Collective memory of the Holocaust in America: A rhetorical analysis of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Judging from the number of Holocaust related museums, memorials, films, etc., it is evident that the Holocaust has become an important feature of American culture. The presence of Holocaust memory has an undeniable socio-political significance, particularly as it functions to reaffirm and enhance the national ethos of America.
But Holocaust memory in America has established and maintains its legitimacy in such a way that it largely deprives critics of the opportunity to intervene in the process of memory production. For Holocaust memory gives itself the appearance of ideological neutrality and is presented as the sacred property of victims.
This dissertation attempts to open a space for critics to respectfully interrogate the relationship between the production of Holocaust memory and the ideological reproduction of the American national ethos. It focuses on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which perhaps best represents both the presence and function of Holocaust memory in America.
From its inception, the Museum has sought to establish the Holocaust as an integral part of the American moral landscape. But to do so, the Museum had to rhetorically adapt Holocaust memory to its American audience.
This dissertation identifies three distinct techniques of memory formation, which have been adopted by the Museum and which have served its rhetorical necessity: the use of history and authenticity, the notion of responsibility, and the use of the personal. Together, these three techniques have determined the Museum's definition of the Holocaust, its selection of artifacts, its narrative framing of those artifacts, etc. Moreover, these three techniques of memory formation have empowered the Museum and the public to establish legitimacy for their articulation of Holocaust memory in America. This dissertation identifies these three techniques and demonstrates how they entail contradictions that could unwittingly betray their role in memory production and how they could be complicit in reaffirming the American national ethos. The goal of this dissertation is to thereby open a space in which survivors, the Museum, and the viewing public can be more critically engaged in the process of Holocaust memory production in America.
0708: Mass media
0377: Art History