Does the Holocaust Need Another Set of Press Releases?

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I’ll start with a question that has a whiff of cynicism and populism. You’ll understand right away why I’m allowing myself to do this. Today I asked myself what the people who were murdered in the Holocaust would think if they knew, 70 years after they were put to death in the gas chambers, that a journalist from a country known as Israel got an electronic letter in his inbox that contained the following: “This isn’t hardcore Holocaust — no photographs of corpses or stories of survivors or victims. This is behind the scenes of those stories.”

I also wondered what the survivors who are still with us would think of a different e-mail that told the same journalist about a “moving meeting” of soldiers and young people with Holocaust survivors and “the instructive stories of thousands of Jews.” Or about the opportunity to cover a different kind of ceremony commemorating the Holocaust described as follows: “An extraordinary, experiential and moving evening.” There are plenty of other examples.

It seems that like any book, CD or performance staged over the Passover vacation, the Holocaust must be “marketed” as “moving” and “informative.” This year, more than ever, I have noticed a worrisome trend that warrants discussion: the Holocaust needs public relations specialists. It seems that as Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Day approaches next week, every self-respecting PR firm is trying to market a ceremony, organization, archive or event connected to the Shoah.

On the one hand, I am well aware of the need of institutions, agencies and organizations to tell the public of the existence of books, events, ceremonies and stories connected with their work. But on the other hand, I get an unpleasant feeling from the fact that this effort involves public relations firms that try to sell us a product, show or interview with a refugee from a reality show the very same day. The feeling is particularly disturbing since I believe that any attempt to “sell” the Holocaust, as though it were some kind of commodity, is wrong. Sometimes, I feel like answering all those emails with something like this: “Thank you very much for the offer, but the Holocaust doesn’t need you. I have enough ‘moving’ stories that I gather and receive every year from people who can’t afford a PR specialist.”

On the other hand, that’s not fair. The Holocaust does need public relations today — and anyone who doesn’t realize that is naïve and not connected with the nation among which he dwells.

But something still bothers me. Have we become so cynical and desensitized that even the Holocaust has to be marketed with a special press release and advertised in bright colors with exclamation points and bold type? The picture is complicated, of course, since sometimes that happens to be where the most interesting stories are hidden.

The little I can do at the moment is to look closely at every story and ignore the number of times the word “moving” appears in it. And I’m even allowed to be critical of the well-publicized organizations such as “The March of the Living,” which issued a press release today that read in part: “A week of trips to the death camps in Poland, continuing with a flight to Israel where the participants mark the establishment of the state, visit IDF bases and community enterprises, participate in ceremonies on Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and the victims of hostile attacks — and attend an amazing celebration of Independence Day at Latrun the night after the holiday.” Yes, the celebration of independence that follows shortly after our annual commemoration of the Holocaust is amazing. It has to be.

therwise, we won’t want to report on it

John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State, visiting Yad Vashem.Credit: Reuters
U.S. President Barack Obama takes a moment for reflection while visiting Yad Vashem.Credit: Emil Salman

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