The Holocaust has bequeathed to contemporary society a cultural lexicon of intensely powerful symbols, a vocabulary of remembrance that we draw on to comprehend the otherwise incomprehensible horror of the Shoah. Engagingly written and illustrated with more than forty black-and-white images, Holocaust Icons probes the history and memory of four of these symbolic relics left in the Holocaust’s wake.
Jewish studies scholar Oren Stier offers in this volume new insight into symbols and the symbol-making process, as he traces the lives and afterlives of certain remnants of the Holocaust and their ongoing impact. Stier focuses in particular on four icons: the railway cars that carried Jews to their deaths, symbolizing the mechanics of murder; the Arbeit Macht Frei (“work makes you free”) sign over the entrance to Auschwitz, pointing to the insidious logic of the camp system; the number six million that represents an approximation of the number of Jews killed as well as mass murder more generally; and the persona of Anne Frank, associated with victimization. Stier shows how and why these icons—an object, a phrase, a number, and a person—have come to stand in for the Holocaust: where they came from and how they have been used and reproduced; how they are presently at risk from a variety of threats such as commodification; and what the future holds for the memory of the Shoah.
In illuminating these icons of the Holocaust, Stier offers valuable new perspective on one of the defining events of the twentieth century. He helps readers understand not only the Holocaust but also the profound nature of historical memory itself.