Shoah historiography today

Holocaust Memorial, Berlin. Photo by Rudolf Simon.

The solemn topic of the Shoah is something that some do not wish to revisit, or ever visit, yet the reality is that it is an ingrained truth part of a culture and nation, and most importantly part of a people’s history. Yet, as we are moving away with each generation from those horrible events, we are slowly losing the voices that actually experienced them with the passage of time.

Those that are part of my generation never had to conceive of such egregious horrors, but rather had to learn from other resources, either from books, documentaries or sometimes the stories of real survivors. Our job is one which is exceptionally difficult. We are fully entrusted not only to keep the memory alive, but to continue to expand the study of the Shoah as something that pertains to current culture and mores, and as something that still holds importance to everyone’s lives around the world.

The job of the young historian today is to base his/her concentration on that of primary sources, namely testimonies of any kind from survivors, and more so try to understand the respective roles of individual stories, rather than collectivized generalizations that make up most of the history that we learn today. By basing our study on that of people,  and not on merely textbook-style descriptions as is most common, is to understand the importance and value of everyone that perished under fortuitous evil.

Yet, the issue here is not just what one must study the Shoah, but also rather the moral complications that arise out of studying such a concept. The principles that allowed such a thing to have happened are very important. You may hear some tell you that we may never know what allowed the Shoah to occur, yet I do not believe that is true. We can reasonably ascribe to the idea that collectivism, in this sense one pertaining to racism, was the cause that allowed something like this to happen. To understand these principles is to come a step closer to understanding the true meaning of “never again”. To understand the evil of men, is not something that belongs in the world of mystical indifference. It is, in fact, a very concrete thing at times.

The young historian, or better said, the new historian holds as his//her most important goal to form narratives out of people’s lives, as after all what is history about if not that of the study of people? The only way to do this however is to try and learn everyone’s story, as even today there are thousands of people who have never had theirs recorded, and I fear that if action is not taken in order to do so, we will lose the chance when they pass away. We have to move away from interpretations and we need to go to the primary sources, at the heart of things. Ask yourself what has had a greater impact on you, Anne Frank's diary, or an interpretation of it by some historian? I know I choose the former.
You might ask what the value of more narratives play in further understanding the implications of the Shoah. Well, the answer is that history is not something that recalls the facts of men, rather it is that which recalls men as facts.
Milad Doroudian, a native of Jassy, Romania, is a writer, historian, and the senior editor of The Art of Polemics magazine. He is currently working on a book on The Jassy Pogrom of 1941.