Le Monde carries a curious biography of Marek Edelmann, one of the last survivors of the the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (he was also a member of Poland’s Solidarity Movement, and a subject of the documentary Avant la Bataille). Edelmann is considered a hero of the uprising, but largely doesn’t figure into the history of Israel, as do others who resisted:

Docteur de l’opposition, dissident perpétuel, révolté infatigable. Israël, où il s’est rendu quelques fois pour voir ses amis, reste sa bête noire. Le commandant en second de l’insurrection du ghetto de Varsovie n’est pas aimé en Terre sainte. “Edelman n’y a pas bonne presse, convient Elie Barnavi, ancien ambassadeur d’Israël en France. Il est un héros incontestable, mais dans la mémoire collective israélienne, il reste un juif diasporique. Dans le conflit idéologique qui structure le pays, le vrai héros soutient le projet sioniste. Le vrai héros du ghetto, pour Israël, c’est Anielewicz.”

Doctor of the opposition, perpetual dissedent, tireless revolutionary. In Israel, where he goes sometimes to see his friends, he is but a bête noire. The commander of the second insurrection of the Warsaw Ghetto is not loved in the Holy Land. “Edelmann had bad press … He is indisputably a hero, but in the collective memory of Israel, he remains a diasporic Jew. In the ideological conflict that structures the nation, the true heroes support the Zionist project. The real hero of the Ghetto, for Israelis, is Anielewicz.”

Putting aside the ideological differences between Edelmann (who was much more of a Bundist) and Zionism, his exclusion from Israeli history seems rather arbitrary. Had he died before he could opine about Israel, he would have been granted recognition in a forefather of the nation. Had he found return to his place of origin (say Thessalonika) impossible, he would have accepting Israeli nationality out of necessity.

Recognition as a hero arbitrarily requires the ability to nationalize him. Edelmann is exceptional, perhaps, only in that he cannot be retroactively nationalized, like the Joans of Arc, who could hardly be defenders of the French Republic. These more distant figures are more capably transnational and transhistorical simply because they are mute on the spatial and temporal boundaries between nations.


Simone Veil responded to Sarkozy’s plan to confide each French child with the memory of a victim of the Holocaust:

It’s unimaginable, unsustainable, dramatic and, above all, unjust. We cannot inflict this on little children of ten years! We cannot ask a child to identify with a dead child. This memory is too heavy to carry. We, the deported, have had many difficulties, after the war, speaking of what we had seen, even with those close to us. And today still, we know to save our children. Moreover, many of our instructors teach this subject well [already].

How would a devoted Catholic or Muslim family react when we demand that their son or daughter to embody the memory of a little Jewish boy?

Once again, Sarkozy’s ability to innovate is getting the best of him. Turning children into monuments to victimhood not only seems a little odd, but perhaps a little Sci-Fi, as well. Of course, at the Holocaust Museum in DC and the Museum of Tolerance in LA, visitors (children included) are given small cards that are passports for one victim. Along the way, they can check on the fate of their victim, to see where they ended up, and ultimately, if they and their family survived. It’s an effective tool, but it cannot be judged except in terms of visiting the museums. It’s more likely that these memories would be trivialized if they become part of the mandatory curriculum.

However, I tend to disagree with Veil on a few issues. Ten might be a young age, but that is negotiable. The Jewishness of the victim, however, need not be an issue (ETA: Georges Bensoussan speaks very effectively to the contrary, that Sarkozy’s plan would exaggerate the already competitive politics to have various histories memorialized). As I’ve written before, older teaching methods aren’t as effective as they used to be. Children are more sophisticated, and the usual images not only don’t shock them, they don’t leave them with any impression of the horrors of the Holocaust. On the other hand, new immigrants have trouble identifying with the atrocious aspects of national history. It seems logical to make the subject more personal, especially by encouraging students to personalize the subject. Moreover, it could be applied to other areas of history, as well, like the French empire in Africa.

Veil, herself, seems to be a bit unfair. It was impossible for survivors to speak about the Holocaust until the 70s and 80s, but since then, there has been an explosion of talk. Indeed, they is great encouragement for victims to speak about their experiences. Yet now we see that the youngest victims are passing away. Is there perhaps a way to create an oral tradition?

[ETA] Another response, this from Henry Rousso (English translation by euro|topics):

This new initiative appears incongruous, suddenly thrown into the public sphere like other presidential announcements. Once again, media noise is disturbing the respect and silence due to History’s dead … Once again, only a morbid memory emerges form the past, only criminal history deserves to be commemorated with a bang. These days only utilitarian use is made of history, its complexity and its depth. The past has become a warehouse storing nationalistic political resources, into which anyone can dip and help themselves to whatever serves their immediate interests. It is worrying to see that, once again, the -bad- example has been set at the highest level ….

Er, uh, hasn’t it always been?