“Never Again” – A Rallying Cry Without Substance?

Last class, we discussed representation of the Holocaust in terms of Art Spiegelman’s Maus: A Survivor’s Tale and in museums, most notably, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. One tangent of the discussion that particularly struck me was the “Never Again” message that resonates through Holocaust museums, exhibits, and other representations across a myriad of forms of media. A major reason behind representations of the Holocaust is to help people remember and make sure a genocide and tragedy like this never happens again. However, modern-day genocides do and have occurred and many people in the general public fail to see the modern-day parallels with history occurring around the globe.

The “Never Again” message is a powerful one, and one that needs to be told. It has been said that one must not dwell on the past, but we must also learn from the past and in order to achieve this, we cannot let it fall into the land of forgotten memory. Public memory is a funny thing; momentous occasions and terrible tragedies are often forgotten or generally overlooked within a generation or two. There are contemporary groups that deny the Holocaust and unfortunately public memory does not last long. Representation of the Holocaust is crucial to ensure not only that the genocide itself is not forgotten, but the details that can be paralleled in today’s society.

According to United to End Genocide, there have been four genocides since the Holocaust: Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur; they also list 6 countries currently at risk of genocide: Yemen, Syria, D.R. Congo, Burma, South Sudan, and Sudan [1] [2]. They are currently engaged in preventing or stopping genocide and mass atrocities in these countries. Furthermore, Genocide Watch list five genocide emergencies currently [3]. Clearly, genocide is not a thing of the past and has happened again and again despite the “Never Again” message that pervades Holocaust memorials.

Genocide World Map
Genocide World Map, courtesy of Genocide Watch

However, the Holocaust did not happen overnight, but came about due to a myriad of events, changes, and decisions accumulating over years. Today, even in our own country, xenophobic decisions in our own country scarily mirror decisions that led to the Holocaust. The issue of Syrian refugees is one such example. Whether these examples transform into a tragedy even remotely close to a genocide is besides the point. They mirror events in the past that did lead to the Holocaust and yet public memory seems to have largely forgotten this.

Holocaust memorial representations are crucial to retaining a public memory of the Holocaust and ensuring that history does not repeat itself, even on a small scale. Perhaps museums need to focus on making clearer parallels to contemporary issues to help their audiences see the connections. Museums have a duty to preserve history and ensure that its lessons and warnings do not go unheeded.

[1] United to End Genocide. “Past Genocides and Mass Atrocities,” United to End Genocide, accessed March 15, 2016. http://endgenocide.org/learn/past-genocides/

[2] United to End Genocide. “Who’s At Risk?” United to End Genocide, accessed March 15, 2016 http://endgenocide.org/whos-at-risk/

[3] Genocide Watch. “Alerts.” The International Alliance to End Genocide, accessed March 16, 2016 http://www.genocidewatch.org/alerts/newsalerts.html

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