Representing Auschwitz: At the Margins of Testimony (The Holocaust and its Contexts)

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Despite much critical acclaim, KZ received little academic attention. Ten years later, this article provides a reflective analysis of the film, exploring the emergent themes, and their criminological significance. Focus is given to bystanders of atrocity who bear witness to the past. The moral dilemmas of Holocaust representation, such as its commodification for both entertainment and tourism, are additionally discussed.

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Share full text access. Please review our Terms and Conditions of Use and check box below to share full-text version of article. Get access to the full version of this article. View access options below. In concentration camps in Germany and Holland, diaries were occasionally kept by prisoners who were usually in positions of privilege Herzberg, ; see Laqueur, Such accounts, produced within one part of a system while document- ing another part, raise questions about where the boundaries of the event lie. The borders between different geographical locations and experiential situations were, even if only rarely, permeable.

The document, a diary, had presumably been found by him amongst clothing and other per- sonal effects left in the undressing room by those about to be gassed. The fact Loewenthal believes in such a future demonstrates how knowl- edge of German military setbacks was common in the camps. Loewenthal is therefore carefully signalling what specific insights the diary potentially holds for its coming readership. The addendum and diary show how artefacts and information traversed boundaries. A detailed consideration of testimony from within, such as that of Langfuss and Loewenthal, shows that there is not a straightforward way of delineating a boundary between it and testimony produced from out- side.

Even the Sonderkommando were producing their documents with a future, and therefore an outside, in mind and undertook a variety of strategies to help it reach there. The careful concealment and packag- ing up of manuscripts, just like the thought put into the way in which the documents were written, were all part of a strategy to get the writ- ings to a reader, to bring the events home to him or her.

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Representing Auschwitz

Their writings are material traces crossing a boundary, transformed in that crossing, unable to be confined to one side or the other, and carrying something of the other side with them. They are designed to cross to an outside, but also, once on that outside, to enable readers to cross back in their imaginations.

An element of retrospectivity is built into the documents. The aim of this volume is not, therefore, to offer another realm of tes- timony, which operates by entirely different laws, but rather to open a dialogue between these texts and other forms of testimony and cultural memory.

Auschwitz: Drone video of Nazi concentration camp - BBC News

While they have been used by historians, we note perhaps a tendency in the writings on diaries produced in ghettos and concen- tration camps to mine them for information rather than read them. The work done by scholars of testimony and cultural memory is pre- cisely what needs to be followed, showing how these texts work their material. Of course, some of these documents are straightforward cries for help, or ways of saying goodbye, or calls for revenge, attempts to record the basic facts under the most restrictive and overwhelming cir- cumstances. The ways in which the documents have been written are significant.

Already, between them, these witnesses and their interviewers are making some kind of meaning from what they have only just escaped. It is not only written testimony that requires this kind of analysis. There were also acoustic attestations to the camp experience, songs com- posed in the Lagers Rosen, , pp. And more attention has probably been paid to art from the camps including Auschwitz than to other forms of representation from within as Bohm-Duchen , p. Nonetheless, there are images which have failed to receive the reading they deserve, not least until recently the Sonderkommando photographs.

A member of the Sonderkommando surreptitiously took four photographs of aspects of the process of the mass killings at Birkenau Didi-Huberman, ; Stone, He also demonstrates some interest in the psychology of the SS, who pose nonchalantly alongside wraith-like figures drained of humanity. The variety of forms which we see in retrospective testimony, therefore, can also be observed in those produced from within the event.

The collection does not seek to privilege this witnessing from within but, rather, by way of judicious comparisons with retrospective testa- ments, strives to examine the possibilities and problems it presents for the theorization of Holocaust testimony. These readings do not simply say that testimony from within works by an entirely different set of rules from retrospective testimony. Rather they show how there cannot be a point from which testimony is excluded.


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The way in which we read them must be different from our approach to other documents and yet we find concerns which scholars of other forms of testimony have raised also present in these texts. In the chapters that focus on the Scrolls, Dan Stone shows that Zalman Gradowski provides ways of understanding the perpetrators which speak to the explanations of Adorno and Arendt, and that Loewenthal anticipates the questions historians would ask.

He carefully locates the Scrolls in a wider context of holocaust historiography as a whole and in particular within the questions that testimony has posed for historians. Dominic Williams shows the ways in which the Scrolls can be read with the resources of the post-war avant-garde and can be seen to offer models of writing for it. He analyses how cultural responses to the Scrolls also have a profound significance that requires investigating. Ulrike Kistner considers mate- rials preserved at Auschwitz and addresses the system of exchange and absolute fungibility of all matter in the camp.

Anne Karpf provides a powerful meditation on the significance of personal investment in Holo- caust scholarship that takes the Scrolls as its starting point. She draws on ideas from psychoanalysis to perceptively address the reception of testimony.

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The volume then turns to forms of witnessing produced retro- spectively yet which seek to foster connections with the event, to cross boundaries of time and place. Similarly to the Scrolls and the Sonderkommando photographs, many of them have had difficulty fitting into accepted models of testimony. In addition, they address some of the same issues that have figured in the discussions of the Scrolls.

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The different positions of power and ability to witness, the role of gender and sexuality, questions of empathy and imagination, and the function of material objects as means of attestation, as well, of course, as the limits that have been placed on testimony, are themes that carry over from the first to the second half of the collection. In her reading of Shoah Dir. Her nuanced analysis exposes the heterogeneity of Holocaust experiences. The experiences of the Einsatzgruppen victims differed considerably from those interned in concentration camps or sent to extermination camps and fall outside efforts to frame the Shoah as exemplary of modernity gone awry.

Cathy S. Gelbin concentrates on the ways in which women sur- vivors articulate or suppress issues related to their sexuality in video testimony.

At the Margins of Testimony

Judith Butler , p. Without explicitly discussing the Scrolls, the remarks about informational versus expressive testimony provide crucial insight into how the documents buried by the Sonderkommando might be understood. They are produced out of a desire to attest to both emo- tional and factual aspects of the camp experience. Theirs was carefully crafted evidence designed to carry beyond the limits of Auschwitz and represent their experiences to an audience living in less desper- ate times.

It is hoped that this volume can contribute in some small way to bringing the existence of these vital documents, and a sense of their richness and complexity as forms of testimony, to a broader audience. Works cited Babus, A. Bohm-Duchen, M. Butler, J. Pollock eds. Cesarani, D. Dafni, R. Didi-Huberman, G. Dwork, D.