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Fall 1999

When Memory Comes
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But slowly, people became interested in the Holocaust. In the late '60s, as American youth were protesting the Vietnam War, German teens were beginning to ask their parents what they did in WWII. In the United States, a television mini-series, The Holocaust, presented the horror in a dramatic way, as did the more recent Schindler's List and Life Is Beautiful.

Friedlander views these dramatic presentations with mixed feelings. As an historian, he can't help but shudder at historic inaccuracies or the inability of dramas to put events into context.

"I don't feel at ease with them because they simplify the Holocaust. But," he adds with a self-deprecating smile, "I may not be the best judge."

He understands the need for some dramatic license to tell a story. At least, he says, films like Schindler's List add to the general public interest in the subject. "You have to make allowances for what film makers have to do to attract the interest of a wide audience," he says. "The danger is in distortion."

Today, he says, "enough distance has passed that people can examine the era. For example, the Vatican is just now struggling with the issue of Pope Pius XII (and the church's relationship to the Third Reich). Interest in the Holocaust is coming now from all sides."

Friedlander, who also edits the journal History & Memory, which focuses on questions relating to the formation of historical consciousness, also is aware of the danger of being too close, too personally involved in his subject. He takes pains to separate himself emotionally from the work.

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