The Holocaust, Fascism and Memory
– Essays in the History of Ideas
By Dan Stone
Palgrave Macmillan – £60.00
As the title of this more than erudite, literary examination suggests, three subjects are tackled throughout (The Holocaust, Fascism and Memory), making for a quintessentially stimulating read from beginning to end. One of the prime reasons being, the reader, along with the author Dan Stone, cannot help but (perhaps) inadvertently cross-reference and compare all the information that has already gone before.
I was tempted to write, what has already gone before in relation to the book, but everyone has their own sense of the past. Everyone has their own sense of history; or a certain history learned – if not passed down through the generational prism of either bias or ideology. Or dare I say it, differing ideas.
This alone, lends the full title of this book, The Holocaust, Fascism and Memory – Essays in the History of Ideas, all the more gravitas of a fine tuned persuasion; especially in view of understanding and coming terms with just some of Stone’s all too considered, yet challenging, humanistic scholarship. The latter of which is occasionally so dense, I found myself having to read this book in stages; simply so as to fully comprehend and digest bouts of severely honest, high-octane information.
Admittedly, this wasn’t the case throughout the book in its entirety, but surely more in relation to my own sense of The Holocaust’s trajectory, and what Fascism stood/still stands for. Not to mention what a combination of the two, truly mean in terms of both global memory and that of my own.
After all, as Stone writes at the outset of Chapter Ten (‘Genocide and Memory’): ”We live in a memory-obsessed age. Western culture is suffused with autobiographies, especially with traumatic life narratives about the legacies of abusive childhoods. Tourism consists to a large extent of the consumption of ‘heritage’ […]. The history of genocide is also affected by these broad cultural trends; indeed, in some respects it exemplifies them. The perpetration of genocide requires the mobilisation of collective memories, as does the commemoration of it. For individual victims of genocide, traumatic memories cannot be escaped; for societies, genocide has profound effects that are immediately felt and that people are exhorted (and willingly choose) never to forget. ‘Dark tourism’ – visits to death camps or other sites of mass murder – is fully integrated into the tourist trail.”
With this in mind, my own sense of (global) memory, not to mention history – and my own variance of ever fully understanding certain spheres of it – has undoubtedly been somewhat structured by an array of cultural influence.
Just as the cultural commentator and writer, Paul Morley, wrote in his recently published personal odyssey, The North (And Almost Everything In It): ”History is made up of rumours, which form their own fragile border between truth and fiction, between the real world and fantasy,” Stone almost turns history on its head by infusing it with (historical) memory as seen through the lens of Hannah Arendt: ”The significance of memory, both individual and collective, is that it mediates between past and future. Memory […] resides between the ‘no more’ and ‘not yet’ in the ‘space’ of the ‘timeless present.’ She writes that it is ‘the function of memory to ”present” (make present) the past and deprive the past of its definitely bygone character. Memory undoes the past.’ The result is that ‘memory transforms the past into a future possibility.”’
Broken into three parts: 1) Interpreting the Holocaust, 2) Fascism and Anti-Fascism and 3) Politics and Cultures of Memory – each of which contains a number of finely crafted and exceedingly well written essays – The Holocaust, Fascism and Memory really does much to address the futile and savage ideology of Europe under Hitler.
As well as how different the idea of said ideology might have been, had he won.
There are numerous tough, political examples scattered throughout this rather excellent book, that more than highlight the latter point. The best of which I believe is in Chapter Ten (‘Memory Wars in the ‘New Europe’), under the sub-heading ‘Out of the Cold War freezer,’ wherein Stone writes: ”The years 1945-89 now appear as ‘an extended epilogue to the European civil war that had begun in 1914, a forty-year interregnum between the defeat of Adolf Hitler and the final resolution of the unfinished business left behind by his war.’ Perhaps, as Geoff Eley suggests, the Cold War years, which brought social democracy and class cooperation to Western Europe, and welfare states of one variety or another to all of Europe, were an aberration in European history. Is Europe now reverting to type?”
The final point ”Is Europe now reverting to type,” surely warrants its own book – although I’d have to say this one is quintessentially unique, and then some, within the genre of its title.