The Complexity of Collective Memory:

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Nov 10, 2013 (4 years and 8 months ago)


The Complexity of Collective Memory:

Second and Third
Generation Authors and Their
(Un)Ambiguous Memory of the Holocaust

MA Thesis Literatuurwetenschap, Utrecht University

Mirjam IJzerman


dr. B.M. Kaiser



The Complexity of Collective Memory:

Second and Third
Generation Authors and Their (Un)Ambiguous Memory of the




ollective Memory and the Second


The Golems of Gotham


Everything is Illum










On 14 May 2008, the State of Israel, which was declared as independent state three years
after the Second World War ended, celebrated its 60 years of existence. This being the 60th
nniversary means that it is already over 60 years ago that World War II ended; over 60 years ago
that the survivors came back from the camps and the atrocities of this war came to the surface.
Now, 63 years later, we have unfortunately lost lots of these s
urvivors of natural causes. Some
left their testimonies to the world, others never talked about it, but as the generation of survivors
is slowly passing away people are trying very hard to store their testimonies for the future. With
today’s technology we
have the opportunity to record the stories on audio or video, but all other
sorts of initiatives are coming up as well. In the Netherlands a project called ‘de Bunker’ (the
bunker) recently started. A bunker is placed in the centre of a Dutch city. People
can walk in and
read the stories that are stored in this bunker. These stories are those of survivors of World War
II, among which are stories of the inhabitants of the city in which the bunker stands. Besides
being able to read these testimonies, visitors

are confronted with issues that show how hard life
was in wartime and what kind of difficult choices people were faced with. The central question is
‘What would you do?’. This bunker will travel through several Dutch cities over the next couple
of years.

Beside these kinds of initiatives there are other ways in which people are remembered of
the Holocaust. There are the museums which we can visit to learn about this war and the topic of
the Holocaust is taken up in school curricula. Furthermore, every vil
lage or city has some
monuments dedicated to war victims. Every year on 4 May the Netherlands remembers the
victims of war, especially the victims of the Second World War, by keeping 2 minutes of silence.
And on 5 May people celebrate their liberation from

the German occupation. Furthermore, there


are all sorts of cultural expressions in which the Holocaust is the main topic, for example in
films, literature and paintings. Films, for one thing have a huge influence, as they are usually
watched by an enormou
s audience. The Hollywood
made film
Schindler’s List

for example, was
a huge success. Millions of people saw this film and through it were remembered of the

Even though it is over sixty years ago that the Second World War ended, the memory of
the war is still very much alive. It lingers on in society in all sorts of ways and in all sorts of
forms and is still very actively remembered. New initiatives to remember keep coming up, as for
example initiatives like project ‘de Bunker’. And furthermor
e, the war is being remembered in

and forms of art. By hearing, reading and seeing stories and images of the war
they become part of our memory of the war, so that even though most of the people today did not
live through the Second World
War themselves, they do have memories of this war. The
Holocaust memory is present in society and is therefore part of society.

One of the first people to connect memory and society in theory was Maurice Halbwachs.
On Collective Memory
, which was edited

and translated by Lewis S. Coser, we can find
Halbwachs’s “The Social Frameworks of Memory” and “The Legendary Topography of the
Gospels in the Holy Land”, with an introduction by Coser. According to Halbwachs most of our
memories come back to us when ot
hers around us recall them. Therefore, Halbwachs’s theory is
against psychology, because psychology when studying memory, looks at the individual isolated
from any social group. According to Halbwachs this is not correct, because “[…] it is in society

people normally acquire their memories. It is also in society that they recall, recognize, and
localize their memories” (38). This goes for all of our memories and therefore “there is no point
in seeking where they are preserved in my brain or in some noo
k of my mind to which I alone
have access: for they are recalled to me externally, and the groups of which I am part at any time


give me the means to reconstruct them, upon condition, to be sure, that I turn toward them and
adopt, at least for the moment,
their way of thinking” (38). In this sense a collective memory and
social frameworks for memory exist. Our individual thought participates in this memory by
placing itself in this framework, and through that it is capable of recollecting. Halbwachs bases
his point on the claim that when we dream no real and complete memory appears, at least not as
it does when we are awake. This is because when we sleep we are isolated and are not in contact
with society. The sleeping person can no longer rely on frames of

collective memory. The dreams
are only based upon themselves and therefore the dreams are fragmented, mixed up and
unrecognizable. Every memory a person has, is connected to
memories that others have
. They
have a relationship with the groups that we are p
art of
. “What makes […] memories hang
together is not that they are contiguous in time; it is rather that they are part of a totality of
thoughts common to a group, the group of people with whom we have a relation at this moment,
or with whom we have had a

relation on the preceding day or days” (52). To recall them we only
have to place ourselves in the perspective of this group, take over their interests and follow their
reflections. This does not only apply to recent, but to distant memories as well.
We h
ave certain
memories, because the group we are part of possess this memory as well.

Within the group the
opinions of the individual and the opinions of the group are connected. “The framework of
collective memory confines and binds our most intimate rememb
rances to each other” and “we
cannot consider them except from the outside

that is, by putting ourselves in the position of
others” (53).

Halbwachs claims that the past is not preserved, but is reconstructed in the present.
Furthermore, it is not individ
uals who, by their recollections, construct collective frameworks of
memory nor are these frameworks already present as empty forms where recollections can be put
into. “Collective frameworks are, to the contrary, precisely the instruments used by the coll


memory to reconstruct an image of the past which is in accord, in each epoch, with the
predominant thoughts of the society” (40). Halbwachs looks at collective memory in itself and
shows two problems connected to it that are actually one. On the one

hand he shows that
individuals remember by using social frameworks, on the other hand this individual sees things
from the group’s viewpoint. As he puts it: “[…] the individual remembers by placing himself in
the perspective of the group, but one may also

affirm that the memory of the group realizes and
manifests itself in individual memories” (40). In order to show how this manifests itself he
devotes three chapters to the traditions of the family, of religious groups and of social classes.
While Halbwach
s was a Durkheimian he chooses to speak of groups while Emile Durkheim used
Society with a capital S.

In The Netherlands a discussion is presently going on, which illustrates this theory of
collective memory perfectly. Following the remembrance of the Holo
caust, among other things,
on 4 May 2008, State Secretary for the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports Jet Bussemaker
started up a discussion about the content of the Holocaust memory in the Netherlands. According
to her the role the non
Western immigran
ts played during the war should now be incorporated in
the collective memory of the Holocaust. She claims that as we are losing the generation of the
survivors, the true witnesses, we have to be able to remember together. It might be easier for
groups to r
eflect on the Second World War when they have examples of the role of members of
their own group and background during the war. As The Netherlands is a multi
cultural nation,
the role of these other cultures should also be incorporated in the memory of the

Holocaust (“De
Wereld Draait Door”). Some claim that this plan is partially caused by the fact that in 2003 a
group of young immigrants disturbed the commemoration of the dead ceremony. Because of this
incident the government tries to find all sorts of in
itiatives to include immigrants in this
ceremony. The NIOD (Dutch institution for war documentation) is currently researching what the


role of the non
Western immigrants was during World War II, because according to them
providing knowledge of the war past

of ‘new Dutch people’ is necessary for an equal exchange of
war experiences (Bemmel). The plan is to eventually provide lesson material for primary schools
about the Holocaust that contains the role of the immigrants as well. It will not become

to teach pupils about the immigrants’ role, but apparently there is great demand for
this material in schools. Bussemaker is aware of the fact that the results of the study on the role of
the non
Western immigrants, can have a positive as well as a potent
ially negative outcome, but
she does not regard this as a problem. Such an outcome tells the story of the war as well and
confronts us with its dilemmas (“De Wereld Draait Door”). Not everyone was happy with this
initiative, though. Every self
respecting n
ewspaper in the country wrote several articles on the
issue. The newspaper
de Volkskrant

claimed that historiography and politics should, as they put
it, remain separated. Stretching the meaning of the commemoration of the dead ceremony and
liberation day,

and burden the historical data of the Holocaust with actualities like integration,
does not serve the existence of these ceremonies, according to
de Volkskrant
Geschiedschrijving en Politiek Gescheiden”). This discussion shows that in The Netherland
s the
present concerns of society indeed are connected to the memory of the Holocaust and because of
the circumstances in society choices as to what should be remembered are made, which shape the
collective memory of this war in a specific way.

