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Holocaust as a global language

2 June 2015

Holocaust memory as a global language: the case of Indigenous Australian suffering

Researcher: Dr Nina Fischer, University of Konstanz

visitor at Humanities Research Centre, ANU

Cover Photo

Fischer first presented evidence of the importance of the Jewish holocaust in Australia, for example the Melbourne Jewish Holocaust Museum; Sydney’s memorial to Gay and Lesbian victims of the Holocaust; the Australian Curriculum’s inclusion of an examination of the Holocaust.

The holocaust has taken on a cosmopolitan turn, a trope of ‘moral certainty’ that unites Europe and other parts of the world. Levi and Sznaider cite it as helping to ‘facilitate the formation of transnational memory culture’, perhaps providing the basis for discussions in global multidirectional human rights. (Dr Fischer says she is not so optimistic about the humanities’ role in improving civic life.)

Her question during her stay in Australia was how does holocaust memory provide language and imagery (such as the metonymic horror of the Auschwitz gate) for talking about indigenous suffering in Australia? And does the importance of this imagery encourage its use as a language in other contexts?

Dr Fischer traced the first reference to Indigenous history as a holocaust to 1976 (where whites take on the position of Hitler youth). In a more recent (2007) example, Anthony Mundine called for the Apology with these words: “John Howard has got to admit he is wrong – just as the Germans did after Hitler”. The opposition also employs the reference, as in the contra-example Get over historical indigenous wrongs. Holocaust is also a notable part of Justice Michael Kirby’s (2012) Lowitja O’Donoghue Oration.

[Fischer’s forthcoming publication: Memory work: the second generation ]

Does knowing about other suffering cause us to remember and care more?

Relevance to the study

In a peripheral way, the potential for the term ‘holocaust’ to move from power to platitude – Tony Abbott’s comment that Labor had proposed a ‘holocaust of Defence jobs’ – is comparable to the weakening that I can trace in maker’s marks (‘X made me’ evolving into a highly compressed abbreviation).


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