“What seems obvious to West Europeans today is still opaque to many East Europeans, just as it was to West Europeans themselves forty years ago. Moral admonitions from Auschwitz that loom huge on the memory screen of Europeans are quite invisible to Asians or Africans. And, perhaps above all, what seems self-evident to people of my generation is going to make diminishing sense to our children and grandchildren. Can we preserve a European past that is now fading from memory into history? Are we not doomed to lose it, if only in part?
“Maybe all our museums and memorials and obligatory school trips today are not a sign that we are ready to remember but an indication that we feel we have done our penance and can now begin to let go and forget, leaving the stones to remember for us. I don’t know: the last time I visited Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, bored schoolchildren on an obligatory outing were playing hide-and-seek among the stones.
“There is the notorious banality of which Arendt spoke —the unsettling, normal, neighborly, everyday evil in humans. But there is another banality: the banality of overuse—the flattening, desensitizing effect of seeing or saying or thinking the same thing too many times until we have numbed our audience and rendered them immune to the evil we are describing. And that is the banality— or ‘banalization’ —that we face today.”