Peter Novic
k in
The Holocaust and Collective Memory: The American Experience

Halbwachs’s theory of collective memory in studying the evolution of Holocaust consciousness
in the USA. He claims that according to Halbwachs present concerns of a society determine wh
of the past is remembered and in what way, so the collective memory is not just the past working
its will on the present. Furthermore, he claims that according to Halbwachs collective memory “is
not just historical knowledge shared by a group [but] is i
n crucial senses ahistorical, even anti


historical” (Novick, 3). This is because collective memory “simplifies; sees events from a single,
committed perspective; is impatient with ambiguities of any kind [and] reduces events to mythic

(4). “To
understand something historically is to be aware of its complexity, to have
sufficient detachment to see it from multiple perspectives, to accept the ambiguities, including
moral ambiguities, of protagonists’ motives and behavior” (3). Memory, other than h
focuses on the continuation of the past in the present. So the past is not something that is over and
done with, but is something that continues in the present. Novick claims that collective memories
are often understood as expressing a truth about

a group; usually a tragic truth. The memory then
defines an eternal truth and connected to this an eternal identity for the members of the group,
once the memory has been established. Furthermore, memories are being institutionalized. “An
accumulation of
previous choices, considered and unconsidered, has produced a set of institutions
dedicated to Holocaust memory and a substantial cadre of Holocaust
memory professionals”
(Novick, 6). We choose what to remember, because it is central to our collective iden
tity, and the
collective memory reinforces our identity again. The word ‘choose’ in this context does not mean
free choice though. These choices are constrained and shaped by circumstances. So present
concerns of a society and the choices society makes est
ablish what is taken up in the collective
memory of a society.

According to Novick Jewish tradition has a number of very long
lasting memories. Some
events were remembered and others were not, because some were “more relevant to their self
and self
representation” (5). As mentioned before, these are not free choices, but
choices shaped and constrained by circumstances. The Holocaust, Novick claims, became the
central symbol of Jewishness. According to him “it was a symbol well
designed to co
increasing communal anxiety about ‘Jewish Continuity’ in the face of declining religiosity,
together with increasing assimilation and a sharp rise in intermarriage, all of which threatened


demographic catastrophe” (7). On top of this Novick claims t
hat there was a growth of a ‘victim
culture’ that places the grounding of this group identity in victimhood.

Summing up, people remember in societies and in groups. They do not only acquire their
memories there, but also recall, recognize and localize thei
r memories in society. Individual and
collective memory are connected.
Because an individual is part of a group that has a certain
memory, that individual


such a memory. Collective memory is not just the past
working its will on the present, but
present concerns decide which parts of the past we remember.
Memory and identity are connected. Collective memory is anti
historical in a way and creates
archetypes. It simplifies and sees things from one perspective. It does not look upon history as

past, but as something that continues in the present. Furthermore, memory is being
institutionalized. Choices as to what to remember, be it shaped by circumstances, are made and
these choices produce a set of institutions. Novick adds to this that the Hol
ocaust became central
to Jewishness and that the group identity became based on victimhood. As 6 million Jews were
killed during the war, the Jewish race was to be exterminated completely, and families were
traumatized by this event it seems only natural f
or them to indeed see themselves as victims. It
seems only natural that this social group constructed a collective memory of the Holocaust that
puts them in the place of the victim.

According to the theory on collective memory, the collective memory of a g
roup is
unambiguous and the members of the group see their memory only from one perspective. This is
not a matter of choice, because the memory is shaped by the frameworks of the social group. The
members of the group are not detached enough to view the me
mory from different angles and do
not accept ambiguities; moral ambiguities included. Furthermore, the collective identity and the
collective memory are connected. Where the collective memory of the Holocaust is concerned, it
will be interesting to look at

the second

and third
generation Holocaust survivors as a group that


remembers the Holocaust. As it were their families who survived the final solution, the Holocaust
is a major part of their past as a group, which forms their identity. If we take the soc
ial group of
generation survivors and look at two works of literature on the Holocaust that were
written by members of this group, does this theory seem to hold for these authors and these
novels? Do they really only have a collective memory of the
Holocaust shaped by circumstances
and only from their perspective? Or are there maybe ambiguities in what they remember? To be
precise: I
f we look at two novels by one Jewish American second
generation and one Jewish
American third
generation Holocaust sur
vivor, does it appear that this group has merely one
unambiguous perspective on the Holocaust memory or are there maybe ways in which they
complicate this matter.

In trying to answer this question I will first look into the debate on collective memory and
the second
generation. The meaning of the concept ‘the second
generation’ differs somewhat in
works on this issue. Whereas some scholars only incorporate the children of the survivors in this
notion, others choose to use it when talking about the post
caust generation. Research into
the third
generation is presently going on, but as hardly anything has been published on it, I will

‘the second
generation’ as the post
Holocaust survivors’ generation; so not just the
children of the survivors, but

the grandchildren as well. The novels I will use in order to answer
my question are

The Golems of Gotham

by Jewish American second
generation writer Thane
Rosenbaum and the novel
Everything is Illuminated

written by the Jewish American third
generation au
thor Jonathan Safran Foer. I will compare and contrast these novels and will then
come to a conclusion and answer my research question.


Collective Memory and the Second

In his 1997
Children of Job: American Second
Generation Witnesses to t
he Holocaust
Alan L. Berger discusses the testimonies of second
generation survivors, whom he calls the
children of Job

According to him the Holocaust still influences the lives of the children of
survivors. Just as Novick, Berger claims that although th
ey have not lived through it themselves,
it is an “irreducible part of their Jewish self
identity” (1). He believes that the story of the
Holocaust must be passed on from generation to generation. Furthermore, he claims that children
of survivors often go
to their parent’s birthplaces or to death camps, because to them these are
places of remembrance (3). Marianne Hirsch also mentions the notion of identity in her 1997
Family Frames: Photography, Narrative and Post
. In this book she talks, among

other things, about the post
Holocaust generation and she connects their memories of the
Holocaust to the role of photographs in memory and post
memory. According to her the children
of exiled survivors are always in the Diaspora. They can turn back to th
e place their parents came
from, if at least it is still there, but it is now always that place after Auschwitz. It is not what it
used to be when their parents lived there. According to her, these children are exiled from a space
of identity, and this con
dition “is a characteristic aspect of post
memory” (243). This post
memory can have the form of an ‘absent memory’, a term that was already used by Nadine
Fresco and Henri Raczymow, as not all parents talked about what they went through during the

in Finkielkraut in this respect said in
The Imaginary Jew
: “What makes me a Jew is the
acute consciousness of a lack, of a continuous absence” (qtd. in Hirsch, 244).

In “Transgenerational Representation of the Holocaust: from Memory to Post
in Goertz borrows Hirsch’s term post
memory. She informs us that “historians have pointed
out how the Holocaust’s inherently traumatic nature precludes collective resolution or integration


into a cohesive historical narrative. Instead, memories of the Holo
caust continually return into the
present, keeping the event from receding into the ‘cold storage of history’ […]” (33).
Furthermore, she claims that the interest is no longer on historical facts, but has to do with the
aftermath of the Holocaust. Publicat
ions of the Holocaust and memory explore how we
remember and how we make sense of what happened back then in today’s world. This is what
Landsberg claims as well in her work
Prosthetic Memory: The Transformation of American
Remembrance in the Ages of Mass
, in which she says that nowadays memory and
remembering are not so much to authenticate the past, but to “generate possible courses of action
in the present” (45). Through experiencing history we are reminded of the uninevitability of the
Goertz in her essay on transgenerational representation of the Holocaust, examines the
narrative strategies that next generations use in order to give shape to their relationship to this
Holocaust past that they did not live through themselves, but that be
came a part of their identity.
For the second
generation this past seems to be a psychological reality. Children of survivors
“seem to share an anguished collective memory of the Holocaust in both their dreams and
fantasies reflective of recurrent referenc
es to their parents’ traumatic experiences” (34).
According to Goertz, the second
generation witnesses are the ‘sites of mediation’. They are the
museums that keep the memory alive and transmit their parents’ legacy. They mediate “between
the personally li
ved past and the inherited past that can now be reassembled and remembered
only through history and the arts” (35). In their minds there are no sharp boundaries between past
and present, the self and the other and the real and the imagined.

