Glasgow Jewish Educational Forum

Archive for August, 2008

Does our Community Need a Holocaust Memorial?

Posted by Admin on August 27, 2008

Earlier this summer, GJEF was honoured to sponsor a lecture by Dr Stephen Smith, chair of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. For those who were present on the night, it was a privilege to hear the considered view of one of the leading authorities on the subject of Holocaust commemoration. 

Dr Smith addressed the question of the proposed Holocaust memorial in Scotland, an issue which, hitherto, had not been subject to any form of public discussion or consultation. His lecture examined some of the most difficult and complex questions associated with the proposed memorial; namely, whether East Renfrewshire is the most appropriate location for the memorial, and the difficult question of “ownership”:

Without taking anything away from the community of East Renfrewshire, would East Renfrewshire be the most obvious place to make a clear and unequivocal statement to the whole of Scotland? As founder of the Holocaust Centre in the middle of a field in rural Nottinghamshire, I have no grounds to question the generous hosting of a memorial in East Renfrewshire. However, the Holocaust Centre in Nottinghamshire is a private initiative developed at the time out of pure necessity. We used the very few resources to establish something in the UK fifteen years ago. That is a very different proposition to a memorial funded by a national government. If the community is the nation, then it has to reach the nation. If that means it has to be in central Glasgow or in Edinburgh that needs to be thought about now. I understand there is the offer of land, which is a wonderful gesture, because land is expensive. But it will be costly to get the location wrong. East Renfrewshire might indeed be the right place, but you only know that once feasibility is tested against other possible locations. I wonder whether that exercise has been done. If the community to which we refer is the Jewish Community, then East Renfrewshire will be just fine. If it is a wider community, then this location needs very careful thought.

[. . .] This raises the thorny problem of ownership. Who ‘owns’ the Holocaust memorial? Moreover, who owns the Holocaust? Let me rephrase that. Who has the right to represent the Holocaust, its causes, its history and its consequences, to the rest of society? We all know that the vast majority of victims of National Socialisms genocidal regime were Jews. From the outset, they were ideological targets of a pathological state, hell bent on their destruction. There is good reason to think about how to involve the Jewish community in the creation of Holocaust memorials and centres, because Jews do know about the Holocaust from the very core of their being. That partly explains why when a Holocaust memorial is considered, East Renfrewshire is an obvious choice for many. However, south of the border, it would be unthinkable to put a Holocaust centre for the general public in At Hendon Central or on Hampstead High Street. It places the ownership and the onus on the Jewish community and this is not a Jewish Community problem. Whatever it was that created the mass murder of the Jews of Europe it was not the making of the Jews. They suffered the tragedy, the problem lay elsewhere.

These are questions which we, as a community, have to address. To this end, GJEF is making available the text of Dr Smith’s lecture in order to facilitate an open debate on this issue.

Your comments on this issue are welcome.

To download a copy of Dr Smith’s lecture in *pdf or word format, please right-click on the associated file icon below, and select Save Target As from the context menu in Internet Explorer:

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