Four Cultural Tips for Remembering and Reflecting on the Holocaust

Holocaust Culture BeLatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of The Boston Globe.

On January 27th, 1945, the Soviet Army freed the concentration camp known as Auschwitz-Birkenau — the largest concentration and death camp used by the Nazis during the Second World War. Due to its historical importance, the United Nations chose this date as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2005. 

As cruel and ruthless as it may seem, the Holocaust is an episode in history that should be remembered because, as time has taught us, we tend to repeat the mistakes we do not learn from.

Approximately six million people were murdered between 1943 and 1945, making this one of the darkest and most impactful episodes in modern world history, to the point of surviving in the collective memory through symbolism such as the swastika that could be seen in the attacks on the U.S. Capitol on January 6.

Remembering and reflecting on the Holocaust is the least we can do for the victims and is a first step in the fight against racism and hatred, in any way, shape, or form.  

History books are a great source of information, but art tends to be much more powerful in helping us connect emotionally with other people and contexts. Here you will find a selection of books, art, films, and music to help you reflect on this crucial episode.

Books

Anne Frank Holocaust Culture BeLatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of history.com

Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl is one of the most famous books written during those years. It is the diary of a 13-year-old Jewish girl who had to hide for two years with her family in the “Secret Annexe” of an old office building. It recounts her inner world (her sensitivity, fears, and humor) and the small yet terrible outside world she faced, including hunger, living confined, and the fear of being discovered, which happened in 1944.

Mendelssohn on the Roof BeLatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of goodreads.com

Mendelssohn is on the Roof is Jiří Weil’s novel about Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia and the suffering of those Jews forced to collaborate with the Nazi regime to survive and, sometimes, to protect their loved ones. The story has a biting sense of humor and begins with Julius Schlesinger, a SS aspiring official, who receives the task of taking Mendelssohn’s statue out of the Rudolfinum’s roof. When he does, he mistakes him with Richard Wagner, a musician Nazis observed as one of their most valued ones.

Maus BeLatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of penguinrandomhouse.com

Maus is Art Spiegelman’s best-known work. This Pulitzer-winning graphic novel has two stories braided: Vladek Spiegelman’s, a Holocaust survivor, and his son’s, who is trying to come to terms with his father’s past and their complicated relationship. It is a graphic novel that makes it somewhat “easier” to read, but that also means its message finds a faster way to your heart. 

Music

The Holocaust has inspired countless songs and documentaries, but sometimes less is more. That is the case of 2005’s James Kent’s documentary Holocaust: A Music Memorial Film. The film’s climax is a 15-minute scene where Maxim Vengerov walks Auschwitz during the winter play a Bach chaconne. Just listen and observe.  

Art

Facing Survival is a project conceived by painter David Kassan. He painted twelve hyper-realistic live-sized portraits of Holocaust survivors and held extensive interviews with them to know their stories. Kassan’s principle is that our story is told in our bodies, and by making us look at the survivors in the eye, he also takes us closer to having a glimpse of what is behind their gaze. 

Films

Life is Beautiful is a 1997 film directed by and starring Roberto Benigni. It depicts the story of Guido Orefice, a Jewish Italian bookshop owner who uses his imagination to protect his son from the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp and, by doing so, saves his life. This movie shows the war from a child’s perspective without minimizing or oversimplifying the facts.