Ellen S. Fine
in “Transmission of Memory: The Post
Holocaust Generation in the
Diaspora” connects Fresco’s and Raczymow’s concept of ‘absent memory’ to the notion of
‘collective memory’. According to her, “linking the collective memory with the absent memory is
the cent
ral image of the shadow that recurs throughout the texts, both in psychological profiles of


the post
Holocaust generation and in memoirs and literary works” (187). On the one hand this
shadow is always present in the lives of following generations, yet on
the other hand the shadow
is absent, because it is merely a shadow of reality, not reality itself. She goes on explaining what
collective memory is to second
generation survivors. According to her the collective memory
consists of a number of stories, and
these stories are the heritage of the post
generation. The survivors have an individual memory of the events they lived through. They put
these events into stories. These stories become part of the collective memory. The second
generation then, i
s the recipient of this collective memory. The children of the survivors take on
the memory that is their parents’. Interviews with children of survivors carried out by Helen
Epstein in 1979 and used by psychologist Aaron Hass for his study
In the Shadow o
f the
Holocaust: The Second Generation
showed that there were two patterns in the parenting of the
survivors. On the one hand there were parents that were silent, but were overprotective and tried
to keep their trauma from their children. On the other hand

there were the parents who kept on
telling their stories. Paul Connerton in
How Societies Remember
, in which he looks into how the
memory of groups is conveyed and sustained, writes about memory: “Across generations,
different sets of memories [...] will
encounter each other; so that, although physically present to
one another in a particular setting, the different generations may remain mentally and emotionally
insulated, the memories of one generation locked irretrievably, as it were, in the brains and t
bodies of that generation” (3).
But even if parents did not speak about it, the Holocaust became
part of the collective memory of the second

The stories told, though, were often fragmentary and so the second
generation had to
invent their o
wn stories and myths to fill in the gaps. Absent memory is explained by the writer
Raczymow as being a gap in the memory of pre
history, the pre
war life; a gap in the memory of
the Holocaust; and a gap in genealogy (Fine, 192). According to Fine, differen
t reactions to this


absent memory can be found in second
generation literature. Among other things writers either
identify themselves with the victims of the Holocaust, feel shame and guilt for being alive and for
not living through the Holocaust while the
ir parents did live through it, or feel a reluctance to
imagine and recreate the Holocaust. Raczymow belongs to the last group of writers, but still feels
that he can only remember the gaps by writing. He does this by use of imagination. As he puts it:
at is dead seems to me to be able to be restored only through the imagination, and not
through history and bibliographical research, albeit they have their own interests” (qtd. in Fine,

Efraim Sicher in the introduction to
Breaking Crystal: Writing a
nd Memory after
, which he edited, writes that it is difficult to find a language in which to tell the event
of the Holocaust, also because it is difficult to find a medium or text that can be used for
imagining the unimaginable. According to him
“the burden of collective and personal memory
presses on the children of the victims and perpetrators even more because of their lack of
knowledge, because of their need to imagine the unimaginable and to fill the gaps in national and
family history” (3).
In order to understand and give meaning to the Holocaust and our relation to
the event, Sicher claims that we turn to literature. Literature as a work of art is a good device for
bearing witness, as Geoffrey H. Hartman puts it in
“Public Memory and its Dis
, art has
the resource “to lessen grief [and] endow calamity with meaning [...]” (Hartman, 80). The author
Melvin Jules Bukiet, a child of Holocaust survivors, claims that memory in this respect is the
wrong term. In his essay “Nothing Makes You F
ree”, which was published in
Who We Are: On
Being and not Being a Jewish American Writer
, he writes: “‘Memory’ is the mantra of all the
institutions that reckon with the Holocaust, but memory is an inaccurate term. For anyone who
, on either si
de of the barbed wire, Jew or German, thinking about the Holocaust is
really an act of the imagination. All we know is how little we know” (Bukiet, 165). A lot of


studies show that the second
generation indeed needs the imagination, Sicher names Hanna Yaoz
study in which she claims that fantasy “is a bridge between repression or denial and an
unimaginable reality” (qtd. in Sicher, 8) and he mentions Leon Yudkin’s study which claims that
the line between fiction and truth is not so clear anymore when the tr
auma of the Holocaust is
transmitted (Sicher, 8). Sicher furthermore claims that it is through the telling of stories that the
trauma of the Holocaust can be dealt with and that a search for identity and memory can be a
force for creativity. This is also w
hat Hirsch talks about when she speaks about a sense of exile
children of Holocaust survivors must feel, because a world that they do not know is gone and so
they will never be able to know it. She claims that the desire to know this world incites one to
magine this world. Furthermore, she claims that their need is “the need not just to feel and to
know, but also to re
member, to re
build, to re
incarnate, to re
place, and to repair” (Hirsch, 243).
Just as Goertz, Berger claims that the second
generation t
estimonies do not focus so much on
what happened, but focus especially on the aftermath (2). Berger also believes that the way in
which the second
generation bears witness is very important, because next generations will
commemorate the Holocaust by these
testimonies (1). These testimonies become part of the
collective memory.

In both the novels I will use, Thane Rosenbaum’s
The Golems of Gotham
and Jonathan
Safran Foer’s
Everything is Illuminated
, the authors use the imagination, and very obviously so.
The Golems of Gotham

the daughter of the main character, Oliver, summons the ghosts of
Oliver’s dead parents and together with them a group of six Holocaust writers. All of them were
Holocaust survivors who committed suicide years after the war ended. Th
ese ghosts come back in
order to help the protagonist, Oliver, deal with his Holocaust past and while being on earth they
also try to change American society and their trivializing of the event. Furthermore, Oliver’s
daughter can all of a sudden play the k
lezmer violin, without ever haven taking any lessons.


The story of the
Golems of Gotham

is based on the story of the Golem of Prague, from
Judaic mythology. This is something that Rosenbaum refers to a number of times in the novel as
well. The Golem of Pra
gue was brought to life by Rabi Loew in 1580 in order to defend the Jews
in the ghetto from anti
Semitic attacks. In Rosenbaum’s novel they defend the Holocaust memory
from getting trivialized and they take everything that reminds them of the war, and whic
h is
therefore in a way anti
Semitic, from American society. The novel is just as mythic and overly
fictive as this story of the Golem of Prague. Rosenbaum as a second
generation author uses a
clearly fictional and mythical story and by doing that clearly
uses his creativity to transmit the
memory of the Holocaust and add to the collective memory.

Foer uses this kind of mythical writing as well. In the novel the main character, also
named Jonathan Safran Foer, writes a fictional history of a village called
Trachimbrod. His
grandfather was from this village, but fled to the USA after the war. Jonathan never knew his
grandfather, so never had the opportunity to ask him about his past and the past of his family.
Therefore, he makes up the entire history of the
village and the lives of his ancestors. He does
this in an obviously fictional manner as well. There is no doubt about this being imagined. The
entire history he writes comes across as being a fable or myth. One clear example is found at the
beginning of t
his history. The first chapter of the history of Trachimbrod starts with the wagon of
the invented character Trachim B driving into the river Brod. All sorts of curious items come
rising to the surface of the water; a clock, a hand mirror, spools, and fril
lwork, and then
miraculously a baby surfaces. This baby, who is later on named Brod, named after the river, is
Jonathan’s as he calls it very
great grandmother. According to Menachem Feuer in “Almost
Friends: Post
Holocaust Comedy, Tragedy, and Friendship
in Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything
is Illuminated” this baby being born out of the accident in the water is an allegory for a beginning
born of trauma “wherein the subject of the trauma is floating in fragments” (12). These fragments


represent Foer’s pas
t as being fragmented. It is his task, as a writer, to take these fragments “in
the form of words, representations and memories of the past, and bring them together into a
narrative” (Feuer, 12). This reflects Foer’s ideas about having to make whole his fr
agmented past
in order to find his own identity. By using the imagination Foer tries to deal with what happened
to his family and his past, because of the Holocaust.

