How the Ghosts of the Holocaust Haunted the Sixties, But Quietly.
In so many ways, it seems that the Holocaust is much closer to us, in memory and consciousness, now, so many decades later, than it was then when our parents carried its fresh scars and their children, who came of age in the 1960s, were all about changing the world, heedless of their anxious memories and associations. I come to the topic as an American, a Jew, a child of German-Jewish refugees, and a quite young participant in the civil rights movement, the New Left, and then, probably most comfortably, the feminist movement that emerged out of the first two. As a historian of modern Germany, the Shoah, and its aftermath, I come also with an abiding curiosity about all the ways in which the "shadow of the Holocaust" was for the very most part indeed shadowy, a barely articulated or acknowledged presence for activists, even for Jews, even for the children of the refugees and survivors, in the '60s. This disconnect from relatively recent events seems both hard to understand and completely in keeping with the spirit of what were radically forward-looking times.
It is important to remember also that the '50s had been haunted much more deeply by the "bomb" (and by McCarthyism, a particular trauma for many refugees from fascism) than by the Holocaust. As New York City schoolchildren, we found our war memorials in exhibits about the horrors of the bomb, which introduced the obligatory but also fascinating tours of the gleaming new United Nations building on the banks of the East River. The consequences of nuclear warfare appeared incontrovertibly more immediately dangerous and requiring of action than a death camp set up by a thoroughly defeated regime that no longer posed an existential threat. And this despite the fact that both my grandmothers had been murdered in Auschwitz, and their ghosts, as well as the entire refugee experience, surely inhabited our small apartment on the Upper West Side.
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