Re-Examining the Holocaust through Literature

By Kahn, Brian | Shofar, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

Re-Examining the Holocaust through Literature


Kahn, Brian, Shofar


Re-examining the Holocaust through Literature, edited by Aukje Kluge and Benn E. Williams. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2009. 396 pp. $89.95.

As a middle school teacher preparing my Holocaust unit each spring I was always aware of "the journey" that this labor of love entailed. It was not just about lining up the materials and activities, but also contemplating all the newly available histories, stories, and personal remembrances. As the decade of the 90s progressed, more and more Holocaust resources became available. And while much of this material was created for use in the classroom, much more was the work of scholars who did and still continue to examine this watershed event. In one sense, Re-examining the Holocaust through Literature reflects some of the ways that Holocaust scholarship has evolved over the past sixty years. But in another sense, this collection of scholarly essays edited by Aukje Kluge and Benn E. Williams asks us to reconsider a fundamental question: What counts as Holocaust literature? The essays in this volume challenge us as educators to explore our notions of what we think we already know, as well as what these new perspectives can provide as we continue to rethink, remake, and reinvigorate our teaching of the Holocaust.

Part I, titled "Mixing Genres, Histories, and Representation," approaches questions of genre and representation though analyses of literature and film. In "Car cela devient une histoire: Representation of the Holocaust in the Imaginative and Collective Memoirs of Charlotte Delbo," Elizabeth Scheiber examines the work of Charlotte Delbo, a survivor who shares her memories through multiple genres, including prose, lyric poetry, and what Scheiber calls "poetic memoir." In "Peter Weiss's Die Ermittlung: Dramatic and Legal Representation and the Auschwitz Trial," Scott Windham discusses audience response to Weiss's portrayal of Holocaust perpetrators in his 1965 play. Weiss's dramatic enactment of the 1963-65 Frankfurt trials of former Auschwitz officers and guards drew on actual transcripts from the trials at a time when the majority of Germans preferred to cease investigation of past connections to the Holocaust. Windham demonstrates how Die Ermittlung intertwines history and literature to provide competing representations of the perpetrators, creating a "collage" rather than a final, normative judgment. Finally, in the third essay of Part I, "The Limits of Holocaust Representation in the Arab World," Esther Webman explores how the political landscape limits and complicates cultural representations. Surveying Arab literature and television in three different time periods, Webman analyzes their major themes and acknowledges those minor voices who have attempted to intervene in dominant Arab discourses.

Part II of Re-examining the Holocaust through Literature investigates how fiction and history work together to reteU the stories of both those who Uved through the experience and those who wrote about it after the fact. Benn E. WiUiams takes a broad look at French fiction and then deals more specificaUy with the novel, La cliente. His essay" Varying Shades of Gray: Pierre Assouline at the Frontier of Fact and Fiction," provides a compelling example of the challenges of addressing the actual history of die Holocaust by way of a fictionalized story. In "Suffering, Heroism, and the Healing Arrival of the Savior: The Holocaust in Evangelical Literature," Yaakov Ariel argues that the purpose of much of this body of literature is to demonstrate that the horrors of the Holocaust were perpetrated by non-Christians, as "true Christians" would not have taken part in such inhumane acts. …

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