When people are confronted with stories about the Holocaust, for example by means of

novels of the second
generation, they can take on these memories. Landsberg in
Memory: The Transformation of American Remembrance in the Ages of Mass Culture
, calls these
memories prosthetic memories. According to her the mass media play an imp
ortant role in giving
people prosthetic memories. What happens is that these memories “can produce empathy and
thereby enable a person to establish a political connection with someone from a different class,
race or ethnic position” (48).

As becomes clear

we probably do not have to be afraid that the Holocaust will turn into
an event that next generations will not remember, as the second
generation feels the urge to bear
witness. The way in which we will remember the Holocaust though, in other words, how t
collective memory of the Holocaust will take shape is unclear. Obviously second
survivors see the Holocaust as an important part of their lives and their identity, even though they
did not live through it themselves. Whether their parents sp
oke about this past or not, they still
feel the need to become witnesses and bear testimony. These testimonies mostly have not so
much to do with the event itself, but with life after Auschwitz. Furthermore, the second
generation has to deal with a collect
ive memory that was passed on to them by their parents, and
on the other hand has an ‘absent memory’ because they do not know about the true events. It
appears that one way of dealing with this lack of knowledge is imagination through writing.
Fantasy can
bridge the gap and give meaning to what happened. It can make the fragmented past


whole and the creative exploration of this past can help in finding an identity and a memory that
is absent. By writing, the second
generation adds to the collective memory a
nd gives shape to
what we remember of the Holocaust. This collective memory can become a prosthetic memory
again for other groups, who can then “establish a political connection with someone from a
different class, race or ethnic position” (Landsberg, 48).

Just as Halbwachs and Novick claimed, this debate shows that identity and memory are
connected as well. The Holocaust is part of the Jewish identity and therefore children and
grandchildren remember the Holocaust. People ‘choose’ what to remember, becaus
e it is central
to their collective identity, and the collective memory reinforces that identity again. It would also
follow that the view of this social group is unambiguous. They lack sufficient detachment to see
ambiguities and the collective memory is
shaped by the frameworks of the social group, so the
memory is not made out of a free choice. It is shaped and constrained by circumstances. So how
does it work in these novels? Do these authors really have a collective memory of the Holocaust
viewed merel
y from the viewpoint of the group of the victims of the Second World War? And
furthermore, is their memory unambiguous?


The Golems of Gotham

Thane Rosenbaum is a second
generation Jewish American writer who was born in New
York in 1960. His par
ents were Holocaust survivors who were both interned at camps during the
war. His mother was in Maidanek, and his father was interned in several death camps, among
which Bergen
Belsen. They met after the war in Germany and immigrated to the United States.
The Golems of Gotham

is Rosenbaum’s second novel. Before this he wrote a collection of short
Elijah Visible

and another novel named
Second Hand Smoke
. All three of these works
deal with the aftermath of the Holocaust (“Thane Rosenbaum”).

As alrea
dy shortly introduced, in
The Golems of Gotham

we meet Oliver Levin who is a
bestselling mystery writer, but is suffering from a writer’s block. Oliver’s parents were Holocaust
survivors who, years before, committed suicide. Oliver has a fourteen
daughter Ariel.
His wife Samantha left Oliver and Ariel when Ariel was only a toddler. Oliver blocked the
emotions caused by these events, but by doing that also blocked his writing. Ariel finds an old
violin in the attic and discovers that she can magical
ly play it, without ever having taken any
lessons. As Ariel wants to help her father and is into kabbalah she tries to get Oliver’s parents
back. She takes some mud from the Hudson River, plays her violin, calls out the numbers of the
tattoos that her gran
dparents had on their arms in random order, and exclaims the names of
several concentration camps. She succeeds in summoning the ghosts of her grandparents Lothar
and Rose, but also brings back the ghosts of six others, namely Primo Levi, Jerzy Kosinski, P
Celan, Piotr
, Jean Amery and Tadeusz
Borowski, all of whom

were Holocaust survivors,
wrote about the event, and took their own lives.

The golems help Oliver deal with his past and have him write a serious work on the
Holocaust. He is finally co
nfronting his past and his legacy and is freed from his writer’s block.


In the mean time the golems start to remove everything from Manhattan society that reminds
them of the Holocaust. People lose there tattoos, showerheads do not work anymore, the zebras

the zoo lose their stripes and there is no longer any smoke; factories do not produce smoke
anymore and shops do no longer sell any cigarettes. Furthermore, the subway reminds the golems
of the cattle cars and so they make sure that the doors close whe
n all the seats are taken. For a
while Manhattan becomes a peaceful society. People go to the synagogue again, are more relaxed
and even non
Jews come to Zabar’s to listen to Ariel play klezmer music on her violin. They all
admire this music from the shtet

Nevertheless the golems are not pleased. According to them the Americans do not really
care about the Holocaust past. They are trivializing the event. They are producing movies that are
made to suit the audience and leave them satisfied. These movies p
revent people from seeing
what actually happened during the German occupation. This also becomes clear through the fact
that Oliver’s agent has difficulty in having his book on the Holocaust published. The publishers’
response to the novel is that people j
ust are not that interested in the Holocaust anymore. The
golems see all of this happening and get very angry. They start a riot and wreck havoc; not just in
Manhattan, but in all of the United States. After a phone call from the mayor of New York,
calls his golems back. He tries to commit suicide, but the golems and Ariel prevent him
from doing this. This incident opens his eyes and he finally knows what he has to do. He takes
his daughter and the golems to Miami Beach, where he grew up with his par
ents and where his
parents took their own lives. After having visited the graveyard, he finally deals with his past and
puts everything into place. It is time for the golems to leave.

Rosenbaum as a second
generation writer really seems to write out of hi
s being a member
of the social group of second
generation survivors. He incorporates a lot of his own life and past
into the novel. He does this, among other things, by giving the protagonist a lot of features from


his own life. Furthermore, he includes mu
ch of the present
day society he is part of. One of the
similarities between Oliver and Rosenbaum is that Oliver is a Jewish second
Holocaust survivor who was born and lives in the USA, just as Rosenbaum. And it does not stop
here. Just as Olive
r, Rosenbaum grew up in Miami Beach, where he lived with his parents who
died shortly after one another when he was 21 years old, after which he became an orphan.
Furthermore, Oliver used to work as a Wall Street Lawyer, just as Rosenbaum. It says in the
ovel: “[...] back when I was a Wall Street lawyer, I used to work late into the night on behalf of
Fortune 500 companies, servicing the faceless ones, those hiding behind corporate veils, soulless
suits, bottom
line fishers nibbling at balance
sheets and
puking up like insatiable bulimics, and
then ready to do it all over again (33)”. In one of Rosenbaum’s essays about his life, called “Law
and Legacy in the post
Holocaust Imagination” published in
Who We Are: On Being (and not
Being) a Jewish American Wri
, an almost similar quotation can be found: “Our clients were
faceless corporate entities, behemoths of the Fortune 500 universe, producers of very little other
than complicated financial statements” (241). Both Rosenbaum and Oliver were numbed by this
and chose to become writers. Rosenbaum, just as Oliver, lives with his daughter in New York

From the novel it becomes clear that Oliver, being a second
generation survivor, does not
have a choice in remembering his parents’ legacy. It is part of his

past and his parents’ and
family’s past and therefore he has to remember it. Because he is a member of the social group,
this memory is part of him as well. Just as Berger claimed, it is part of his Jewish self
On numerous occasions in the novel

Rosenbaum focuses on this not being a choice. The
protagonist Oliver tries to turn away from his past. He became a mystery writer and tried to
forget everything that happened to him and to his parents. The outcome of that though, was a
writer’s block. The
refore, Ariel summons up the golems that haunt him and make him remember.


