial culture is the memory of the survivors who could bear witness of what happened to them and to their families.

These testimonies can be found widely scattered across the Berlin region, in schools and history workshops, but also in the latest collection so far: the “Information Centre” of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

This development points to the close connection between bearing witness and memorial culture in the Berlin/Brandenburg region. There is a differentiated culture of remembrance and memory whose institutions work with testimonies, video interview etc. An objective of the Center is to interweave more closely these memorial sites with the academic educational facilities in the region that also work in various fields on the issues of memorial culture, bearing witness, visualization, fictionalization, as well as educational work.