Reading Monuments – Building Memories Depictions of Books in Holocaust Memorials

    • Europe Inside-Out Nice 2016
    • Presentation speakers
      • Moran Pearl, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem


    Books, archives, and monuments are vessels of knowledge and memory that represent the human desire to preserve the past. While each of these media can stand alone, a combination of two types, visual and textual, raises new questions. Thus, when a book – itself a textual tool of memory – is displayed in a visual memory tool, such as a monument, the two forms create a unique dialogue and discourse. Visual depiction of a book in monuments often presents the paradox: the book as a memory device has qualities that belong to the verbal medium of memory become inaccessible book, due to the fact that it’s cannot be opened and read. This great paradox as I intend to show, expresses the universal difficult inherent in representations of the Holocaust. The Holocaust became a unifying experience in Europe and the basis for the shared values and institutions of the European Union (EU); it had an enormous influence on the national and local memories of the countries that entered the EU and on its institutions. The past several decades have seen a trend of breaking the national borders of memory and of moving towards transnational memory. Following this course, this study sheds light on the emergence of transnational memories. By comparing the treatment of a single symbol in different countries and contexts one can observe changes in the local and domestic memory cultures. In this study I will consider interactions between verbal and visual memory traditions, by examining monuments and art installations that use books and libraries as symbols to commemorate the Holocaust. This will be done by focusing on three concrete monuments: „The Empty Library” by Micha Ullman in Berlin, The „Nameless Library” by Rachel Whiteread in Vienna and „The Hall of Names” by Moshe Safdie in the Yad Vashem museum in Jerusalem. Interestingly, books and archives are increasingly used in monuments in an age in which media innovations have challenged the position of the traditional printed book. The book is considered a profound source of human knowledge yet digital media has turned the printed book into a symbol of the past, and even has transformed it into a kind of monument itself. This phenomenon has motivated artists to plumb the depths of books and libraries, and even to use books themselves, by virtue of their symbolic power, as “building blocks” for artworks. While there are a growing number of monuments and artists using books, this preoccupation has never been directly researched. Therefore, this research attempts to fill a gap and contribute to the fields of visual-culture and memory studies.