As becomes clear later on in the novel the golems are just a figment of his imagination. Oliver
invented them, which means that they only exist in his mind. The memory of the Holocau
st then
is also in his mind. He tried to deny it, but it was already there and so he could not deny it. It is
part of his identity and therefore part of his memory. Ariel also has a very strong Jewish identity,
even though she did not realize that it was t
here. All of sudden she is able to play the klezmer
violin, without having taken any lessons. With this music she evokes the memory of the shtetl
and focuses on Jewish identity. This happens without her making that choice herself. She evokes
this memory th
at is not her own. As she claims in the beginning of the book when someone tells
her that she plays like she was born in Lublin, Budapest or Bukovina, “I’m not from any of those
places. I’m from right here, around the corner on Edgar Allan Poe Street” (15)
. She is obviously
ignorant of what this music represents and where its origins lie. It is just something that happens.
It is something that is already within her. “Somehow it got planted there, like a squatter who had
no immediate or future plans of leavi
ng. And it would have still chosen her as human amplifier
even if she had been tone deaf. [...] She had been handpicked to bring something back. The
courier of a message, delivered in a most unusual way” (232). Even though Ariel does not have a
memory of t
hose places or of that music, she is able to bring it back, because it is part of her

So both Oliver and Ariel do not have a choice in remembering. The Holocaust and the
Jewish identity are so much a part of them, that it comes through no matter
if they try to prevent
it or not. But what exactly is remembered? Is Oliver’s collective memory unambiguous and seen
from a single perspective? The perspective of the second

Rosenbaum chooses to place the story in New York, where he lives him
self. All sorts of
typically American matters are incorporated in the story. In doing this Rosenbaum sets apart
Jewish identity and the American society. These two social groups are opposed in the novel. One


example is that when a woman walks up to Ariel t
o complement her on her playing, it says:
“‘Beautiful, child, simply beautiful,’ said a woman dressed elegantly in a pink Prada suit and
Manolo Blahnik shoes

an apparent refugee from Park Avenue travelling courageously without a
passport on the Upper Wes
t Side” (10). And “others joined the growing audience. A tall, trim
yuppie on Rollerblades was receiving stock quotes from his wireless. Everything on him, except
the wheels and the phone, designed by Tommy Hilfiger” (11). Rosenbaum here portrays a
typical image of Americans. The distance between the two groups becomes even clearer in
the chapter on the Christmas tree, when it says: “They gathered as they always do, these New
Yorkers, at Rockefeller Center, for the annual celebratory lightning of the

Christmas tree (211)”.
There is a strong distance between Oliver, the second
generation survivor and the Manhattan

This comes forward very clearly where the memory of the Holocaust is concerned.
Rosenbaum claims that the children of survivors hav
e a different connection to the Holocaust and
a different point of view than others. As he claims at one point in the book about the children of
Holocaust survivors : “[...] their insight into the aftermath of mass death

the absurdity of trying
to begin
again when what came before ended so mercilessly and radically

is greater than it is
for the average population” (333). According to Rosenbaum the children of survivors are closer
to the Holocaust past and therefore they have a better insight in this mat

The notion that the children of survivors have a closer connection to the Holocaust and
have a better insight into the aftermath of mass death, makes Oliver judge the way in which the
people of New York remember the Holocaust. He feels that they do no
t remember the Holocaust
enough and not in the correct manner. Their collective memory of the Holocaust is not as it
should be and does not do justice to what actually happened. American society has trivialized and
institutionalized the memory of the Holoc
aust. Oliver names examples of what he thinks to be


bad remembrances of the Holocaust, among which is
Schindler’s List
. He says: “
Schindler’s List
the movie, had become required viewing, with all it’s good
sanctimony, its ultimat
e feel
good imperatives, its insulting inversion of contrasting truths. The
Holocaust isn’t about the fortuitous rescue of twelve hundred Jews at the hands of a repentant,
benevolent German. That has mass appeal, but the Holocaust is about mass death. [...
] Some
stories are morally entitled to be told in a certain way or not at all

even if unappealing, even if
the world won’t buy it” (292). He even goes so far as to claim that the Holocaust became a
“legitimate moneymaking commodity” (294). People no long
er regard it as a subject for serious
study. Oliver does not see this happening as such at the moment, but it is something that is very
possible in the future. As he puts it: “it would have happened eventually” (295), were it not for
the intervention of th
e Golems to prevent this from happening.

Summing up, Rosenbaum sets apart the second
generation and American society and their
ways of remembering the Holocaust. At the same time he judges the way in which American
society remembers the event and claims th
at children of Holocaust survivors know better how to
deal with the aftermath of mass death. According to him, American society has trivialized the
memory of World War II. They give people what they want to see and show the heroes in stead
of the victims.
According to him we should not remember that some survived, but that six million

From this it appears that Rosenbaum, as a second
generation author has a collective
memory of the Holocaust that is unambiguous. Oliver has no choice in remembering the


it is part of him and his identity. Without remembering this part of his identity Oliver
gets lost; loses himself in a way

The protagonist of the novel is not distanced enough from this
social group to take into consideration a different side.

Rosenbaum does show another way of
remembering by another group, but Oliver disapproves of their way of remembering. Just as


Novick claimed the Jews have done, he sees the Jews as victims and the Holocaust and the
Holocaust is central to his identity as a

child of survivors. At one point in the novel he calls Jews
“a long
suffering people” (271). He seems to have not enough detachment to regard matters from
multiple perspectives and so the collective memory of the Holocaust seems unambiguous. If we
look fu
rther into the novel though, there are a number of things that seem to complicate this

Between the golems there is discussion about the way in which Oliver should remember
the Holocaust. Lothar and Rose among others feel that Oliver goes too far i
nto it. They say that
he has to realize that it is not his pain. He is not a survivor and in that way it is not his past. On
the other hand some of the golems want him to bury himself in this matter and in this book he is
writing. But as already mentioned
before, the golems are actually only in Oliver’s imagination.
As he says himself at one point to his golem parents: “You’re not really here; I invented you”
(277). This means that he has an inner conflict about how he should remember the Holocaust.

The fac
t that Oliver does not know how to remember it exactly complicates matters. Oliver feels
that the Jews are the victims and that that is what we should remember, but the way in which to
do it raises problems for him as well. He knows how he does not want it

to be remembered, the
way he sees American society remember it, but he does not know precisely what the correct way
to remember is either.

Furthermore, Rosenbaum comments on the Jews as well. They are too Americanized and
forgot about their Jewish identit
y. “The sound it produced was equally jarring

foreign, even to
many of these listeners, who, being Jews, should have known better. It was, after all, their mother
music, but they didn’t realize it, or perhaps, as so often happens with communities flung o
ut so
far in their own progress, they had become deaf to the ancestral melodies that had once sustained
them” (12). As collective identity and collective memory are connected, and as the Holocaust is


central to Jewish identity, their forgetting their Jewis
h identity implies them forgetting the
Holocaust as well. They forgot about their heritage and their legacy, because they live in the
United States. They have Americanized and follow the ways of American society and with that
the American way of rememberin
g the Holocaust, which he disapproves of.

Rosenbaum really complicates the Holocaust memory at the end of the novel. Oliver
decides to commit suicide just as his parents did before him. His father killed himself by a
gunshot and after the investigation int
o his death was over, the gun was given to Oliver. Oliver
now wants to use this gun to kill himself. He goes to the George Washington Bridge, but the
golems follow him there. When he wants to use the gun his father asks him to please not use it;
the gun ha
s killed too many already. He then tells Oliver the history of the gun. The gun belonged
to an SS officer. While Lothar was hiding, he witnessed how this officer killed his family with
this gun. He wanted to take revenge on the officer, but knew that this
would probably never
happen. As he puts it: “He would blend back into the world, and I would never find him and
never get my revenge. Or maybe someone would get to him first

finishing him off and
depriving me of my satisfaction” (344). Then when the war
was over and the Germans were
retreating, the unexpected happened. He saw the officer again. The officer was already captured,
but Lothar took his gun from the officer’s body and killed him.

