The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning Summary

James Young


In The Texture of Memory (1994), author James Young explores monuments, memorials, and public spaces related to the Holocaust. What makes Young's approach unique is the connection he draws between the location of public art and its role in the Holocaust.

Young begins by exploring the complicated history of Germany and its postwar monuments and memorials in a chapter titled "The Ambiguity of Memory." Young suggests that one way Germany has dealt with the sense of guilt over the Holocaust is through public art, particularly at the sites of destruction. Perhaps the most thought-provoking section of this chapter is "Austria's Ambivalent History," in which Young analyses monuments such as Alfred Hrdlicka's "street-washing Jew," which seems to simply blend into the landscape as so many bystanders did during the Holocaust.

The second chapter delves into Poland's wartime and postwar history in "The Ruins of Memory." This title is fitting because Poland was decimated by the Nazis. Young dedicates a great deal of the chapter to looking at the ways in which concentration camps, or extermination centers, such as Auschwitz and Majdanek deal with issues of remembrance. It is fitting that very little has physically changed in the camps since the Nazis were defeated. The responsibilities of these sites as memorials are almost overwhelming when one considers that they are the final resting places for millions of victims.

The third section of the book examines Israel's "Holocaust, Heroism, and National Redemption." Israel plays a special role in the postwar world as it is the Holy Land for those displaced by Nazi atrocities. Much of the chapter focuses on both Yad Vashem and, more specifically, the work of sculptor Nathan Rapoport, whose Scroll of Fire chronicles the history of the Jews and how Israel came to be their homeland. Yad Vashem has the challenging task of serving as a memorial to the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust and commemorating those who resisted the Nazis and risked their lives to save Jews and other victims.

The final chapter of Young's work focuses on America and "Memory and the Politics of Identity." This final section of the book explores the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum as well as the Holocaust Memorial in Boston and other monuments such as Nathan Rapoport's Liberation and George Segal's The Holocaust.

In short, Young's book sparks in readers a critical question: what should the role of public art be in relation to history?