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Exploring The Relationship Between History And Memory English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1160 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Today, I have been asked to explore the relationship between History and Memory, and the two texts I have chosen to aid me in accomplishing this is task is: The Fiftieth Gate by Mark Baker, and a commentary peice by a Holocaust survivor Edward Behrendt.

Diagramatic Representation:

Traditional views of history and memories

History | Memories

(Objective, | (Subjective,

Accurate) | Inaccurate)

In the simplists form of my thesis.

*Rub Line*

“History and Memory are equally important and that it is through the amalgamation of History and Memory by which we pertain ‘truth’.”

“Truth… What is truth, Indeed we all have have different opinions and it is a very controversial subject matter as truth is a multi-faceted concept. Therefore, I would not like to delve into it and encourage a philosophical debate, but ‘I’ would like to deduce what truth to really is:

What is the truth?

Truth is merely a fact.

And what is a fact?

A fact is merely a statement agreed on by figures of authority, academics and scientists alike. Would you not agree?

So in short the truth is subjective. What we’ve accepted as history, is really the a construct that gaurantees no truth, a collaboration of statements that are generally agreed on but not known for sure. If you’ve noticed the problematic issue here; Which is why history is infact flawed and easily scrutinized, it is that history is blatantly void of any emotional dimensions, rendering a crucial factor in past, omitted.

An instance, In The Fiftieth Gate; Baker eagerly seeks the ‘Truth’ behind his parents’ stories. He questions the validity of their memory and continually cross-reference evidences, archives, ‘fecks, fecks’ and more ‘fecks’. But ultimately these are just scripts written onto peices of parchments, that do not convey to the audience the trauma and devastation behind the Holocaust. Genia for one, is a prime example of this point.

Her experiences of the Holocaust were dissimilar from her husband’s. Whilst many of his experiences were validated through collective memory, many of hers were indeed personal. Many which were difficult to prove, especially as the sole survivor of Bolszowce. [Hence the audience perceives her story through an oral narrative.]

Genia had been severely traumatized in her childhood and in the years of hiding, which is manifest in her fears of elevators, houses with no windows, and closed spaces.

And her habit of keeping all her clothes worn on special occasions in her life, her intensive beauty routines, and frenzied cleaning habits all suggest how she’s compensating for the things she lacked as a child. This irrefutably delineates how history alone, it is not enough to reflect the damage it’s inflicted, especially in the case of individuals like Genia.

“Nightfall to me is sadness and darkness and I just can’t disconnect my past, you know, I can’t forget these moments for as long as I live.”

This is just one extent, one aspect of how history and memory, when interwoven, can recreate a more thorough past. Alternatively, a more complete truth.


Another problematic concern is that memory is often seen as inferior to history as suggested not only by this text, but it is also as we know it a common ideology in society.

Edward Behrendt, a survivor of the Holocaust and the composer of the text was concerned about the memories of survivors continually being questioned, abashed and doubted by the ‘”intellectual/professional” community’ seeking validation of their memories. Conversely, this could be compared to Baker’s action in The Fiftieth Gate, reflective of his initial obsession and lack of acceptance of memory alone. Behrendt uses the format of rhetorics to highlight his perspective on the issue and regards the view that ‘survivors do not always know the truth, and think rather than know what actually happened’ as a terrible notion. The tone of his comments has defiance similar to Genia’s when she defends her memories against her son’s interrogation. In defence of his memories, survivors of the Holocaust, and their credibility, he states “I know and do not think that I know that many of my family perished at the hands of Germans/Nazis. I was there!”Just as Genia asked Mark during his questioning, ‘how can you be so sure? were you there?”

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The use of repetition of the words “I know and do not think that I know” emphasises his opinion that memory is not as unreliable as the academics claim, but rather that it is certain and definite. Memory plays a pivotal role in history ‘because, if no-one saw it.. did it really happen?’ Anyway, Behrendt is adamant about the validity of memory and that it should not be questioned. This demonstrates how memory is equally important to history, and if these two entity are to be reconciled… society would have a greater comprehension of the past and understand the concept that the amalgamation of History and memory is truth. If not the absolute truth, then certainly a more ‘complete’ one (paradox I know).

Before I continue, I would like to bring everything back to context.

Kogut’s daughter asked Baker to, “Tell me everything. He never spoke about the war. It was too painful… But he never spoke. All I have is one single photograph from after his liberation; but no memories. Please, tell me.”

So in conclusion, Mark Baker and Edward Behrendt both present history and memory as being equally important for recollecting the past. Advertently, this implies that one without the other is inadequate. Through structure and figurative language, Baker validates memory through his parent’s stories, and conceives that the relationship between history and memory are integral in order to differentiate it from simple facts and figures as perceived academic history. Edward Behrendt’s commentary supports the validity of individual and personal history as ‘lived’ experience. The relationship between history and memory is complex and intricate. Memory is the central unifying force of human identity, while history records this force. Therefore, these texts suggest, history and memory are dependent on each other and are equally valid.

(Conclusion?) (i would just like you to keep this notion in mind, that what the truth really is, is the subjective opinion of people, but ultimately it is the unification of a mere fact with the emotional dimension of memories and knowledge that allows us to illuminate the greater illustrations. Thank you.


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