A discussion of British narratives of the Holocaust in the twenty-first century
: "Ensuring that the memory and the lessons of the Holocaust are never forgotten lies at the heart of Britain's values as a nation." (Britain's Promise to Remember, 2015)

  • Lydia A Souter

Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Philosophy (MPhil)


The aim of this dissertation is to show that a self-aggrandising British national narrative of the Holocaust was established in 1945, developed throughout the twentieth century and persists in present day commemorative and pedagogical activity. This is not only in spite of the apparent transnationalisation of Holocaust memory since the early 2000s, but has more recently been an explicit rejection of Europeanised memory projects, reflecting the political split from Europe in the 2016 Brexit referendum. In the literature review, I outline the relevant material that has been developed in the field of history and memory studies, as well as key analytical approaches to studying memorials, museums and education. Section I then addresses the unique trajectory of British Holocaust engagement, supplementing existing research using the memory theories of prosthetic memory, multidirectional memory and political memory, as well as Prosono’s distinction between metaphysical and historical memory. Having established the significant changes in public and political understandings of the Nazi genocide, this dissertation then addresses the role of the Holocaust within 21st century policymaking internationally. A confrontation of the Europeanised narrative of the Holocaust set forth during the 2000 Stockholm International Forum and resultant Stockholm Declaration with post-Brexit, commemorative activity shows that the Holocaust has remained a central tenet of explicitly national identity-building. The case studies that form the basis of this analysis include the permanent Holocaust Exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, Holocaust Memorial Day events in 2005 and 2016 and the proposed UK Holocaust Memorial and its supporting documents. From this analysis, it is evident that a narrative of the Nazi genocide that casts past and present British national structures and identities in a positive light not only dominated throughout the twentieth century, but continues to exist in post-2000 memory work. Furthermore, this narrative has come to the forefront in the 2010s, reflecting the state’s rejection of the European Union marked by Brexit.
Date of Award21 Jan 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorDebbie M Pinfold (Supervisor) & John M Foot (Supervisor)

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