Inclusive remembering (II): genocide and trauma

Dutch Jews are a traumatised group as a result of the genocide that was committed against them and in which more than three quarters of their community was decimated. Recognition of this genocide is still an issue to this day. The municipality of Amsterdam for example has only recently started to investigate its active role in the genocide; reparations such as the ground lease credits are still relevant; return of robbed art is still a controversy and the government offered its official apology only as recent as last year (2020). There is a difference, perhaps not in individual human suffering, but in collective trauma, between victims of genocide and victims of war. It follows that in remembrance the particularity of genocide is relevant. 

Some of what transpires in the slipstream of the battle for inclusive remembrance I find problematic when it places the remembrance of the genocide against Jews as existing outside a minority position. This happens when the remembrance of Jews and the Holocaust is referred to in a ‘white’ context, which falsely suggests that Jews are not marginalised and have become part of a ‘white’ historiography – with all its negative connotations. This stance is not only taken in discourse, but also in the remembering itself. Remembrance practices that highlight inclusivity by naming those who are often not named, forgotten or erased, have in the past omitted the Jews in their listing. As if Jews are somehow not a minority, not victim of genocide, and have a solid place in national remembrance practice and therefore do not have to be mentioned any longer. 

I find myself in a difficult spot where I commit myself to fighting for inclusivity and anti-racism and at the same time continuously have to explain and prove that Jews are part of that fight, and that right towards inclusivity. I am both tired of and I feel vulnerable in the underlying assumptions of the positionality of Jews, which seem to say ‘you have had your time of victimhood, now move over so others can have it also’. As if the remembering of genocide of the Jews in any way lessens or stands in the way of a more inclusive remembrance. That is a twisted, false and hurtful narrative.

I believe that we should work towards inclusive remembrance and embrace the difficult conversations that will follow, the acknowledgement of wrongs done and do the reparations and reconciliation work that needs to be done. But as a Jew I also believe that in doing so, we must take absolute care not to cross out or water down the remembrance of genocide. Rather than compare who is more marginalised and who has been more silenced we need to listen to each other’s stories of suffering, and be precise and particular in describing it. In this way remembrance will serve an additional purpose besides honouring the stories of the victims of war, namely the passing on of lessons learned and the deep felt commitment to be vigilant and remain watchful. Always.

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