Academic journal article Shofar

Representations of Family in Autobiographical Texts of Child Refugees

Academic journal article Shofar

Representations of Family in Autobiographical Texts of Child Refugees

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. This study concentrates on the autobiographical texts of five less well-known refugees, all of whom came to Britain as children and four of whom came unaccompanied, with a focus on representations of the family in their texts.

Using examples of common themes in autobiographical texts of former members of the Kindertransport, such as language acquisition and evacuation procedures, the author investigates representations of the changing relationship towards birth family and continental culture as well as foster family and British culture. She argues that the successful narration of a life story is not only a part of the positioning process between different family and cultural circles, but also a part of a successful acculturation. By reconstituting or constituting one's life story, one can accommodate the different voices of analysis and anecdote, theory and experience. The case is made for including the analysis of texts by former child refugees in less specific fields such as migration studies and autobiographical theory.

Laura Marcus states in her book Auto/biographical Discourses: Theory, Criticism, Practice, published in 1994, that "much contemporary interest in autobiography...[lies] in the interrelations between theory and experience, the interplay of different voices."(1) Academic criticism has moved away from the study of a limited number of seminal texts, such as Augustine's Confessions or Goethe's Dichtung und Wahrheit, and the idea that "the model or exemplary life is...transmuted into that model or exemplary text: one whose exemplariness, paradoxically, lies in its representations of the uniqueness and singularity of the individual life."(2) Marginalized groups and marginalized experiences have claimed their space among the body of autobiographical narratives. This development can be seen as mirroring and at the same time initiating society's and academia's interest in hitherto marginalized groups and their lives. In the 1980s in Britain studies such as The Autobiography of the Working Class (1984)(3) were a sign of the widening interest in marginalized working-class writing. This process was consequently marked by innovative autobiographies themselves such as Carolyn Steedman's Landscape for a Good Woman: A Study of Two Lives (1986)(4) intertwining the biography of her mother, representations of her experience of growing up in a working-class household with the social history of Britain, sociological case studies, oral history, and psychoanalysis.

Anne Karpf states in another autobiographical text of this kind entitled The War After, which is also an innovative autobiography, partly an account of her life as the daughter of Shoah survivor parents and partly a socio-historical analysis of the British attitude towards the Shoah, that "[i]n January 1995, the fiftieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz was the occasion for an eruption of British...media interest in the Holocaust."(5) The year 2001 was the first year when 27 January was marked as Holocaust Memorial Day in Great Britain. Although it was set up by the British government to remember a number of genocides in the twentieth century, its main focus lay with the killing of the Jewish people by the National Socialist regime. This ideological commitment to foreground the Holocaust was by no means uncontroversial, but it is symptomatic of an awakening of the British public and British officialdom to a period in European history that had hitherto mainly been looked at from the perspective of the British role in the war victory. This change might be part of a more reflective attitude towards the problems of ethnic relations in the twentieth century as well as a contemporary concern with the emerging multicultural society of the future, but it is also due to the increasing awareness of the part that refugees from National Socialism have played in British society.

This slow process of awakening has been accompanied by the publication of autobiographies of former refugees ranging from texts by publicly well-known figures such as the publisher George Weidenfeld(6) and many privately published or unpublished texts. …

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