On Yom HaShoah, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day, the entire country stands at attention to observe a moment of silence. Everyone, that is, except for Daniela Schiller’s father, who sips coffee and reads the paper. Schiller’s attempts to talk with her father about his experiences in the Holocaust were rebuffed, and it wasn’t until years later that she came to understand him better.
As a neuroscientist at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York, Schiller focuses on erasing traumatic memories. In order the erase them, though, she first has to induce them, showing a research subject projected images and associating them with discomfort: “A blue square, and a yellow square, a blue square, and a yellow square, then a yellow square, then a blue square – which is surprisingly fascinating when you’re getting electric shocks.”
Schiller says that memory is fragile, and that each time our minds access a memory, it is changed without us realizing it. “A memory is only as good as your last retrieval of it,” she says. But speaking it aloud, she believes, protects the memory by making it public. “If you want to keep a memory as is,” she explains, “you carve it into a story. It’s not only keeping the content, it’s keeping the feeling alive. The best part is, you’re not the only one remembering it.”
Schiller told her story at an event cohosted by Studio 360 and The Story Collider.
Video: Daniela Schiller on Memory