The Holocaust in American Life, by Peter Novick

As part of a delegation meeting in 1992 to discuss the future of Auschwitz, I walked the camp's terrible terrain with such notable Holocaust scholars as Richard Rubenstein, David Roskies and Alvin Rosenfeld. There I heard the most radical thought about Holocaust remembrance that I had encountered in many years. A conservative rabbi in our group proposed that, instead of preserving and augmenting the Auschwitz site and revising the museum's materials to emphasize the particularity of Jewish suffering, Jewish leaders should invoke a statute of limitations on the memory of the Holocaust.

I was immediately struck by his proposal, which he whispered to me out of earshot of the other delegates. When I asked for further clarification, he responded that a limitation on mourning was in strict accordance with Jewish law and custom. When a loved one has been lost, commemoration is essential but time-bound. Life goes on despite tragedy and, over time, life must be given priority. That death should not overwhelm life is a theme embodied in the traditional Jewish prayer over the dead, which never mentions death. In the case of a collective tragedy, remembrance also must be limited. Once the period of mourning is past, such a tragedy is commemorated in the religious calendar as part of the larger cycle of Jewish history.

About Auschwitz, the rabbi was clear: Let the elements of nature and time sweep the camp away. And let Jewish liturgy, memory and culture place the Holocaust in perspective. Do not force the remembrance or the forgetting of Auschwitz. Let it remain and, in time, become distant.