The Memorial de la Shoah

Published April 29, 2005, issue of April 29, 2005.
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The recently unveiled Memorial de la Shoah in Le Marais, the fashionable Paris neighborhood that witnessed massive deportations of Jews during World War II, is — as its patrons and advocates like to point out — Europe’s oldest Holocaust memorial. In a sense, it was inaugurated in 1943, when a Russian Jewish emigre named Isaac Schneerson — a cousin of Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the future Lubavitcher rebbe — established a documentation center in Grenoble to chronicle Nazi atrocities. Over the next 60 years, that archive acquired institutional premises, a memorial crypt and now, a museum. Motivated in part by the prominence of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., its backers — the French government, a supporting foundation and the Jewish community, among others — imagine it as Europe’s counterpart to that memorial. But the history inside tends to concern itself as much with French Jewry’s conflicted relationship with its country — the France of today and of 60 years ago — as with an accounting for the slaughter of European Jews as a whole. A section chronicling wartime French Jewish history, for instance, takes care to begin with a testament to French resistance and shelter of Jews and Jewish ritual objects, an accommodation of the Gaullist tendency to emphasize resistance over collaboration. The gesture also feels like an attempt by the contemporary French Jewish community to secure the solidarity of non-Jewish France at a time when it feels besieged by a resurgence of antisemitism. Elsewhere, scattered mementos of Israel — panels of Jerusalem stone engraved with the names of the 76,000 Jews deported from France; a crypt, which mixes ashes from Auschwitz with Jerusalem soil — troublingly imply that only ethnic genocide could legitimize the Jewish state’s creation. In a memorial ostensibly devoted to victims of the past, these symbols are a distracting overture to present solidarities.


The Memorial de la Shoah

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