UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Private loss, public memory : an ethnography of the Holocaust memorial exhibition Faces of Loss Sevy Fua, Rosa Maria


This investigation consisted of an ethnographic study of the memorial exhibition Faces of Loss mounted at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre. The exhibit was based on scanned images of original pre-Holocaust pictures of the victims of the Holocaust whose families now live in Vancouver. Pictures of deceased relatives, confined for years in the privacy of survivors’ and second generations’ homes, were publicly displayed. In conducting this ethnography, the researcher became a participant observer during the production and public display of the exhibition. Data were generated through descriptive fieldnotes, personal journal entries, twenty-eight individual interviews that included Holocaust survivors, child survivors and second generation, and one group interview with nine child survivors. The data analysis suggests that bringing their private losses to the public arena proved therapeutic for the participants. The images displayed allowed them to honour the memory of their relatives and provided the participants with a forum to talk about their losses. The exhibition became a medium for the wider community to bear witness to the participants’ trauma, offering the Holocaust survivors and their children the healing experience associated with testimonial acts. The exhibition also engaged participants in collective remembrance and mourning practices. The display of visual images played a crucial role in facilitating these processes among the participants. It follows that local Holocaust museums, as cultural places, could be turned into venues for facilitating memorial and therapeutic processes among Holocaust survivors and their children. By exploring the role of museums as forums for bringing private losses into public space, this study sheds light on the therapeutic use of community-based settings for individuals and groups who have undergone psychosocial trauma.

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