“This Is Not What I Want”: <i>Holocaust Testimony, Postmemory, and Jewish Identity</i>

Diane L. Wolf

in Diasporas and Exiles

Published by University of California Press

Published in print October 2002 | ISBN: 9780520228641
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520926899 | DOI:
“This Is Not What I Want”: Holocaust Testimony, Postmemory, and Jewish Identity

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This chapter presents a case study of a survivor for whom the Shoah is indeed central. The subject is Jake, a Polish Hasid, for whom a bitter taste of galut, rather than an empowering diaspora, is pivotal to his sense of himself as a Jew. It argues that collective memory—the product of the transmission of a group's history and culture from one generation to the next—is crucial to individuals' identities as members of the group and products of its culture and history. Since the Shoah figures centrally in recent Jewish history, it has become a crucial component in the transmitted collective memory. The chapter draws on Jake's postwar life to accomplish two goals. First, to illustrate the difficulties that characterize the lives of many survivors. For Jake the end of the war marked the beginning of injustices created by family members. Second, to demonstrate that the methods used in Spielberg's Shoah Visual History Foundation can undermine the richness of survivors' stories, while perhaps encouraging a Jewish identity based on victimization. A more nuanced oral history, one that examines the reactions of Jewish kin and the Jewish community, might yield a richer set of images.

Keywords: Shoah; Jewish identity; Holocaust survivor; galut; collective memory; Jewish history; oral history

Chapter.  13791 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies

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