History and Memory are complex representations of the past influenced by different perspectives. History is based on documented facts, historical research and formalised written records of past events. Memory is based on personal recollection, it is subjective and experiential. When considered together, history and memory combine to give a more complete picture of the past than is possible when considering either one independently. History and memory are complementary. History validates memory, while memory adds depth to history.
These complex notions are effectively portrayed in the award winning non-fiction text ‘The Fiftieth Gate’ by Mark Raphael Baker. Similarly, these notions are also explored in the film ‘Schindler’s List’ directed by Steven Spielberg. History and memory lead to cultural knowledge and appreciation. In ‘The Fiftieth Gate’, a sense of resolution is reached. Both history and memory work together to reconstruct the past in a way that affects our present. Baker deliberately emphasises this through his documentation of his parents’ memories and this allows him to resolve his identity as a second generation Australian Holocaust survivor.
This is highlighted in the appropriation of Descartes’s quote “He remembers, therefore I am”. Likewise, the ‘fifty’ gates symbolise Baker’s journey through his parents’ stories and synthesise the narrative. All of the forty nine gates expose a personal discovery at a particular moment during Baker’s journey, however the fiftieth gate represents the enlightenment and knowledge gained as a result of Baker’s quest.
The Roman numerals at the start of each chapter give the text a historical tone and authenticity. Furthermore, Genia is representative of individual memory as for her “there are no witnesses to interview” and all she possesses is “Memories. Just memories. Nothing more”. Baker doubts her personal testimonies in their interviews and the validity of her childhood experiences which are reliant on her own memory.
Sympathy for Genia is enforced within the reader through the rhetorical question “you read. Books, books, everywhere. But do you know how it feels?” and this emphasises the power of individual experiences and the difficulty in expressing such horrors in contrast to archival documentation. Genia’s testimony in Gate 18 highlights how the most traumatic and painful memories are never forgotten, as seen through the short emphatic sentences and the aural dialogue imprinted on her memory, which is evident in “Juden Raus! Jews get out!”. It is clear that these painful memories affect Genia in the present, as seen through her phobias, depression and the quote “I’m still afraid of the darkness”.
In addition, Yossl, is the embodiment of collective and communal memory, as his is a “past written on a page shared by other survivors”. Yossl is a ‘Buchenwald Boy’ and as such, collective memory helps the survivors cope with their experiences. Yossl’s memory is inaccurate, which portrays the fragmentation and distortion of memory that is also highlighted through the novel’s non-linear narrative. Yossl fails to remember where he was when the war started, and Baker justifies him by showing Yossl his report card, which further implicates the representation of history in that it can validate memory.
However, Baker makes clear to the reader that “The final moments can never be retrieved by history. Nor by memories”, which shows the limitations of history and memory, and how even the most extensive research and various perspectives cannot reveal all the details of a historical event.
Similar to Fiftieth Gate, Schindler’s List utilises historical data and both collective and individual memory to represent the events of the Holocaust, thus showing how one can learn about the past through the memories of others. The closing scene of the film fades from black and white to colour, symbolising a fusion of past and present, history and reality, which reveals how history teaches people about the past so they can gain a better understanding of the present.
The actors who play as the Schindler Jews in the film accompany their real life counterparts laying stones on Schindler’s grave, which is a symbolic act of collective memory. This is similar to Yossl’s attendance at the Buchenwald Ball. In conclusion, it is seen how the relationship of history and memory in the non-fiction text ‘The Fiftieth Gate’ by Mark Raphael Baker results in Baker’s realisation that history and memory are complex and dependent on one another, thus allowing us to gain a complete, holistic and accurate representation of a historical event.
Likewise, the film ‘Schindler’s List’ directed by Steven Spielberg also intertwines historical research with survivors’ stories in order to create a clear representation of the Holocaust. Overall, it is made evident that when history and memory are used together they are unstoppable.