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Designing Holocaust Museums: Objects, Form and Ideology

Mon, December 17, 5:00 to 6:30pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Cityview 2 Ballroom

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


This panel explores transnational approaches to Holocaust museums in order to understand how memory is translated into both a universal and a particular national context through the architecture, curatorial programs and institutional ideologies of Holocaust museums. How do these strategies create distinct cultural and national identities related to the Holocaust? And how do they use material culture to educate their visitors with this understanding of memory? Further, often these museums are often examined in geographic isolation, and this panel’s multinational approach will allow for new connections and comparisons to be made among these institutions.

The three papers in this panel survey Holocaust museums in Israel, the United States and the United Kingdom – countries where the Holocaust did not directly occur, but where memory is constructed by survivors who emigrated after the war and by governments who saw the Holocaust as a foil for their own democratic agenda. Stephanie Rotem’s paper examines small, grassroots Holocaust museums in Israel, each of which either displays a unique aspect of the Holocaust, or appeals to a particular audience. They share a common goal to challenge the existing Israeli meta-narrative of the Holocaust set by the State and inscribed in Yad Vashem, its national museum. Rotem questions if these smaller, more varied museums imply a more stable, diverse Israeli identity that can build upon its collective memory or is this fragmentation a sign of fragility? Paul Morrow’s paper addresses the curatorial strategies of Holocaust museums primarily in the United States, and argues that the educational value of artifacts, such as a Nazi-era rail car, is not intrinsic to the objects themselves, but rather stems from the extrinsic relations established between objects in museum exhibitions and displays, which manifest differently on local, regional and national levels. Finally, Rebecca Pollack’s paper looks at the Holocaust Exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London. The exhibition is in the same building as the national World War I and World War II exhibitions. Pollack argues that this juxtaposition, as well as the museum’s curatorial strategy and architecture, establishes a distinctive landscape of Holocaust memorialization in Britain.

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