The dissertation takes departure in this widespread emergence of memory sites that represent Jewish history, and asks why Jewish history is so important in Europe today. In order to investigate this, the dissertation explores the Danish Jewish Museum and how visitors experience the museum.
It centres on two main questions: How does the museum function as a memory site, and what sets off memory work in the museum.
Ten informants are interviewed about their visits to the museum and along with memory theory, history of museology and different exhibition methods these interviews form the basis of the work.
The study shows that memory work at the Danish Jewish Museum is often closely linked to a national myth: the rescue of Danish Jews in October 1943. This myth tells of Denmark as a nation of compassionate rescuers.
The visitors, however, dissolve the myth as they think it fails to characterise Denmark or Danes as a whole today. Hence, they turn the myth into an anti-myth, which then narrates about those values Danish society does not consist of. In this way, the visitors use Jewish history to separate themselves from the nation and their countrymen. This illustrates a more general use of Jewish history in Europe: The Second World War and the genocide against the Jews is an important component of the emerging European community.
The Holocaust assists to define post-war Europe as it symbolises the antithesis of everything this community is believed to embrace: democracy, tolerance and respect for human rights. In this way, the use of Jewish history aides in the construction of a new myth: a myth of a multicultural, open and equal European community.
The analysis of visitors’ experiences at the museum shows that there are certain prerequisites for memory work. First of all, the values of the visitor must be activated during the visit – values link the past to the present. The person whose values are activated must, however, have a personal relation to the history, which is represented in the museum, for memory work to set off. This relation often takes the form of emotions. Altogether, memory work can be set off by a combination of values, emotions and a personal relation to history.