By Jason Chalmers
In recent decades, ‘the Holocaust’ has become a free- floating symbolic signifier that can be applied to a variety of subjects regardless of their (dis)similarity to the Nazi persecution of European Jewry. This means that, while the ostensible purpose of Holocaust commemoration is to honour the dead, a community’s decision to remember the Holocaust is compelled by a variety of interests. In 2011, the federal government of Canada announced that it would construct its own national memorial to the Holocaust – the National Holocaust Monument (NHM) – thereby raising the question of what interests have provoked this memorial. In the present study, I analyse the discourse surrounding this memorial to understand some of the primary motivations underlying the NHM. After establishing a theoretical framework for the study of Holocaust memorials, I discuss two major themes that have emerged from the discourse: the ethical and the global. Both themes frame the monument as an embodiment of ‘Canadian’ values, but each does so for a different audience; in one instance the NHM acts as a mirror that reflects Canadian values towards Canadians, while the other is a beacon that projects these values to global society. Based on these related functions, I argue that Holocaust memory and the NHM are being used to broadcast Canadian values in multiple directions in an attempt to shape the nation’s domestic and international identities.
This article by Jason Chalmers was originally published in Amsterdam Social Science Volume 7 Issue 1(2016). Click here for the full article