Holocaustliteratur und Ego-Dokumente

Centrum für Jüdische Studien, Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz; Wiener Wiesenthal Institut für Holocaust-Studien (VWI)
Fand statt
In Präsenz
Vom - Bis
11.12.2023 - 12.12.2023
Florine Miez, Wiener Wiesenthal Institut für Holocaust-Studien

From the beginning, writing about the Holocaust has been shaped by considerations of form, questions of different media and genres as well as the limits of language. This second EHRI-AT Conference brought together debates about ego-documents and reflections on Holocaust literature and asked about the challenges that these different texts/materials pose for archives, edition projects as well as in the field of Holocaust education. The aim was to take up conversations and discussions that have been repeatedly discussed in EHRI-AT and that are also relevant in the European context: the fragmentation of archival holdings, uncertainties about the context of origin, about transmission histories, editorial decisions and the crossing of genre boundaries.

In their welcome address and introduction, GERALD LAMPRECHT (Graz) and OLAF TERPITZ (Graz) emphasised the crucial role of literature in shaping the memory of the Holocaust. Furthermore, they pointed out that Holocaust literature has received more attention in recent years in scholarship while historical research has increasingly focused on the integration of ego-documents. Autobiographies, diaries, letters and testimonies are part of the material documentary legacy of the Holocaust. MARIANNE WINDSPERGER (Vienna) emphasised that this second EHRI-AT conference takes up discussions on the relationship between Holocaust literature and ego-documents and focuses on the challenges that these different texts/materials pose for archives, edition projects and in the field of Holocaust education. URSULA BRUSTMANN, delegate of the BMBWF (Vienna), and Dean ARNE ZIEGLER (Graz) highlighted the great importance of the EHRI research infrastructure for Holocaust research in Austria and pointed to the importance of the National Strategy against anti-Semitism.

In her keynote, MARIANNE HIRSCH (New York) presented reflections on Affective Archives and emphasised the long cultural history of life writing in Holocaust research. She presented two artistic projects by Eduard Freudmann and Sarah Davidmann and showed how they adopt a personal approach to the Holocaust through the family archive in their work. Those transgenerational art projects reflect on the destruction of archives and the provisionality of knowledge, while they create new transgenerational communities through their performative character. HIRSCH emphasised the personal connection to ego-documents by the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. Freudmann, who received the family archive in a large box, chose to perform his work on his family history on a stage. He showed various documents, photos, and poems during his performance. Hirsch pointed out that memory can unfold freely in these art projects as it is not influenced by political actors.

The first panel on testimonies and their theoretical reflections began with a lecture by STEFANIA ZEZZA (Rome) on memoirs between historiography and literature based on the writings of the three survivors Lisa Mano Pinhas, Olga Lengyel and Ruth Klüger. Zezza described ego-documents as ‘historical sources, in which the researcher is faced with an "I"’. Due to their non-fictional character, they represent pure reality (Pinhas), but they are also accurate in detail (Lengyel). The self-awareness of the survivors is depicted through their role as eyewitnesses: through them, the limits of the individual experience in relation to their remembering or not remembering also become clear. AURÉLIA KALISKY (Vienna) spoke about the theory of testimony after the ‘testimonial turn’ and drew together historiographical approaches and the idea of an integrated history. Testimonies as ego-documents are free of epistemic functions and thus have their place among the documentation and interpreting facts, which also makes them usable as sources for historians due to their burden of proof.

In Panel II, ALEXANDER WILLIAMS (Amsterdam) critically revisited the category of camp literature and assumptions of ‘the camp’ as a space of ‘eternal presence’ and contrasted these with his categories with his reading of memoirs and reports by survivors from the extermination camps of Aktion Reinhardt. Williams spoke about the fact that reports often emphasised that the internees perceived themselves as ‘living ghosts’ who had lost touch with time and space and spelled out the blurred line between life and death. MARTA DUDZIK-RUDKOWSKA (Haifa) presented the Holocaust sermons of Rabbi Kalonimus Kalman Shapiro, also known as Esh Kodesh, which were written in the Warsaw ghetto between 1939 and 1942. She highlighted that these sermons represent a special ego document and testify to Shapiro’s leadership and his important role for the community. LEA VON DER HUDE (Vienna) discussed cultural-historical and literary testimonies based on the journal Fun letstn churbn, which was founded by survivors with the aim of collecting and archiving as many survivors' memories as possible. Due to the documentary aspirations of the founding commission Zentrale Historische Kommission (ZHK), self-testimonies and recorded testimonies as well as songs and poems were published with a focus on memoirs.

