But Why Didn’t They Fight Back?


But, why didn’t they fight back? This is a question you hear many public school students ask when they visit Holocaust memorials and ,onuments. I remember when I stumbled across the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston, MA. I was a sophomore in college, and I was fascinated with the memorial because I had just completed a class entitled “The Nazi State.” The memorial consists of six 40-foot towers made of steel and glass. The sides of the walls are inscribed with numbers from 0,000,001 to 6,000,000. Each number represents the identification numbers assigned to individual Jews by the Nazis. As you approach the towers you see the steam that emanates from below to represent the gas chambers at each of the death camps. Also inscribed in the glass walls are quotes from some survivors and those who died at the death camps. A group of Holocaust survivors who were living in the Boston area planned the monument, and it was erected in 1995. [1]

The Holocaust was a time when most people in the world turned their backs on the Jewish population. It becomes even more critical to recognize the actions taken by those few who were courageous enough to lend aid or resist, but do most museums or monuments do this? Monuments generally remember instead of recognize the actions taken by the victims and the survivors of an event. Likewise, visitors own experiences influence their interpretations of monuments.

During my visit to the New England Holocaust monument I looked for a theme of resistance. During times of oppression the slightest action, or inaction, can mean resistance. Walking through the “chambers” I read the walls, and I remember one emotion being more prevalent than any other: surprise. I was surprised because the quotes did not overtly discuss these acts of resistance. I had to actively search for these moments, hoping they were represented.

I failed to recognize the amount of strength, courage, and resistance that each individual needed to make it another day in the Nazi State for so long. I was ashamed of myself for neglecting to give each Jewish person agency and for thinking of them as helpless. To imagine Jews as a group of hopeless victims was a belief programmed in my head since high school; this belief was further ingrained by monuments such as the New England Holocaust Memorial.

When comparing the New England Holocaust Memorial to the book Maus I by Art Spiegelman the theme of resistance continues to be underemphasized. In Art’s book he describes the story of his father through cartoon illustration. Art Spiegelman did a phenomenal job illustrating his father as a lucky and “normal” survivor of the Holocaust, and he did not consider the choices made by his father as heroic. However, I feel that Art could have better recognized certain actions made by his father during the Holocaust as acts of resistance, even if they were minor.

Some of the primary acts of resistance that I noticed in Maus I were the attempts made by his father to barter for goods on the black market. The “Final Solution” for the “Jewish Problem” was complete and total destruction of all Jews; therefore, their sheer existence and pursuance of life were acts of resistance. The monument built by the Holocaust survivors in Boston, MA stands as a tribute to the public memory of the Holocaust, but neglects to give much agency to each individual survivor.All semester we have been discussing what constitutes resistance, and that is most certainly a question that must be considered when creating an exhibit or memorial.

So, do museums and monuments sufficiently explain resistance and agency when they present the Holocaust?

More importantly, how do you begin to present resistance when there is no worldwide accepted definition of resistance?

[1] “New England Holocaust Memorial,” PublicArtBoston, http://www.publicartboston.com/content/new-england-holocaust-memorial, 2010.

[2] “The New England Holocaust Memorial,” Friends of the New England Holocaust Memorial. http://nehm.org/

[3] Art Spiegelman, Maus.

[4] “New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston, MA.”

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