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New Left Review 21, May-June 2003

Gabriel Piterberg on Idith Zertal, Death and the Nation. The uses of the Shoah in the official construction of memory in Israel, amid the specif icities of time in the history of Zionism.



Shaar Aliyah (literally: the Gate of Ascent) is both a physical place and a site of memory. In the 1950s it was a transition camp for immigrants to Israel whose ships had disembarked in Haifa. One of them was a little girl, Chava Alberstein, who had arrived with her family from Poland and would become a famous singer. Four decades later she recounted her experience there in a song whose opening line encapsulates the politics of modern memory and history: ‘This story begins from the end’ (Et ha-sippur ha-zeh mathilim me-ha-sof). In the revised edition of his masterpiece, Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson proposes a strikingly similar formula. There he argues that the crucial difference between the biography of modern persons and of modern nations is that whereas the former is written ‘down time’, the latter must of necessity be fashioned ‘up time’—that is, must ‘start from an originary present’. The result is that ‘World War II begets World War I; out of Sedan comes Austerlitz; the ancestor of the Warsaw Uprising is the state of Israel’.

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Gabriel Piterberg, ‘Hannah Arendt in Tel Aviv’, NLR 21: £3

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