Opening the third panel, LISA SILVERMAN (Milwaukee) spoke about the interpretation of marginalia in Holocaust research. She presented disturbing drawings by Nazi propaganda director Veit Harlan, which are held in the Düsseldorf Film Museum. On this basis, she posed the question of how Holocaust researchers can approach this special form of graphic ego-documents. ARVI SEPP (Brussels) stressed that diaries function as recordings of speech and are hence first person accounts of daily events and feelings, not only personal but in a way also collective. As examples, he cited Willi Cohn’s "Kein Recht – Nirgends. Breslauer Tagebücher" and Victor Klemperer’s "Ich will Zeugnis ablegen bis zum Letzten", which testify to daily life during the Nazi era in Wroclaw and Dresden. In his theoretical reflections, Sepp drew attention to questions of the textual status of the ‘diary’.

DANIEL HOFFMANN (Cologne) opened Panel IV with a presentation of his personal research and editing trajectory of his father’s autobiographical account of his survival. Hoffmann addressed the questions and challenges connected with the change from autobiographical writing to biographical work and implications for different forms of memory. CHARLIE KNIGHT (Southampton) presented the story of the Amberg family through their correspondence and drew special attention to the narrative construction of Carl Amberg, who put together and translated booklets of letters that shed light on the different trajectories of family members and the fracturing of the family during the war. JACQUELINE VANSANT (Michigan) spoke about circular letters from schoolmates who all had to emigrate from Vienna between 1938 and 1939. These letters provided insights into the various experiences of flight and migration, as well as the everyday lives of the young refugees. RENATE MEISSNER and MICHAELA NIKLAS (Vienna) showcased the work of the National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism and the Life History Collection series. They emphasised that ego-documents inherently always tell a story and presented the work of the National Fund with survivors and their descendants of the different victim groups as an act of self-empowerment and recognition of individual fates.

In Panel V, GERGELY KUNT (Miskolc) analysed bystander documents and accounts and asked whether empathy has a history. He thus focussed on the Holocaust in urban spaces and the reaction of bystanders. As an example, he cited the records of Pius Zimándi, a Roman Catholic monk, and pointed out that there was no collective empathy for Jews. JOANNE PETTITT (Kent) and SUE VICE (Sheffield) focused on generic Hybridity in Perpetrator Descendant Writing, analysing literary texts representing the perpetrator perspective as well as writings from the third generation perpetrator perspective. They emphasised that while novels draw on intertextual references, memoirs use imagination to supplement gaps in the historical record.

In Panel VI, ÁGNES SZÉKELY (Vienna) talked about the educational use of Holocaust literature and ego-documents in the classroom. She pointed at the challenges in teaching about historical events and traumatic pasts and presented the Learning for Peace project. CARSON PHILIPPS (Toronto) presented ego-documents as a source for Holocaust literature using three examples that provide remarkable insights into individual stories of survival, such as the story of survivor Molly Applebaum, published in the form of a diary and a memoir. Philipps advocated for adopting a ‘life writing’ approach that has the power to democratise the field of Holocaust literature. ARIEL ROITMAN (London) devoted her presentation to the history of Holocaust theatre, highlighting that theatre is always a representation of what we have already experienced. In this respect, she posed the question of whether a performance can also be seen as an ego-document and emphasised the role of the author as the subject of the story. As an example, she presented the play "Die Ermittlung" by Peter Weiss. GEORG MASCHNIG (Vienna) discussed the opportunities offered by the integration of graphic novels into the classroom. Since numerous graphic novels stage and frame the reading of different material such as photographs, diaries or letters, they offer opportunities in educational contexts to reflect on the mediality of history itself.

