A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust

Diaries vs. Memoirs - Thoughts to ponder . . .

A diary tells what happens within a specific time frame and is written about specific things that have happened. It doesn't address the person to whom these things happened. Diaries are usually written as a record of events, transactions or observations kept daily or at frequent intervals.

In Calkin's book, Living Between the Lines, Ernest Becker states: "What human beings fear is not growing old, but growing old without things adding up."

That is why we write our memoirs.

Memoirs are not personal narratives. Memoirs are not single moments. Memoirs are about the plot lines or patterns that bind those moments together.

Virginia Woolf says, "A memoir is not what happens, but the person to whom things happen."

Writing a memoir has everything to do with rendering the ordinariness of our lives so that it becomes significant. Rather than writing with statistics, memoir is written with scenes.

Memoir allows one to select images, events, and treasures that reveal important things about themselves. The central challenge in memoir writing is to find out how particular moments fit into the plot lines of one's own life. One must not only discover the moment of their lives, but the meanings in those moments.

Memoir is always double-edged. In memoir the unfolding story is always being remembered by a writer who is now older and wiser. Interestingly enough, whenever there is a "then" and a "now" in memoir, there seem to be both moments and meanings.

In this light, memoir writing makes the past real and vivid and compelling, as if it happened yesterday. The smells, and sounds from other times develop rich, evocative writing. We in turn learn more than a diary provides.

Noreen Brand, Program and Education Coordinator, Florida Holocaust Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida.

Disscussion Questions:

  1. What makes diaries unique?
  2. How can diaries be used to teach the Holocaust?
  3. What are the important issues that can be addressed through diaries?
  4. What are some famous diaries that you know of that came out of the Holocaust?
  5. Why has Anne Frank had such widespread appeal?
  6. How can these themes be translated into the classroom?
  7. How much of the story does Anne Frank tell?
  8. What is the difference between a diary and a memoir?




A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
Produced by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology,
College of Education, University of South Florida © 2005.

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