One of the points brought up in Karen Till’s article on “The New Berlin” deals with the importance and the challenge of keeping representations of the past close to the sensibilities of new generations. This issue becomes particularly relevant in Berlin, as new generations visiting the Memory District are no longer directly related to the events of the Holocaust and Nazi Germany. With the challenge of new generations, memory and history relate to each other differently. For instance, we move from a history that might have been embodied (such as for a Holocaust survivor, or someone who made it out of Tuol Sleng) to an indirect connection to that history, such as tourists who want to learn more about a historical event that is not necessarily part of their personal memory.
The generational differences in the perception of history, and of what becomes marked in personal and collective memory, are a substantial challenge for historical and memorial museums. In relationship to generational sensitization to traumatic memory and history, I was intrigued by the approach to children education on the matter of nuclear bombs and war by the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. As part of their website, in the “Kids Peace Station,” the museum presents “The Sadako Story 21,” a flash animation of “the mysterious experience of six grader Mai-Chan.” In the story Mai-Chan magically becomes Sadako, a Japanese girl who was two years old at the time of the Hiroshima bombing, and died of Leukemia at 12. In the animation, Mai-Chan lives through the experiences of hospitalization and fear of death that we are meant to imagine Sadako lived thorugh. At last, Mai-Chan is freed from the experience, but not without a lesson on what she can do in order to prevent the same hurt and pain Sadako had to go through. The animation includes graphic pictures of the bomb exploding, with destroyed buildings and burnt bodies, as well as more information about wars and violence all over the world.
“The Sadako Story 21” functions as a once removed experience: although you could not be Sadako herself, as you are too young and probably not from Hiroshima, anyone could be Mai-Chan, a contemporary 12 year old who has friends, goes to school, and enjoys running. In this framework, the objective is for the viewer to identify with the main character and feel both mortified and inspired by her experience. The efficacy of the project depends on the connection the viewers have to the animation, as history physically becomes part of Mai-Chan’s lived experience, highlighting the universality of the suffering and pain caused by wars and violence.
Karen Till writes that “third and fourth generations bear witness through their imaginations as well as through their bodies.” (Till 212) Sadako’s story flash animation is an instance where witnessing is not necessarily connected to one’s presence on a site, (children are not required to be or have been in Hiroshima in order to identify with Mai-Chan), but rather depends on the appeal to the imagination of its viewers.
In contrast with the interactive tourism of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, many of the readings for this week’s class dealt with physical sites, such as the Memory District, the Tenement Museum and the Cambodian sites, Tuol Seng and Choeung Ek. While these are all sites that focus on a relatively distant past, I am interested in how memory and history take shape and are represented close to the time when a historical event takes place. I am thinking of Prof. KGB’s “Kodak Moments, Flashbulb Memories. Reflections on 9/11,” in which taking photographs, and the digital camera, represent the immediateness of how a site (in this case, spread out all over New York!) takes form. The “New New York” becomes a controversial site: on one hand, there is a return to the past, where Prof. BKG finds a Soho that looks more “like the pioneering 1970’s than the Soho of the affluent 90’s.” (BKG 20) On the other hand, after 9/11, authorities in the city are more focused than ever on creating boundaries, stopping people from photographing, removing spontaneously sprung memorials, and heightening security.
It feels like the instance of 9/11 provides an incredible opportunity to look closely at the way history is produced. Which voices are allowed to speak? Who can visit the site? Which cameras are taken away and which images are endorsed and encouraged? At a time when filming/recording/photographing technologies are available to more and more people, the stories that these images can tell directly contribute to the way history is shaped, creating a complex picture as suggested by the Here Is New York exhibit.
Additionally, with the security restrictions brought on by 9/11, being a tourist has changed drastically in New York, and in general. The ghost of 9/11, so closely related to the airplanes that hit the towers, casts a shadow on transportation itself, as disembodied subway voices remind us to “say something if you see something,” and airport controls remind one of high security prisons. The tourist industry itself experienced incredible losses after 9/11, and New York has had to produce a new image of itself in order to attract people as it used to. This production, the post-9/11 New York, started immediately after the towers were hit by the planes. For instance, several museums cancelled, changed or revised their exhibitions. (BKG 24) As the New York skyline physically changed, so did its cultural representations.
In regards to the memorialization of traumas, I was interested in the recurring difference between American perceptions of the Holocaust and how these were challenged by sites such as the Topography of Terror. The different cultural expectations around the site reminded me that trauma is experienced and hitoricized differently in every culture. As a result, Holocaust memorial sites in the U.S. are different from those you might find in Germany, particularly in Berlin, and in other places around the world. The ideology behind the production of the site determines the focus for the memorial. Furthermore, while the memorialization of the Holocaust can provide a reference point for other institutions and sites, each situation will be different. For instance, while the Holocaust was a direct result of the actions and relations of humans, a memorial for those who survived or died in the Tsunami cannot emphasize human volition behind the tragedy in order to prevent it from happening again. The words “Never again!” might not be so useful when dealing with natural phenomena, while one could focus on how to improve aid in a preemptive perspective.