'Never forget': fictionalising the Holocaust survivor with dementia

Med Humanit. 2020 Jun;46(2):107-114. doi: 10.1136/medhum-2019-011782. Epub 2020 Apr 22.


This article asks what the reasons are for the frequent linking of the image of the Holocaust with that of dementia in contemporary discursive and representational practice. In doing so, it analyses some of the numerous 21st-century examples of fiction, drama and film in which the figure of a Holocaust survivor living with dementia takes centre stage. It explores the contradictory cultural effects that arise from making such a connection, in contexts that include expressions of fear at the spectacle of dementia, as well as comparisons between the person living with that condition and the inmate of a concentration camp. Detailed consideration of novels by Jillian Cantor and Harriet Scott Chessman as well as a play by Michel Wallenstein and a film by Josh Appignanesi suggests that the fictions of this kind can appear to provide solace for the impending loss of the eyewitness generation, yet also offer potential for a model for caregiving practice to those living with dementia in broader terms.

Keywords: comparative literature studies; drama; english literature; film; medical humanities.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Dementia / history
  • Dementia / psychology*
  • History, 20th Century
  • Holocaust / history
  • Holocaust / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Literature / history*
  • Prisoners / history
  • Prisoners / psychology*
  • Survivors / history
  • Survivors / psychology*