The fact that Lothar killed an SS officer after the war complica
tes matters. By enclosing
this event in the novel Rosenbaum portrays the Jews not just as victims, but also as taking
revenge when the opportunity is there. Another thing is that even though the story and the
circumstances were horrific, there still speaks

a love for life from the pleading of Lothar. As he
says: “The secret of survival is that may things can be survived. Men and women have always
been adaptive creatures. Life is precious, even with all that’s missing” (345). This again
complicates matters,
as the golems all committed suicide. As becomes clear from an earlier part


of the novel as well, the golems actually regret being ghosts. They enjoy being on earth, they love
the swing in the park, they love riding the subway and observing people and they
enjoy all the food. They even think about asking Ariel to try and bring them back to life, and one
chapter in the book is about what their lives would be like. In these episodes they all use their
experiences of the war and of the camps in a con
structive manner. They all learned to deal with
this past and enjoy their lives. But this is all imaginary.

Rosenbaum then in this novel shows us different groups and their memory of the
Holocaust. He portrays
the memory of the survivors
by means of the g

the second

generation survivors, and American society. By doing this Rosenbaum does not show the
memory of the Holocaust from merely one perspective; not
only from

the group of the survivors
and their families. He shows the American soci
ety as well in the novel, though the way in which
they remember it is condemned. At first sight this seems to imply that Rosenbaum is not detached
enough to see this matter from multiple perspectives. Furthermore, Rosenbaum in the novel
shows us that eve

Jews forgot about this part of their pasts and took on the way of remembering
that Oliver and the golems reject. But then he complicates matters by showing Oliver having
problems with how to remember the Holocaust. The Holocaust was so unimaginable and
plex that it

difficult to find a way in which to remember it and do justice to what happened.
Then he also confronts the reader, not with the aftermath, but with a story from the war period

. Lothar took revenge and killed a German SS officer. So
here we see an image of a Jew
taking revenge and killing an officer, even after the war was already over and the soldier had
already been captured. Furthermore, in this part Lothar wants to stop all of the killing. The gun
has killed too many already. Loth
ar still has a love

life and claims that life is beautiful even
after all that happened. And so do the other golems. So besides showing the horrors of the war


and the inhumanity, he claims that life is beautiful as well, and that there are many things
living for.

So Rosenbaum in this novel does not merely show the memory from one perspective and
out of the viewpoint of victimhood, but shows the reader the complexity of Holocaust memory
and the difficulties of how to deal with it. His view is not
unambiguous. He is not as Novick
claimed impatient with ambiguities. He shows us the ambiguities, even the moral ones.


Everything is Illuminated

Jonathan Safran Foer is a third
generation Jewish American writer. He was born in 1977
in Washington D.C. Hi
s grandparents were Holocaust survivors who after the war immigrated to
the United States. His grandmother is still alive, but he never knew his grandfather as he died
shortly after arriving in the United States (
“Jonathan Safran Foer”).

Everything is Illu

is Foer’s debut novel, which was published in 2002. In this
novel we find a 25
old Jewish American man named Jonathan Safran Foer, just as the
author of the novel, who travels to the Ukraine in order to find a woman named Augustine and a
ge called Trachimbrod. His grandfather was from this village, but immigrated to the USA
after the war. After having only been in the USA for a couple of weeks, he died. Jonathan wants
to see the village, the shtetl, his grandfather is from so he will know
in what kind of environment
his grandfather grew up, and of course he hopes he will meet people who knew him. He
especially wants to find Augustine, because she supposedly saved his grandfather from the Nazis
during the war. His grandmother gave a picture
of this woman to Jonathan’s mother, who then
gave it to Jonathan. Grandmother did not say more about it though, and as Jonathan does not
want to tell her about the trip he wants to make, he cannot ask her more about it. She does not
know everything either,

as she did not meet Jonathan’s grandfather until after the war. This was
in a displaced people’s camp. Jonathan hires the services of two employees of Heritage Touring,
a travel agency that helps Jews tracing their past and the past of their families in t
he Ukraine.
These employees are a 25
old ‘translator’ named Alexander Perchov, also named Sasha, and
his grandfather, the driver, who insists on bringing his dog along on this trip, as he claims to be
blind and needs the dog in order to see.


The nov
el consists of three parts. First there is the account of the search for Augustine and
the shtetl Trachimbrod, which is told by Alexander Perchov. Alex does not speak English very
well, which makes his account at times hilarious. Second there is the ‘histo
ry of Trachimbrod’
which Jonathan makes up of the very little information that he finds about this village that his
grandfather comes from. He creates a purely fictional story in which his ancestors appear. In the
third place there are the letters written
by Alex to Jonathan. Even though there is no letter from
Jonathan to Alexander enclosed in the novel, we find out that Alex receives letters from Jonathan
as well. It appears that both Jonathan and Alex are sending each other their writings, and in their
etters they comment on each other’s pieces and talk about what happened during the trip and the
aftermath of it. These letters do not only have the purpose of reflection, but also foreshadow what
happens during their search for Augustine.

The fact that the

character in the novel named Jonathan has the same name as the author
of the novel is no coincidence. Foer is a third
generation Jewish writer who went to the Ukraine
when he was 22 years old in order to find out more about his family’s origins and especi
about his grandfather whom he never knew. Just as in the novel his grandfather lived in the
village of Trachimbrod before he came to the USA, after having been able to escape the horrors
of World War II. The only thing Foer took with him was a photogr
aph of a woman whom they
believe to have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. When Foer came back from his search in
the Ukraine, on which he found nothing, not even the village, he started writing this novel. He
was planning on writing a non
fictional ch
ronicle of his search, but he ended up writing a work of
fiction. So part of this story is taken from his own life and his being a third
generation Holocaust
survivor looking for the past of his family, which was destroyed because of the Second World


The character Foer does not seem to have a choice in remembering the Holocaust. Just as
the theory claims and as was the case with Oliver in
The Golems of Gotham

the memory is part
of Foer’s legacy and identity and therefore he goes in search of the past o
f his family in order to
find out more of his family’s origin.

Foer in this novel shows us two very different cultures. These cultures are very clearly
opposed. This becomes clear already at the beginning of the trip. Grandfather does not like
Jonathan bec
ause Jonathan is Jewish, and on several occasions grandfather calls him ‘the Jew’ in
stead of using his name. He even changes the name of his dog when Jonathan tells him that
Sammy Davis Junior was a Jew. Furthermore, when Alex picks Jonathan up from the t
rain station
he is surprised by his appearance. He says: “He did not appear like either the Americans I had
witnessed in magazines, with yellow hairs and muscles, or the Jews from history books, with no
hairs and prominent bones. He was wearing nor blue je
ans nor the uniform. In truth, he did not
look like anything special at all. I was underwhelmed to the maximum” (32). The image Alex
has of the Jews is taken from history books, where the Jews are wearing striped uniforms and
have their heads shaven. He h
as a Holocaust image of Jews. His idea of Jews comes from the
collective memory shaped by his history books.

This matter comes to the fore even stronger a bit later on in the novel. When Jonathan,
Alex and his grandfather are in the car and are talking ab
out the search and the picture of
Augustine, Jonathan tells Alex that his grandmother fled from Kolki, the place she is originally
from, and left her family behind. Her family was killed during the war. Alex is surprised by the
fact that no Ukrainian saved

her family. Jonathan replies that it is not surprising at all. The
Ukrainians were bad during the war, he claims, even worse than the Nazis. When Alex does not
believe this, Jonathan says: “Look it up in the history books” (62). But according to Alex “It
not say this in the history books” (62). So Jonathan coming from a Jewish American society


claims that it is in the history books that the Ukrainians were bad, whereas Alex, being a
Ukrainian, says that this is not in the history books. Clearly we hav
e an example here of the fact
that different societies and groups have different collective memories of the war. Jonathan and
Alex both have a very different collective memory of the Holocaust, because they belong to two
different social groups. These grou
ps chose to remember the Holocaust is a certain way and later
generations therefore remember the event in this way as well. It shows that both of these cultures
have a different collective memory of the war and it shows that the collective memory indeed is

ahistorical and even antihistorical in this respect, as Novick puts it. Both groups have a
perspective of what happened and only see what happened from the perspective of their social
group. The Jewish group sees the role of the Ukrainians during the war
as bad and the Ukrainians
do not have this memory and are convinced that they tried to help the Jews during the war.

