Constructing “The seventh million”? Holocaust and national identity in contemporary Israel
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This chapter discusses the role of the Holocaust for national memory and identity in contemporary Israel. Based on a sociological and socio-constructive approach to memory and identity, the chapter analyses the state memorial Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, as an institutionalization of the national memory and identity of the Holocaust, and two essential strategies of cultural ritualization of the Holocaust in Israel: The Holocaust Remembrance Day and the March of the Living. The chapter argues that the Holocaust played only a minor role in Israel’s nation-building programmes until the Six-Day War (1967) and the Yom Kippur War (1973). From those moments on the depiction of the Holocaust as a Jewish tragedy and Israel as a ‘state for a persecuted Jewish nation’ legitimized the state of Israel at home and abroad. The increased attention to the Holocaust resulted in an expansion of the role and function of Yad Vashem, which meanwhile brands itself as ‘The World’s Holocaust Remembrance Center’. The chapter argues that the trauma of the Holocaust continues to dominate Israel’s national self-understanding at a time when the state faces internal political and religious fragmentation and increased international criticism and contestation.