The Holocaust is present: reenacting the Holocaust, then and now*

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Reenactment has played a vital, albeit unacknowledged, role in what has been remembered of the Holocaust. From the moment the camps were liberated, performative and participatory practices were seized upon for both documentation and commemoration. From Auschwitz to Dachau to the Eastern Front, survivors were asked, and volunteered, to reenact their experiences in the camps. They had themselves photographed in their camp uniforms and paraded in them during memorial pageants and services, and they reenacted the past in theatrical performances on stage. Although many assume reenactment is a contemporary phenomenon, it existed from the very first days after liberation, offering survivors and their audiences a way to script and embody their own history for a wider audience. The varied ways survivors used this performative practice suggests that Holocaust reenactment needs to be re-examined for its documentary, affective, commemorative and emancipatory potential. This article delineates a typology of the various forms of reenactment used in the immediate postwar period, comparing these with contemporary artistic reenactment projects (by Alan Schechner, Zbignew Libera, Artur Żmijewski, Sanja Iveković, Santiago Sierra and Rafał Betlejewski) that reflect critically on reenactment as a practice that promises, but not always delivers, to bring us closer to the past.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)152-180
Number of pages29
JournalHolocaust Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2 Apr 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, © 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Holocaust
  • commemoration
  • contemporary art
  • liberation
  • memory
  • participatory practices
  • performance
  • photographic documentation
  • reenactment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Communication
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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