Foer shows us this discussion of different collective memories, and even takes this
discussion further. Of course Alex does not like Jonath
an saying this. Jonathan tells him that it
has got nothing to do with him, because it is already over 50 years ago, but Alex wants Jonathan
to say that it is not true. It says: “‘I think you are mistaken,’ I told the hero. ‘I don’t know what to
say.’ Say y
ou are mistaken.’ ‘I can’t.’ ‘You must.’” (62). According to Alex what Jonathan is
saying is not true, but according to Jonathan it is. They both cannot change their perspectives and
see if there maybe is more to it. They have a collective memory that is s
haped and constrained by
the frameworks of their social groups and there is no room for ambiguities. They are not detached
enough to take each others viewpoint into consideration. Foer as an author chooses to enter into
this discussion, and show these both

sides. By doing that he confronts us with the issue of
collective memory.

He even complicates this matter further. In their search for Augustine they come across a
woman, whom they all at first believe to be Augustine, but who later turns out to be called



Lista is the sole survivor of the village of Trachimbrod of which nothing is left. Lista takes
Jonathan, Alex and grandfather to the place where Trachimbrod used to be. Getting there takes a
long time as Augustine has never driven in a car and is s
o afraid of it that she insists on walking.
As she does not have the ability to walk very fast and needs to take rests after every couple of
miles, they do not reach the place until it is already dark. Then Augustine tells them what
happened when the Nazis

came to Trachimbrod. She tells that all Jews had to stand in line and
had to spit and step on the Torah, which was thrown on the ground. Her father had to do this as
well. As he did not want to do it they killed his daughter, Lista’s little sister. Then s
he tells that
another sister was shot as well, because of her father’s refusal, but later on we find out that this
was not a sister, but it was Lista herself. She was pregnant and the German officer shot her, as
she puts it ‘in her place’ which killed her
baby, but did not kill her. Then they put a gun to her
father’s head and said that if he spit, they would kill him, and so he did. Lista dragged herself
away from the place of the scene. She called out to the gentiles in the houses, but nobody wanted
to he
lp her. They averted their eyes. Lista says that she cannot forgive them. Alex does not
understand that no one wanted to help her, but grandfather says that this was not so strange.
These people wanted to protect themselves and their families and chose not

to help her. When the
Germans were gone Lista came back and collected every item she found in what was left of the
village; pictures, wedding rings and the like. Her house is stacked with boxes containing these
sorts of items. The story of Lista evokes aw
e and astonishment in the reader. In this part of the
novel then, Foer shows us the horrors of the war from the point of view of the Jewish woman
who cannot forgive the others for not helping her.

Foer then turns everything around and shows us the other si
de. He puts forward a memory
of the Holocaust from a different group and from a different point of view. On their departure,
Lista gives Jonathan, Alex and grandfather one of the boxes from her house, marked IN CASE.


They decide to see what is in the box a
nd one at a time they blindly pull items out of it.
Grandfather pulls out a picture which he places on the table without paying much attention to it.
Jonathan picks up the picture while Alex is choosing his next item. Jonathan them exclaims that
it is Alex

who is in the picture. When grandfather looks at the photograph carefully, he tells them
that it is him together with his wife, Alex’s grandmother, his son and his best friend Herschel. He
then starts to tell the story of how he murdered his friend. Hersc
hel was a Jew and when the
Germans came to the village during the war grandfather was afraid that Herschel might be killed,
but he did not know how to help him escape. Every inhabitant of the village had to line up in
front of the synagogue and every man h
ad to point out a Jew. If you did not point out a Jew then
you would be considered a Jew. Herschel and grandfather were the last in line and grandfather
did not know what else to do than point at Herschel, afraid of being killed himself or having his
and child killed. He thought of his family and of the future generations and therefore he had
to choose for himself and his wife. It says: “[…] I felt on my other hand the hand of Grandmother
and I knew that she was holding your father and that he was hold
ing you and that you were
holding your children[…]” (250). This story shows the memory of the Holocaust from another
point of view. A viewpoint that opposes that of Lista. This part evokes awe and astonishment as
well, but
we do
not just
for Herschel.

We also feel for grandfather who had to make such a
choice. It makes one wonder ‘What would I do?’,
after which one discovers that one cannot
imagine having to make a choice like that at all.

Foer further complicates the matter with the following. When gr
andfather is done telling
this story the voice of Alex comes through, which says: “[…] I also pointedatHerschel and I also
said heisaJew and I will tell you that you also pointedatHerschel and you also said heisaJew and
more than that Grandfather also poin
tedatme and said heisaJew and you also pointedathim and
said heisaJew and your grandmother and Little Igor and we all pointedateachother […]” (252). In


my opinion Foer here wants to make clear that every person who lived under German occupation
was a victi
m. And even later generations, like in this example Jonathan, Alex and Litt
e Igor, are
also still victims of the war. Because his grandfather pointed at Herschel, Alex also pointed at
Herschel. The Holocaust and what his grandfather did during the war are

his legacy and they are
all Jews in the way that they are all victims of the war. So not just Jonathan and Herschel, but
grandfather and Alex as well.

This generational issue is something that bothers Alex. He wonders if he is guilty as well,
because his
grandfather betrayed his best friends and, in a way, murdered him. Alex says: “[…] is
it forgivable what he did canheeverbeforgiven for his finger for whathisfingerdid for
whathepointedto and didnotpointto for whathetouchedinhislife and whathedidnottouch h
e is
stillguilty I am I am Iam IamI?” (252). He wonders if he is guilty as well for what his grandfather
did before him. Do children and grandchildren need to be forgiven just as the traitors themselves?
Do they have to keep on living with this burden? Gra
ndfather tried to leave this past behind to
make life easier on his children. He changed his name from Eli to Alex, moved to another town
and made up a different past for himself. Through the letters of Jonathan we learn that
grandfather wants to be forgiv
en by Jonathan for what he did. Alex pleads for him in the letters
he writes to Jonathan. He says: “Grandfather interrogates me about you every day. He desires to
know if you forgive him for the things he told you about the war, and about Herschel. (You co
alter it, Jonathan. For him, not for me. Your novel is now verging on the war. It is possible)”
(145). Alex wants Jonathan to forgive his grandfather and change it in his writing, because, as
Alex believes, “with writing, we have second chances” (144).

Foer in this novel shows us two social groups that both have a different memory of the
Holocaust. He introduces the issue of collective memory here and the way in which it works.
Both Jonathan and Alex read about the Holocaust and got their information fr
om history books,


but the result of this is that they have a different memory of the war. The collective memory that
was put forward in these books

totally different. Even though they notice this, Jonathan and
Alex cannot take each others point of view
into consideration and do something with it. Jonathan
cannot take back that he said that the Ukrainians were even worse than the Nazis and Alex just
does not believe this and thinks Jonathan is lying. The gaps between them, because of their
different socia
l backgrounds
, keep

on standing between them. They both have their different
s of view

on the war and their own ideas about the stories that were told during the trip.
They get closer to each other as the novel develops, but as Alex says in one of his

letters: “We
became like friends while you were in Ukraine, yes? In a different world, we could have been
real friends” (26).

In the light of what happened in their pasts, this is not possible.

In the stories of what happened during the war, Foer shows us

the horrors of it. He shows
these horrors for two social groups, namely the Jews and the gentiles. After having read the
stories, we feel for both of these groups. The story of Lista is terrible and as a reader one cannot
understand that no one would help

her. But then, if Foer shows us the motives and the fear of the
other group, the group that did not help, we know that, had we lived then, it would have been a
difficult choice to either help the woman or not. The same goes for the story of Herschel. Of
ourse grandfather was afraid of being killed himself and having his wife and child killed, and
therefore we und
erstand that he did what he did, although we cannot accept it.

