Class Projects: The Holocaust in Civil Religion
The history of Holocaust commemorations as civil religion speaks to the interests of students at all levels. This topic may expose introductory-level students to the political dimensions of how Holocaust commemorations have come into being. More advanced students can focus on the complex relationship among history, memory, and memorialization.
Take some time to explore the Holocaust Commemoration Interactive Calendar. Notice the 'hot' dates. What events are most commonly used to mark the Holocaust? Access the primary documents associated with the date. Why do you think this particular date is significant? From whose perspective? Whose experiences may be left out of such a commemoration? Because Holocaust commemorations happen in localities large and small we have an opportunity to study their creation and their history from a number of vantage points, both historically and ethnographically.
Choose one of the countries on the interactive calendar. Design a research project to analyze the national commemoration or the lack of one. What groups were behind creating an official commemoration? On what grounds did they argue their case? What individuals or groups were opposed, on what grounds? What does the commemoration look like – who created its shape and content? What is not commemorated? Why? Are there multiple and/or competing commemorations in your country of study? Are there both official and unofficial commemorations? What languages are spoken? Who participates? How has the construction of a Holocaust commemoration inflected the national narrative, has it become part of the nation’s civil religion, its political culture?
Consider a Holocaust commemoration at your school or in your community. Interview its founders, participants, campus organizers, detractors. How do they understand what they are doing? What is their rationale? Who do they remember? How is the commemoration staged? Who is the audience? Research its history in campus archives. Plan a field work project to detail and analyze the event. How does this particular commemoration shape and reflect its community? Has it changed over time? Are there any connections to outside organizations (funding, attendance?).
Compare and contrast two or more Holocaust commemorations. Or compare a Holocaust commemoration with a non-Holocaust memorial. For example, you might want to look at the tenth year (2005) commemoration of the Srebrenica massacre or the various memorials for the 'disappeared' in Chile and Argentina.
Explore how the European Union is planning to commemorate the Holocaust.
"Israeli leaders like David Ben-Gurion could well be accused of shaping the Holocaust narrative for their own political ends." (The Nation, "Letters," 3/14/05) Explain this passage. Agree/ Disagree?
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