The “temporary survivors” attempt to communicate their experience, to preserve their memories. We get photographs that are politicized, a museum that is a destination for weeping tourists, a staged re-production for a commercial film and symbolic story that many, like our Frenchwoman, attempt to find personal meaning in. As our man says, “you saw nothing in Hiroshima.”
Our woman tells her tragedy. For the man it is a piece of psychoanalysis, a way to “understand” his lover and then a triumph when he learns of his exclusive knowledge of her torment. Just as she celebrated in France upon learning of Hiroshima, he celebrated in Hiroshima upon learning of France. He grins and jumps up and dances.
Nevers, France is what began to make our woman what she is today. But now it is “a two-penny romance.”
I sometimes wonder if, like Vlad the Impaler, Adolf Hitler might one day end up as a cartoon character on cereal boxes. But even if his image is kept accurate and the tone of the Holocaust is kept solemn, Nazism is now only a memory to a small few.
Alain Resnais made Night and Fog in 1955, showing archival footage of the concentration camps. His creation was devastating and powerful, but it was not a memory – it was a new thing, an account. He must have had audience reactions to Night and Fog in mind when he struggled with his charge to make a Hiroshima film.
For those of us who were not in New York in September 2001 and did not know anyone involved in the attacks, 9/11 was a national, emotional tragedy. We wept in front of the TV screens and mourned people we never knew. Terrorism felt like an “existential threat,” it felt like “the end of the age of irony.”
For those of us involved in personal tragedy, forgetfulness seems like a betrayal. We feel guilty for not weeping at every memory. Moving on involves forgetting – while refusing to move on transforms mourning from memory to neuroticism.
Whatever Hiroshima means to us today, its not what it meant to those in Hiroshima. And perhaps on August 7, it no longer meant to them what it did on August 6.