January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1945, is marked in many countries as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is an occasion for commemorative ceremonies, educational programs, and other initiatives. Monuments and memorials are also dedicated or form centerpieces for commemorative events.
This year — as we did last year — we are marking the occasion with a photo essay of Holocaust memorials in Europe.
Last year, we presented — and discussed — a wide range of monuments: from grand structures, museums, and preserved death camps, to poignant or symbolic sculptures, to simple plaques or memorial stones. They were erected by countries, cities, private individuals, NGOs and others. Many are powerful sites on their own. Others include inscriptions — some of which may leave out information or even be misleading. Others still lack inscriptions or material to provide context and let visitors know what they are meant to remember.
This year, we emphasize the memorials that place attention on the names of the victims — or otherwise personalize the Holocaust by bringing home the fact that each of the millions who died was an individual.
May their souls be bound up in the bond of life — may their memory be a blessing, and an inspiration not just to remember, but to learn!
Some of these memorials (particularly in Hungary) feature long lists of list names — either full names or simply first names — of victims.
Personalized memorials also include the nearly 60,000 “stumbling stone” or “stolpersteine” commemorative cobblestones around Europe placed by the German artist Gunter Demnig as a memorial art project in front of the houses of people who were deported. More and more continue to be added.
Other monuments (especially in Poland) personalize the victims in another way, by using fragments of gravestones from destroyed Jewish cemeteries to construct memorials and memorial walls.
In Budapest — individual victims are personified symbolically in the “shoes” memorial on the bank of the Danube, commemorating the victims who were shot dead into the river by local Fascists.
We have focused here on physical memorials. But we want to note, too, the interactive Holocaust Memorial in the Netherlands, which aims at an individual, online commemoration of each of the more than 100,000 Dutch Jewish Holocaust victims.
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Want to read more about Holocaust memorials?
The classic book about them is James E. Young’s Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995) as well as Young’s other books.
Watch a video of James E. Young present and lecture and slide show about Holocaust Memorials in Europe