The Historical Uncanny: Disability, Ethnicity, and the Politics of Holocaust Memory

The Historical Uncanny: Disability, Ethnicity, and the Politics of Holocaust Memory

The Historical Uncanny: Disability, Ethnicity, and the Politics of Holocaust Memory

The Historical Uncanny: Disability, Ethnicity, and the Politics of Holocaust Memory


The Historical Uncanny explores how certain memories become inscribed into the heritage of a country or region while others are suppressed or forgotten. In response to the erasure of historical memories that discomfit a public's self-understanding, this book proposes the historical uncanny as that which resists reification precisely because it cannot be assimilated to dominant discourses of commemoration.

Focusing on the problems of representation and reception, the book explores memorials for two marginalized aspects of Holocaust: the Nazi euthanasia program directed against the mentally ill and disabled and the Fascist persecution of Slovenes, Croats, and Jews in and around Trieste. Reading these memorials together with literary and artistic texts, Knittel redefines "sites of memory" as assemblages of cultural artifacts and discourses that accumulate over time; they emerge as a physical and a cultural space that is continually redefined, rewritten, and re-presented.

In bringing perspectives from disability studies and postcolonialism to the question of memory, Knittel unsettles our understanding of the Holocaust and its place in the culture of contemporary Europe.


The destruction of the past, or rather of the social mechanisms that link one’s
contemporary experience to that of earlier generations, is one of the most
characteristic and eerie phenomena of the late twentieth century. Most young
men and women at the century’s end grow up in a sort of permanent present
lacking any organic relation to the public past of the times they live in.

Erichobsbawm, The Age of Extremes

“Papà,” Giannina asked again, “why is it that ancient tombs are not as sad
as new ones?” …

“That’s obvious,” he answered. “People who have just died are closer to
us, and so we are fonder of them. the Etruscans, after all, have been dead
for a long time”—again he was telling a fairy tale—“so long it’s as if they
had never lived, as if they had always been dead.”

Giorgio bassani, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis

On 19 February 2011, the New York Times reported that efforts were under way to update the memorial at the former Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau for the twenty-first century. the memorial, originally conceived in the 1950s by camp survivors, has always relied on the auratic force of the original structures and the personal belongings of the victims, which were presented with very little contextual information. With the passing of time, however, the site has become less self-explanatory, as successive generations of visitors grow further and further removed from the events commemorated there. As the article’s author observes, “People increasingly see Auschwitz as ancient history” (Kimmelman). the proposed update of the memorial is an attempt to ensure that the site retains its relevance for younger visitors, many of whose grandparents were born after the end of the war. Piotr Cywiński, director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, is quoted as saying that “the exhibition at Auschwitz no longer fulfills its role, as it used to.”

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