As firsthand survivors of many of the twentieth century’s most monumental events—the Holocaust, Pearl Harbor, the Vietnam War— begin to pass away, Survivor Café addresses urgent questions: How do we carry those stories forward? How do we collectively ensure that the horrors of the past are not forgotten?
In this wide-ranging book, Elizabeth Rosner discusses the intergenerational inheritance of trauma, as well as the intricacies of memory and remembrance in the aftermath of genocide and atrocity. Through a series of interconnected pieces, Survivor Café becomes a lens for numerous constructs of memorialization—from Holocaust museums and commemorative sites to educational methodology, from national reconciliation projects to individual cross-cultural encounters.
With her own personal experience as a daughter of two Holocaust survivors, Rosner describes a series of trips to Germany with her father, revisiting the site of his imprisonment in Buchenwald concentration camp. She extends this exploration to consider echoes of similar legacies among descendants of African American slaves, descendants of Cambodian survivors of the Killing Fields, descendants of survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the effects of 9/11 on the general population, and others. In a thoughtful examination of language (and its limits), as well as current brain research involving the mechanisms of memory, Rosner depicts a variety of efforts to create a map of human tragedy and transcendence.
Beyond preserving the firsthand testimonies of participants and witnesses, individuals and societies must also continually take responsibility for learning the painful lessons of the past in order to offer hope for the future. Survivor Café offers a clear-eyed sense of the enormity of our twenty-first-century human inheritance—not only among direct descendants of the Holocaust but also in the shape of our collective responsibility to learn from tragedy, and to keep the ever-changing conversations alive between the past and the present.