History and Memory
Past, present, future History and memory- which one to believe? The people who survived the Holocaust are slowly disappearing. The number of these survivors is decreasing drastically year by year. Does that mean the memory of these brave fighters leave this world with them? Yes? No? This is where the role of history enters the image. Recorded documents, facts, statistics, writings out of archives are all everlasting pieces of the past. These documents on their own fail to present the undented picture of the dreadful events occurred.
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The emotions and sorrows felt by the individuals are completely overlooked and sidestepped in historical recordings. History being claimed as an objective piece tries to be as unbiased as possible, which if argued about can be questioned, as selective choosing of certain facts is present. While reading a history textbook I have wondered myself about the cold presentation of breath-taking events. After all who decides what is put into it? What is relevant and what isn’t? The past itself is always an objective matter, but as soon as it is presented by an individual it evolves to being subjective.
Although history provides the background knowledge to individual memories, as seen in ‘The Fiftieth Gate’, “I try narrating the stories in his own style…” says Baker in the hope of triggering some of his father’s memories by the use of his documented evidences. ‘Very clever of Mark Baker to do such, I, myself would remember more efficiently if presented with some background. I have read that it is natural for the human brain to continuously link memories with the corresponding senses, but what if they are never triggered correctly. “Does history remember more than memory? ” following question asked by Mark Baker.
Memories as known and presented by these people tend to have their flaws and gaps. Memory fades over time whereas the written facts are always present. History is more reliable? “HISTORY brings with it memories…”as ‘The Fiftieth Gate’ states. In other words history evokes and prompts the vanishing memory. Just as Joe was provoked to be reminded of his ghastly past by the specific questions on gas chambers asked,“…people went in but not out…one way…” the only description delivered by Joe on this sensitive matter emphasizing the struggle involved in recalling certain memories.
Joe, a cheerful 86 year old Holocaust survivor who originated from Hungary, who took “…only 30 minutes” to summaries his own personal history. His commentary had been based upon his memories, which were complimented by several historical facts. Certain comments made by Joe were quite surprising, due to their absence in historical writings, such as his repeated motto “Do not hate. ” The impression and aura given out by him failed to express any excessive sorrow or grief. I don’t personally know how he manages to do such, after all the terrible experiences of human evil, being able to live such a joyful life. I would have every right to hate, but I do not hate…but I do remember…do not forget…”, these heart touching words of Joe presented the whole anticipated response with an unexpected twist. The prominence in his words was simply unbelievable, where hate was expected there had been mercy and gratefulness present. Keith Moerman, another Holocaust survivor from Holland had also encountered an unusual experience during the war period as retold his story on a German soldier offering him a lollipop while Keith had been on his way of getting water, “…but I wasn’t going to take a lolly from a German. ” Keith added.
Factual evidence tends to leave out little details, details such as the presence of kind German soldiers, or the peaceful feedback of the survivors. Its focus is based on the majority of the cases, which stated the cruelty of these soldiers, as 75% of Jews were killed during the Holocaust. There are points were memories-collective memories-can be used to validate the historical documents. The evidence for the existence of the ‘Underground’ can be verified by the mentioning of it by both Keith and Joe. Both determined to survive and live pass this horrifying war had fought against the Germans.
Even the individual memories being so incredibly powerful in relation to the human feelings and emotions, on their own they continually encounter disbelief and skepticism. “…I doubted her…never believed her, that I only recognize suffering in numbers and lists and not in the laments and pleas of a human being…screaming for acknowledgment. ” Mark Baker’s realization of how important and significant history is to the logical human brain doesn’t occur until the awareness of the truthfulness behind his own mother’s story.
I can imagine how hurt Genia, his mother, must have felt by her own son mistrusting her memories, brings me back to my own occurrences of being mistrusted. It is impossible to prove anything without having proof in today’s society. Present generations believe in alleged ‘proven facts’, which tend to signify the major struggle in keeping these significant memories alive. Baker’s doubt in his own parents presents a good example of this. This then raises the question- If this already the case with the current generation, what will happen in the future. Will the knowledge of the past just simply fade away?
Memories alone are not the perfect source of re-establishing the events of the past, as they are personal, enclosed to certain detail, inconsecutive at a frequent rate and lack logical progression. All, Joe, Keith and Yossl are exemplary examples of this. The failure of keeping a chronological order draws the chance of neglecting vital parts of the actual event. “It was cold, winter, we had winter boots on…”according to Yossl’s definite description of the terribly cold day, 27th October 1942. Although of the convinced assurance, the memory is proven incorrect by written recordings of the other Jews.
It had been a hot autumn day, whose heat Yossl is incapable of recalling. The presence of confusion is evident in the attempt of educing memory. Who doesn’t experience this? I’ve had troubles with drawing onto my own memories at times. I would say human beings tend to link inner feelings and emotions with the surrounding environment-as did Yossl-happens to the best of us. Neither memories nor historical facts work independently of each other to retell the past. Hence a combination of personal experiences, memories and documented evidences are essential for establishing the most accurate and reliable representation of history.