Bibliography, Book Reviews

Annotated Bib: “Holocaust Testimony, Ethics, and the Problem of Representation.”

This week’s Annotated Bibliography entry analyzes an article by Tony Kushner who discusses how the marginalization of Holocaust survivors kept many of them from telling their individual stories until several decades after the end of WWII. You may read the full article here.

Annotated Bib Entry

Kushner, Tony. “Holocaust Testimony, Ethics, and the Problem of Representation.” Poetics Today 27.2 (2006): 275-295. Academic Search Complete. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.

This article examines how Holocaust stories were widely ignored in the years immediately following the war and how these stories have recently become of interest to society. By the end of the 20th century, several organizations, having recognized the importance of these stories, had begun to collect the testimonies of Holocaust survivors.

Historians must now determine what to do with the thousands of testimonies that have been collected. Kushner outlines how these testimonies have been collected as well as how historians are using the materials today. He also examines the effect on the individual survivors of creating these testimonies.

Holocaust survivors were widely marginalized in the decades after the war. Early testimonials were kept largely within the family or were printed in small Yiddish publications that were not distributed beyond the Jewish community. The only exception to this rule included testimonies gathered as legal evidence against the “real nature of Nazism” (276).

However, survivors of the Holocaust were so marginalized – their stories so widely discounted by the wider society – many historians of the time shared the views of Leon Poliakov who wrote in 1951, that “wherever possible, to forestall objections, we have quoted the executioners rather than the victims” (277).

Even Jewish historians of the time discounted survivor stories simply because most of the survivors of the Holocaust were uneducated. It is only in the past three decades that historians and other interested parties have begun to understand the importance of telling the individual stories of these survivors.

Excerpt

“With regard to the legal sphere, post-1945 war crimes trials tended to marginalize or discount survivor evidence in favor of documentary evidence-an attitude which reflected both legal tradition, especially in the United States, and the lack of status and respect given to the victims of Nazism (see especially Bloxham 2001). Moreover, the early historians of the Holocaust, from Leon Poliakov to Raul Hilberg, not only based their work on the material collected at the trials but shared the prejudices of those responsible for them against using the testimony of the survivors” (277).

Discussion

Compare the marginalization of Holocaust survivors to other marginalized survivor groups in today’s society. Which group(s) can you think of whose stories are largely ignored due to society’s perception of said group? Do you think we can help “de-marginalize” these people by encouraging them to share their stories and speak out about their experiences? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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