chapter  8
28 Pages

Cosmopolitan memory: Holocaust commemoration and national identity

In an influential argument, Daniel Levy and Natan Sznaider maintain that increasingly we are seeing a ‘transition from national to cosmopolitan memory cultures’ (2002: 88, 87; 2001). By this they mean that there has been a growth of forms of collective memory that are no longer primarily framed by the nationstate, or seen predominantly as the property of a particular nation or ethnic group, but that are instead relatively ‘deterritorialised’. The Holocaust, according to their account, is ‘the paradigmatic case’ of such cosmopolitan memory; and has increasingly been decontextualised from its historical time and space, and, through processes of cultural mediation, turned into a universal and continually relevant ‘moral story of good against evil’ (2002: 98) whose central message is ‘never again’. It has been turned from ‘a set of facts’ to ‘an idea’; and increasingly is commemorated by people who have no direct connection to it (2002: 88), as witnessed not least in the proliferation of Holocaust memorials and museums and the millions of people across the globe who make treks, sometimes of thousands of miles, to visit them. Mostly, their argument about cosmopolitan memory is framed in terms of ‘the global’ or ‘humanity’, as when, for example, they argue that the deterritorialised cosmopolitan memory of the Holocaust plays a significant role in the development of a cosmopolitan politics of human rights (Levy and Sznaider 2002: 100). At others, however, ‘cosmopolitan’ is equated with ‘European’, as when they claim that the developments that they chart ‘contribute to the creation of a common European cultural memory’ (Levy and Sznaider 2002: 87).2