Holocaust Remembrance in Times of COVID-19

How the pandemic shaped hybrid forms of commemoration

The outbreak of the corona pandemic has serious effects on Holocaust commemoration. Many commemorative institutions (national institutions, memorial museums, memorials) responded to the restrictions with an intensification of digital commemoration activities on a variety of social media platforms, and with constricted on-site commemoration events. Our study focuses on new hybrid forms of commemoration ceremonies in memorials, memorial museums, and state institutions, which were and still are developed in 2020/21. The pandemic affected commemoration ceremonies that are annually hold from January 27 (liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, International Holocaust Remembrance Day) to April/May, including Yom HaShoah (27 Nissan). Commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Nazi concentration camps in spring 2020, many commemorative institutions and memorial sites had to cancel originally planned commemoration ceremonies due to the COVID-19 restrictions, and instead intensified digital activities that changed existing commemorative practices. Our research project is based on the presumption that the new virtual commemoration practices are by no means just a "substitute solution" and differ from previous media communication of traditional commemoration (as it has already been the case in the past, for example with TV broadcasts of liberation ceremonies in Auschwitz Birkenau or at the Mauthausen Memorial). Instead, the virtual formats and the related new media platforms require a fundamental redesign of memorial acts. Thus, our analysis focuses on new hybrid forms of commemoration at memorials, memorial museums, and state institutions.

Our main research questions are

Our main research questions are

  • What were the effects on commemorating the Holocaust posed by the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • How were Holocaust remembrance days celebrated in 2020/21?
  • What will be the effects of online commemoration in 2020/21 on future Holocaust memory?

More specifically we explore: How are the traditional events translated into new formats? How do the structures or processes of commemoration change? How is the respective historical place integrated into these practices and “speaks” to the distant visitors? How are survivors and other witnesses of the atrocities and their families involved? Which new performative formats of commemorations are developed? How far do these formats offer the possibility of interactive participation, and to what degree did it increase participation and/or public interest in remembrance? How far can digital and remote forms of commemoration reach new publics, and which changes in the conception does this have, for example with regard to multilingualism? And what are the consequences for the perception of historical sites, especially contested ones, concerning effects of co-presence and conflicting interests (such as nationalist manifestations at the commemorations in memorials in Germany and Austria).
A survey will be conveyed among the member states of the IHRA International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Research. In a second stage, new forms of commemoration caused by COVID-19 will be examined in more detail through expert interviews that raise questions about concerns as well as expectations. In doing so, our research contributes to the discussion about future-oriented concepts of commemoration.

Project leader:  Heidemarie Uhl (AAS) / Tobias Ebbrecht-Hartmann (HUJI)
Project coordinator: Tom Divon (HUJI)

A project of the Austrian Academy of Sciences/ IKT Institute for Culture Studies and History of Theater (AAS)
And the Hebrew University Jerusalem/European Forum (HUJI)

Photo: Yad Vashem