United States Holocaust Museums: Pathos, Possession, Patriotism

Rob Baum

Abstract

This article examines the role of United States holocaust museums in directing (American) knowledge and memory of World War II, and demonstrates how signifiers of race, colour and Jewishness are played out and theatricalised. Erected in two principal U.S. cities of Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., the Holocaust Museum and Museum of Tolerance uphold very different mandates: the first dedicated to revealing European civilian tragedies during WWII; the latter dealing with Jewish persecution and the L.A. Riots of 1991, with references to other cultural catastrophes. While these projects are different, they are not opposed; both museums locate the American perspective of events and their meanings at the forefront.

American holocaust museums seem to challenge spaces between memory and its direction, vision and revision. Within the gruesome context of holocaust portrayal, interrogate the valences of memory’s play and expose American holocaust museums as theatres of pornographic memory. The seduction of feeling does not invite change so much as purgation, what Aristotle identified as catharsis — an emotional and physical release, unfortunately replicating the seductive techniques used by Goebbels for the glorification of Hitler. Through manipulation of viewers as automatic audiences, these museums function as centres for pathos I question the policy and polity of presenting genocide as an entertainment leading to catharsis, recognizing that the final act of purgation is all too easily negation.

Keywords

Keywords: Holocaust, Shoah, museum, memory, catharsis

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