After the course evaluations and a discussion about what individual students were taking away from this course, we turned towards the project of memorializing our course and the Holocaust generally. At the end of the April 17 class, four different groups proposed the following designs:
1) one group suggested that the class pick one million blades of grass by hand in order to come to terms with how many Jewish lives were taken by this pogrom.
2) another group suggested an "eternal flame" and garden design, which would ensure that memory continue into the future.
3) a third group wanted to create a "pure" counter-memorial. Rather than propose a static and public monument, this group suggested that we have a private dinner (possibly with a Holocaust survivor). Rather than fetishize the past, this would ensure that memory occur as a personal and communal action in the present.
4) a fourth design had the class adorning a university location with black ribbons. This would function as a counter-memorial, albeit in a public location, since the memorial would not be permanent and would entail a performative action. The class would then invite the university to remove the ribbons in an act of memorialization and as a commitment to fight future injustice.
After some discussion, the class decided that designs #1 and #2, although quite interesting, were not feasible given our monetary and time constraints. We therefore decided on #4 as our "official" memorial, which would be followed by a feast in the evening as the last communal activity of the class.
On April 24th, we ratified the following "long statement" about our memorialization project:
TIES TO THE PAST
Joanna Lowry, a freshman in the School of Liberal Arts and a student in HONR 199K, "Telling the Holocaust," ties a black ribbon around a pear tree in Academy Park as part of a class project memorializing lives lost during the Holocaust. MORE
This class, HONR 199K: Telling the Holocaust, has had as its premise the idea that history is not about the past but about the present, about our struggles in the present, and even more specifically perhaps about a just relation to the future. We have therefore explored throughout the semester how the Holocaust continues to make its trauma felt in the present--in our efforts to come to terms with this rift in our collective consciousness. If a cultured, educated, democratic, advanced, industrial, religious society like Weimar Germany could have been led into the atrocities of the Holocaust within a single decade, how exactly can we claim immunity? Herein is the heart of our current, postmodern condition. After the Holocaust, after this horror in the heart of civilized society, everything once held dear must be questioned. The fact is that Nazi Germany was not that different from our own society: the same belief in scientific rationality, the same bureaucratic structures, the same judicial and parliamentary system (at least at the start), and the same panoptic system of police control. If anything, society has become organized along ever more panoptic lines (thanks to new technologies of surveillance) and along ever more rational lines as the victory of an economic way of thinking has overtaken all other forms of value. It is for this reason, that the class wished to turn our lessons outward into a public form of memorialization: as an expression of commitment to fight against the dangers and oppressions still existing in our own society. To prepare, the class went on a field trip to Chicago, where we analyzed two Holocaust memorials, the Avenue of the Righteous in Evanston and the Zell Holocaust Memorial in downtown Chicago. The class was also visited by a landscape architect, Purdue's own Robert Sovinski, and by the foremost American specialist on the question of memorialization, James Young, who was recently appointed by the Berlin Senate to make the official decision about Germany's own national memorial to Europe's murdered Jews (now under construction).
The class decided against a traditional Holocaust memorial, for example a permanent rock or tombstone, because such static objects threaten to stand in the place of memory and obviate your active participation in the act of remembering and of resisting future oppression. The class wished instead to create what James Young termed in his lecture a "counter-memorial." They will, then, "perform" their memorial during our last class, Thursday, April 26 from 12:00-1:15pm. During that time, the class will place black ribbons on the trees on Academy Park. We have chosen this location since the park was created to commemorate past teaching at Purdue and our memorial is designed both to commemorate our class on the Holocaust and to make a statement about how important it is to continue our learning process beyond the classroom. The class also wanted to invite the participation of people outside of the classroom and, so, asks that the university community take a moment to remove the ribbons as an act of remembrance for past injustices and as a declaration of commitment to fight oppression in the future.
For an Exponent article about the memorial, check out the following link:
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