What does it mean to make a commemoration inclusive? To answer this question, I am invited into a panel on the Dutch National Commemoration Day on the 4th of May for the victims of the Second World War and all victims in wars and peace operations since. I am hesitant to accept. Commemorations are minefields since they tend to exclude just as much as they include, they create artificial categories by labelling heroes, perpetrators and victims, or erase real differences by lumping everyone together, and they are more a witness to the mores of the day, than an honest recognition of wrongs done in the past. So my first reaction is rather to politely return the invitation. Why would I, as a Jewish social activist involved in intersectionality, in any way be able to speak to such a highly debated and sensitive issue?
But like many nagging questions, also this question does not go away by simply ignoring it. The question of commemoration from a Jewish perspective has been driven by a long and windy road for inclusion and recognition. And the discussion on making the commemoration more inclusive is today’s chapter of this ongoing societal debate. Some historical notions are relevant here. The definition (memorandum) of who is, and who is not included in the national commemoration has changed many times since its beginnings in 1946. But genuine recognition has not come naturally. In fact, it was only two decades after the end of the war, in 1966, that those ‘that were killed by acts of war’ were added to the National Commemoration. And only as recently as 2011 a reference was added to the fact that people were murdered (as opposed to died). An incredibly cloaked description of the largest genocide on the Jewish, Roma and Sinti minorities. And it was only last year (2020) that the Dutch government offered its official apology for its role in the deportation.
And so I am asking myself what inclusive remembering means from a Jewish perspective?
When I delve into it, more and more I come to realize that the axis of fighting antisemitism and racism meet exactly here. I realize how little and how palliative the Jewish (but also Roma and Sinti) story is actually part of the National Commemoration. The ‘white’ discourse provides only little room for genuine recognition of genuine trauma. And if inclusive commemoration would become a reality, it would start with this recognition, just as much as a truly inclusive society starts with a recognition of (systemic) wrongs so that repairs will not be superficial or palliative.
I used to feel included in the 4th of May Commemoration. I felt that it was about me also, that in this moment the genocide committed against Jews was remembered. But now I understand I was wrong. Rather, I come to realize that the first step towards inclusion, that is: genuine recognition, cannot be taken for granted. And by doing so, a first step towards inclusive remembering has been taken.
This blog is part of a triptych in which I reflect on the question on national commemoration, intersectionality and inclusiveness