Closing the Memory Hole: Remembering the Dance Marathons

“Marathon ’33”

“Man lives by a lingering ember,

“And while there are beautiful things to remember,

The ugly things, one should forget.”

—-“Things to Remember” from the musical “The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd”  by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse

Jews sometimes are criticized for evoking the Holocaust at every opportunity. Their explanation is that we “must never forget,” an argument I once thought was bizarre. “Who could forget the Holocaust?,” I wondered. Something so unique and horrible would be impossible to forget; it would be like pretending the Grand Canyon didn’t exist.

That was ignorant of me. Nations, religions, cultures and groups of all kinds are stunningly effective at forgetting historical episodes which challenge their self-image and most cherished illusions. Jews are rightfully and wisely vigilant at reminding the world of what was done to them as the rest of humanity passively looked on in the 30’s and 40’s, because their extermination at the hands of the Nazis is a prime candidate for history’s memory hole, where good and sensitive people, along with their nations, communities and cultures, dispose of memories too ugly to remember. Once the memories are gone, they no longer haunt us, it is true. They no longer teach or warn us, either. The ethical course of action is to remember our worst moments, and evoke them as often as possible. We can only be our best by admitting our worst. Continue reading