After Such Knowledge: Memory, History, and the Legacy of the Holocaust by Eva Hoffman - review by David Cesarani

David Cesarani

Scions of the Survivors

After Such Knowledge: Memory, History, and the Legacy of the Holocaust


Secker & Warburg 301pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Did you notice Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January this year? I doubt it. It is hard to believe that prior to the attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001 revelations, controversies and memorial events concerning the Nazi persecution and mass murder of the Jews regularly used to dominate the news. Eva Hoffman begins her meditation on the legacy of the Nazi era by remarking on its ubiquity and proximity, but her own experience belies this claim. By the end of her painfully candid reflections she is aware of writing in the shadow of another, more immediate catastrophe that has eclipsed The Event (her capitals) that she was convinced set the trajectory of her life. She speculates that the 1990s, when discussion of the Holocaust was truly omnipresent, may have been a sort of condemned playground. The post-Cold War period seemed so safe: it allowed us the luxury of re-examining old wounds and running sores. Well, not any more. However, Hoffman, a child of Polish Jewish survivors, has too much invested in this history to declare it redundant. She believes that it has a meaning for today and that something in the particular experience of the 'second generation' can be salvaged that is of relevance to our new, troubled century. But she also advises that it is time to move on, even if this is possible only through a final reckoning with the past.

Hoffman's book is impossible to classify and hard to describe. At one level it is an account of how she awoke to the way the Second World War and her parents' narrow escape from the Nazis shaped them and imperceptibly helped to mould her. She situates in the culture and

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