Furthermore, Foer claims that everyone who lived during the war and experienced th
horrors is a victim. They are all Jews, all victims of war. And what’s more, this victimization is

on to next generations as well. Children and grandchildren of both, as in this case, victims
and traitors are still all victims of the war and have
to try and live with this legacy.



Both Rosenbaum and Foer keep these novels close to their own situation is life.
Rosenbaum gives the protagonist Oliver a lot of features of his own life and past. Just as
Rosenbaum, Oliver is a child of Ho
locaust survivors. Foer gives his protagonist his own name.
Foer, in real life, made the trip to the Ukraine to find Trachimbrod and Augustine, just as
Jonathan in the novel. The further course of the

is purely fictional though. Both these
authors fe
el the need to write about the Holocaust, because it is so much a part of their identities.
This comes across through the ideas of the main characters of their novels.

Both Rosenbaum and Foer furthermore bring to the fore the subject of collective memory.

They both show that there are differences in the collective memories of different groups.
Rosenbaum tells of the disparities in memory and
the disparities
in the way of remembering of
these groups. Foer also treats this subject by writing about the differ
ences in the collective
memory put forward in the history books of different cultures. In
Everything is Illuminated

furthermore, shows that Jonathan and Alex, as representatives of these groups are not detached
enough to look further than the borders

of their own group’s collective memory. Rosenbaum does
not discuss this. He only shows that the
way in which others remember

the Holocaust is not as it
should be. He judges this from his position
as a

Jewish American child of Holocaust survivors.
m complicates this again though by having the main character, who is a child of
Holocaust survivors and who should therefore as he claims at one point in the novel have better
insight into this matter, doubting how he should remember the Holocaust himself.

By writing this
Rosenbaum puts forward the complexity of this subject and the complexity of remembering it in
a correct way. Foer does not show a sense of judgment, but only shows that there is a gap
between these groups where the memory of the Holocaust
is concerned that is insurmountable.


Another similarity is that Foer and Rosenbaum both write about the horrors of the war
and they both show a complexity connected to this. In his account of an incident of the period of
war, Rosenbaum portrays the Jews n
ot just as victims, but as taking revenge as well.
Furthermore, he shows that the survivors, even after having lived through so much hardship and
in the case of the golems even after having killed themselves because of it, they still discover
they have a l
ove for life and they regret having killed themselves. Foer in telling about the
horrors of the war again does this out of the viewpoint of two groups. First of all he writes the
story of Lista. She is shot and screams for help, but the gentiles in their h
ouses look away and do
not help her. Then after that he tells the story from the point of view of the gentile Alex, who had
to choose between having himself or his wife and child killed or his best friend Herschel. The
reader is confronted with these two s
ides and realizes that both of these groups were victims.
Both in a different way, but both had to try and live on with all of these terrible memories.
also illustrates this with

the part of the novel
in which

everyone points at each other and says ‘h
is a Jew’.

Furthermore, both authors discuss the generational issue. Children and grandchildren of
the survivors have to live with this past of their parents or grandparents as well. Jonathan and
Oliver because of their Jewish identity, but Alex also h
as to live with what his grandfather did.
As he puts it himself in one of his letters “Everything is the way it is because everything is the
way it was”(145). This past lives on in the present. Alex wonders if he is guilty for what his
grandfather did duri
ng the war and wants very much for Jonathan to forgive his grandfather.
Grandfather is not a bad person he claims, he is a good person who lived during a bad time.

Foer as well as Rosenbaum show different groups with different collective memories of

War II. Their novels are very different. They place their stories in different countries and
societies and the groups that remember the Holocaust are different. But they both show the


ambiguities of the Holocaust and its memory. Therefore, these authors d
o not fit the theory put
forward by Halbwachs precisely. As Novick put it, according to Halbwachs “collective memory
sees events from a single, committed perspective; is impatient with ambiguities of any kind [and]
reduces events to mythic archetypes” (4).

These authors show that this is not how their collective
memory of the Holocaust is shaped and by writing these novels they add this ambiguous memory
of the Second World War to the collective memory of the Holocaust again.



The Holocaust
is part of the collective memory. It is an event that is remembered in all
sorts of ways. Children learn about it at school, people visit museums and watch films, series and
documentaries on this matter. Then there are other forms of art, like the visual a
rts which treat
this topic. Every village or city has at least one monument for remembering the victims of the
Second World War. The impact of this war on society has been tremendous, and it still is. This
becomes clear from the examples given in the intro
duction as well.

The collective memory of the Holocaust is changing. People try to fit the memory of the
Holocaust into today’s society. Because of present
day society and its changes, the memory of
the Holocaust asks for a change as well. The example of
minister Jet Bussemaker in the
Netherlands who wants to incorporate the role of non
Western immigrants into the collective
memory of the Holocaust is a very striking example. As the number of non
Western immigrants
in the Netherlands is substantial, the ch
oice to look into the past of these groups during the
Holocaust in order to include that in the memory of the Holocaust is a logical one. People choose
to alter and adjust the memory of the Holocaust, and present concerns of society decide what of
the past

we remember and in what way.

The collective identity and the collective memory of a social group are connected.
According to Peter Novick in
The Holocaust and Collective Memory: The American Experience
the Holocaust is central to the identity of Jewish
generation survivors and their identity is
grounded in victimhood. According to Halbwachs the memory of a group is unambiguous and
the members of the group see this memory only from their own point of view. Members of a
group put themselves in the p
erspective of the group where the collective memory of that group
is concerned. Therefore, as Rosenbaum and Foer are members of the social group of second


generation Holocaust survivors, they should have a collective memory of the Holocaust that
shows Jews

as victims of the Holocaust and they should see this memory only from their point of
view. The memory furthermore, should be unambiguous.

But the novels show something else. In their novels these second

and third
writers portray not an unambig
uous, but an ambiguous memory of the Holocaust. The Holocaust
is a major part of their identity as being Jewish, but these writers do not only show the Jews as
victims. One shows them taking revenge and the other shows that other groups of people and

cultures were victims of the war as well. And that whereas later generations of Jewish
Holocaust survivors still have to live with this past which is difficult, we see that other groups
have this same problem. Children and grandchildren of people who murd
ered someone during the
war have to try and deal with that as well. These authors show different perspectives on what
happened, and show the difficulties people were confronted with in wartime. They confront the
reader with choices one had to make and a ye
arning for taking revenge

Just as project ‘de
Bunker’ does in Holland they confront you with the question ‘What would you do?’

Furthermore, they confront the readers with the problems of collective memory as well.

treat the difference in how this c
ollective memory is shaped in different societies and which
individuals in these societies take on, and the way in which the collective memory changes over
time. These members of this group of the second
generation provide us with a view of the
Holocaust m
emory that transcends the memory of their own group, and they tell about the
ambiguities, including the moral ambiguities. These stories that they write add again to the
collective memory. People who read these novels take it up in their memory of the Holo
This means that if the way in which the post
Holocaust generation writes about the war changes,
the memory of the Holocaust that readers of these novels have, will change as well.


The question is how the collective memory of the Holocaust will take

shape over the
coming years and which groups will remember what, and in what way. The generation that is
now writing, like Foer, is still quite close to the actual survivors. Chances are this generation still
has grandparents who survived the war, but thi
s is going to change. Once the survivors are no
longer here, we have to remember without them. Stories will be passed on, but what will happen
to these stories? How will they change? The collective memory of the Holocaust is still very
much alive. The war
is very actively remembered, but only time can tell how this memory will
change. Fact is that it does and it will.

The Holocaust was a time full of ambiguities. Standa
rds as to what was normal or
, and what was right and what was wrong shifted. Pe
ople were confronted with
questions, difficulties and choices that are unimaginable and that one hopes never to be presented
with. Such a difficult and confusing time should be remembered in such a way. The Second
World War was a complicated period and the
refore the memory is complex and ambiguous as
nly in that way
the memory

can do justice to what happened in this most horrific chapter
of our world’s history.



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