On the mazes of Memory

Much has been studied about the intricate mechanism through which memories are processed, preserved and then transmitted (or erased), but it is common sense that its preservation, even if traumatic in nature, plays a central role in the learning process. 

More than the concept of sharing a common memory as an unavoidable factor in the formation of a nation, memory is a conditio sine qua non of being a Jew, it is part of our identity as a people - an entire identity umbilically linked to an History, indeed too turbulent, of events that are celebrated also, today and ever since, as lessons in life. These are the learnings that wrote the story of the Jewish people. 

Remembering is, therefore, a duty for those who, like the Jews, have a millenary History made alive. Therefore, we do not forget. Therefore, we cannot allow forgetfulness.

Holocaust Museums thus obeying to a principle common to all museums - a certain crystallization of the past -, are founded holding hands, since their conception,  with a pedagogical function of paramount importance: not only revealing what it means to be a Jew but also forcing the visitor to walk in his/her shoes, becoming the spectator-actor of the barbarism where for some time he sees himself viscerally immersed so that the Other ceases to exist because the Other is him or herself. Why is this important? Because this is (also) how the victim is given dignity. The memory of the genocide that was the Shoá is intended to be perpetual. Not because there is any masochistic pleasure in reviewing the finely tuned machine that condemned 6 million souls to death and others - so many - to a broken life, but because this wound, inevitably always open, is the guarantee that Never Again.

The Holocaust Museum in Porto is the perfect example of all this. The first of its kind in the Iberian Peninsula, here, the Jewish Community of Porto reproduced the dormitories of the Auschwitz concentration camp, a room with the names of the victims, a memorial with a perennial flame, cinema and conference rooms and a study center. Opened on the 5th of April of 2021, it had, just in the first month of its life, about 10 000 visitors, and until the 15th of December, a total of 40 000 visitors, mainly youngsters, students and teachers. If this proves anything, it is that this Museum has filled a gap and that there is an enormous thirst for knowledge regarding this topic that filled it. 

This Museum is the materialization of the challenge launched to civil society by the governmental project “Never Forget, around the memory of the Holocaust" honoring the International Alliance for the Memory of the Holocaust (IHRA) of which Portugal is a member, sharing with society in general the documents and objects left by refugees in the Synagogue of Porto during the Second World War.

And Lisbon will also have a Jewish Museum - Tikvá -, which will preserve and disseminate Jewish memory and experience, valuing cultural differences and promoting interreligious integration. 

We have, in Portugal, a Jewish Community that is almost two millennia old. Integrated, participative and prosperous until the Edict of Expulsion which in the 15th century pulverized, cloaked or chased it away to places of greater tolerance. Currently, thanks to the Nationality Law, which allows the descendants of these Jews of the Portuguese Nation to acquire citizenship, we are gradually recovering a rapidly expanding and prosperous Jewish community, fully integrated in the portuguese social and economic fabric. A long due cycle now closed, in which it is imperative to restore an immemorial emotional connection to Portugal. 

The Jewish and Holocaust Museums are the best instruments in the fight against antissemitism. Making people know the facts, informing, pulling them out of the lethargy in which blatant ignorance and/or biased pseudo-journalism (whether from newsrooms or social networks), may have launched them - these are the priorities of Jewish communities and of the Embassy of Israel. 

For all this, I would like to thank the Jewish Community of Portugal, in the person of its leaders, for leading the way to this endeavor.  

For this is the way, I have no doubt about it, to walk towards a brighter future.»