James Young, scholar to memorials

On the day after James Young spoke to an audience in Berlin that was anguishing about how to memorialize the Holocaust, a newspaper ran an editorial cartoon showing him and Germany on a couch.

So therapeutic and well informed had Young’s talk been, he was named to the advisory board to design the German National Memorial to Europe’s Murdered Jews.

Professor of
English and Judaic studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and director of the university’s Institute for Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies, Young is a scholar of memorials to tragedies whose work is as influential as it is low-profile.


“Not too many people around here even know about it,’’ he says.

Young visited concentration camps and other places where the Holocaust took place. “My eyes would go from the pages on my desk in front of me to the barbed wire and the memorials. And we had never thought about that before — why they were put there and who made them, and why.’’

He has since written several books about the topic, guest-curated museum exhibits, and advised designers of the World Trade Center memorial in New York and the memorial to the Argentine desaparacidos, among others.

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