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The Fiftieth Gate Essay

The interplay between history and memory is a solipsistic act, where history inevitably relies on memory to maintain its vitality whereas memory relies on history to sustain its immortality. Throughout Mark Baker’s polyphonous non-fiction memoir, ”The Fiftieth Gate” and the thread like idea of the images below, memory is depicted as the panacea that enriches history as it provides diverse individual perspectives on the historical event of the holocaust. However, the biography also adduces the complications that memory might suffer, thereby revealing the inadequate omniscience of history.

Baker envisages the conception of interweaving memories on elucidating historical evidence. In Gate 38, the fairy tale quality of this gate symbolises how memory can join with historical evidence to provide a more profound range of information. When Baker recites his dream to Genia, he uses the metaphor of “a river of wine” that has turned to “blood” representing the connection between an individual’s memory , in this case Baker’s memory of his childhood story, and detailed history of the Holocaust which the adult historian, Baker, had obviously studied.

However, Genia recognised Baker’s dream as a childhood story book with a different ending. This representation demonstrates both how individual memories validate each other and how history is revealed through its interplay with memory. Baker further explores how memory provokes and vindicates history in his non-fiction biography. Typical of the whole memoir, gate 39 constitutes a multifarious types of textual forms portraying the ambiguity of history and its inability in unfolding the past’s conundrums without the aid of memory.

Baker delineates this notion by examining the prewar historical document, his “most treasured photograph” of his family taken in 1946 stating that although“The photograph transcends time. There is nothing to suggest it is 1946” ergo illustrating the obstruction history faces in reaching the absolute truth. Moreover, Baker depicts using rhetorical questions what the historical document failed to answer,” Does not the photographer know that in two months my grandmother’s smile will be erased forever ? ” Whereas the impact of incident on his mother’s memory “it was a holiday because I remember putting on my best dress” deliberately evokes the clarity of particular memories in supplying the answers. Thus, the limitations of history are revealed by delving into one’s memory, as memory provides a more complete portrait of a historical event. On the other hand, despite memory’s contiguous interconnection with history in being its nurturing essence, yet it endures multifaceted intricacies which hinder history from absolute truth.

This duality of memory is represented by the binary of Genia’s personality; ”I am your victim , not your oppressor”. Baker depicts the extremes of Genia’s personality, between depression and exhilaration through ellipsis, ”That was me then. Nothing to look at now…nothing to see…ruins” and in her inversion of cause and effect about her original period of depression: ”I remember now. The breakdown, it was because of you. ” This dual nature of one’s memory provokes memory’s bewilderment, hence revealing the imperfection of history.

Additionally, memory’s failure in passing the test of athanasia manipulates the inadequate omniscience of history. Gate 41 recounts Baker’s attempt to find Benjamin Kogut, a survivor who saved Yossel , Baker’s father, as a means of enhancing historical evidence by the inclusion of Kogut’s memory. Baker uses recount about “The Search Bureau for Missing Relatives” in Jerusalem to show how historical evidence is sifted. Ultimately, Baker’s discovery of a Kogut family member’s Tel Aviv telephone number reveals that Kogut has died leaving “ one single photograph from after the liberation, but no memories”.

Baker’s metaphor of “peering into memory’s black hole” conveys the tendency of memory to be lost thus relinquishing the concept of “absolute truth” while revealing history to be only a partial representation of collective memory. In retrospect, the reader sees memory acting as an anecdote since it assists history but fails to achieve history’s “absolute truth”. This notion is akin to Sir Winston Churchill’s ideology which depicts that “History is written by victors” as a means of demonstrating the interplay of memory and history where the prejudice of collective memory restrains the candidness of history.


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