Is forgetting reprehensible? Holocaust remembrance and the task of oblivion

Journal of Religious Ethics 36 (2):233-267 (2008)
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Abstract

"Forgetting" plays an important role in the lives of individuals and communities. Although a few Holocaust scholars have begun to take forgetting more seriously in relation to the task of remembering—in popular parlance as well as in academic discourse on the Holocaust—forgetting is usually perceived as a negative force. In the decades following 1945, the terms remembering and forgetting have often been used antithetically, with the communities of victims insisting on the duty to remember and a society of perpetrators desiring to forget. Thus, the discourse on Holocaust memory has become entrenched on this issue. This essay counters the swift rejection of forgetting and its labeling as a reprehensible act. It calls attention to two issues: first, it offers a critical argument for different forms of forgetting; second, it concludes with suggestions of how deliberate performative practices of forgetting might benefit communities affected by a genocidal past. Is it possible to conceive of forgetting not as the ugly twin of remembering but as its necessary companion?

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