Memories and forgetfulness | Babelia

“When time is only speed, instantaneousness and simultaneity; while the temporal, understood as historical events, has disappeared from existence (…) the questions will return: for what ?, towards where ?, and then what? ”. This reflection of Martin Heidegger, perhaps the most renowned philosopher of the 20th century despite his Nazi militancy and his incomprehensible connection to Hitler, is paradoxically related to the demand of historical memory on the evolution of Europe, irremediably marked by the Holocaust. The solitude and silence that the coronavirus pandemic imposes give us in exchange that temporality that the German thinker demanded. It may be the occasion to read Amnestics, the work of Géraldine Schwarz which won the European Book Award and reached Spanish bookstores a few months ago. From an investigation into the behavior of his family before, during and after World War II, he illuminates us about the complicity of the German people in the anti-Semitic persecution, but also about the fact that, in his opinion, it was Germany the European nation that has probably best worked the historical memory of a 20th century dishonored by itself until depravity.

Perhaps it has been Germany that has best worked the memory of a twentieth century dishonored by itself until the depravity

Aside from personal incidents, Schwarz recounts the passive, and sometimes active, complicity of the middle classes in Europe and America with the anti-Jewish policies that preceded the massacre and the horror of the war. It also points to the voluntary oblivion in which the Bonn and Paris Governments buried for decades the vindication of the victims and the consequent punishment of the victimizers, to end up making a brilliant analysis of the current situation on the continent, where the far-right formations are greening. Also in Germany, although in his opinion this is the country in which democratic institutions are most deeply rooted today and arouse greater consensus due, above all, to the work that has been done on historical memory. This has not been built only from top to bottom, by governments, official historians and groups of victims, but has been intervened by many actors who “have emphasized the process that transforms a normal citizen into a persecutor or at least in a sympathizer ”.

Memories and forgetfulness

When it comes to personal storytelling, the suffering of those who went into exile or lost their loved ones, humiliated and ruined before they were killed, this book reminded me of another commendable story by Helen Waldstein Wilkes, Letters of the absent, which recovers the history and personal feelings of victims of the Holocaust, but also the forgetfulness of those who later took refuge in forgetfulness to defend themselves against pain and hatred. It is worth remembering this when anti-Semitism, like Islamophobia, spread again.

Memories and forgetfulness configure the framework of political coexistence as well as personal identity. The rulers and elites, the ruling classes, try to manipulate memories, regrets and their shortcomings to convince public opinion of the excellence of the present and the promise of the future against the filth of the past. This is for the same reason a live debate between us today, and it is reflected the same in the controversies about the Valley of the Fallen and the transfer of the dictator’s body that in the fraudulent invention of the history of Catalonia by the independence leaders. Also about the meaning of the Transition, its glories and its resignations.

Memories and forgetfulness

It is therefore to be commended that in José Álvarez Junco’s epilogue to Schwarz’s book, the consensus that informed the founding moment of the 1978 regime as the beginning of a new historical account of our country “that would make current democracy its stone angular”. To do so requires the transparency and honesty of those who do not want to tell the history of the peoples as a contest between good and bad, but as a continuum of shadows and lights, of ambiguities and heroism, whose legacy cannot do without either one or others. A fundamental task that must inspire the political education of the new generations, since, as Heidegger himself pointed out, free thought dissolves ideologies. That is why the Nazis prohibited it.

Amnestics. Géraldine Schwarz. Translation by Núria Viver. Epilogue by José Álvarez Junco. Tusquets, 2019. 400 pages. 22.50 euros.

Letters of the absent. Helen Waldstein Wilkes. Translation by José Miguel Parra. Confluences, 2019. 404 pages. 22 euros.


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