‘Never Forget’: Fictionalising the Holocaust Survivor with Dementia

Article Summary by Sue Vice

I was prompted to think about the topic of Holocaust survivors with dementia by reading Emma Healey’s intriguing 2014 novel Elizabeth is Missing. The novel’s premise is that the central character Maud, who lives with an undiagnosed condition of memory-loss, can nonetheless solve a wartime mystery because her long-term recall remains intact. This is a version of the paradox that arises from the surprisingly numerous representations of Holocaust survivors with dementia, whose traumatic and often unspoken past suddenly resurfaces in later life, as if those events were still taking place. I wondered why there are so many recent fictional examples of the figure of the Holocaust survivor with dementia, and whether these portraits offer insights into the world of any individual living with memory-loss, or if they represent a specific and incomparable case. In this article, I have investigated some examples of fiction, drama and film in which the Holocaust past has become the present once more, in order to try to answer these questions.

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