In the final panel, SHARON KANGISSER COHEN (Jerusalem) analysed the post-war diaries of Holocaust survivor Yehuda Bacon by adopting a memory and trauma studies approach. The artist not only processed his experiences in the form of paintings, his diaries were also part of his mourning process for his lost loved ones and a form of bearing witness to it. VIKTORIYA SUKOVATA (Kharkiv) presented the diary of the Jewish doctor Albert Tsessarsky as an ego-document, in which he focused on the Holocaust in central Ukraine and the difficulties of a partisan doctor. BENJAMIN GRILJ (St. Pölten) closed the conference with his lecture on Rudolf Tintner’s ‘Theresienstadt Diary 1944-1945’. He presented the edition project on the diaries of the Jewish entrepreneur Tintner and reflected on the conversation and exchange with the descendants who could not agree on the publication. Tintner’s descendants, who had never met him, found an ego-document ‘without an ego’, stripped of subjectivity and individual detail, in which Tintner wrote about everyday life in the Theresienstadt camp.

The relationship between ego-documents and Holocaust literature was discussed and taken up in each of the contributions. A broader discussion in plenary took place after each contribution, addressing questions of genre, of editorial processes and different theoretical frameworks that allow us to bring into conversation different disciplinary perspectives.

Conference overview:

Welcome notes

Gerald Lamprecht (Graz) / Arne Ziegler (Graz) / Ursula Brustmann (Berlin) / Marianne Windsperger (Wien)


Olaf Terpitz (Graz)


Marianne Hirsch (New York): Affective Archives

Panel I – On Testimonies: Theoretical Reflections

Stefania Zezza (Rome): Survivors’ Memoirs between Historiography and Literature: Lisa Mano Pinhas, Olga Lengyel, Ruth Klüger

Aurélia Kalisky (Vienna): The Theory of Testimony after the ‘Testimonial Turn’

Panel II – Genre and Transgression I

Alexander Williams (Amsterdam): Bełżec, Sobibór and Treblinka, or: Extermination and the Question of Genre

Marta Dudzik-Rudkowska (Haifa): When Personal Experience Transgresses the Genre. Esh Kodesh Holocaust Sermons as Ego Documents

Lea von der Hude (Vienna): Zum Verhältnis der Vermittlung des Holocaust in Ego-Dokumenten und kulturgeschichtlichen Zeugnissen am Beispiel der Zeitschrift Fun letstn churbn

Panel III – Genre and Transgression II

Lisa Silverman (Milwaukee): Interpreting Marginalia in Holocaust Research: Doodles, Drawings, and Veit Harlan’s Ego-Documents

Arvi Sepp (Brussels): The Diary as a Genre and a Document: Reflections on Literariness and Facticity

Panel IV: Editionen und Schreiben

Daniel Hoffmann (Cologne): Stimmenwechsel/Stimmungswechsel. Vom autobiografischen zum biografischen Schreiben in der Holocaustliteratur am Beispiel von Paul Hoffmann

Charlie Knight (Southampton): Letters and a ‘Little Story’: Narrative Construction in the Private Collection of the Amberg Family

Jacqueline Vansant (Dearborn, Michigan): Briefe und Briefausgaben als Holocaustliteratur

Renate Meissner (Vienna) / Michaela Niklas (Vienna): Lebensgeschichten und Geschichte. Ego-Dokumente von Opfern des Nationalsozialismus und ihre Bedeutung für eine integrierte Geschichte des Holocaust

Panel V: Bystander and Perpretator

Gergely Kunt (Miskolc): Does Empathy Have a History? – Or Why and How to Read Bystander Ego Documents

Joanne Pettitt (Kent) / Sue Vice (Sheffield): Generic Hybridity in Perpetrator Descendant Writing

Panel VI: Mediations

Ágnes Székely (Vienna): Holocaust Literature and Ego Documents in the Classroom: Working towards a Feasible Educational Approach

Carson Phillips (Toronto): Ego Documents as a Source for Holocaust Literature: Ephemeral Understandings from Writings of Leslie Fazekas, Judit Felberman, and Anna Molnár

Ariel Roitman (London): A Critical Survey of Holocaust Theatre and it’s Future in a Post-Survivor Era

Georg Marschnig (Vienna): Mehr als Maus. Geschichtsdidaktische Anmerkungen zur Holocaustliteratur im Spannungsfeld von Egodokumenten und Graphic Novels

Panel VII: More Than Genre: Diaries

Sharon Kangisser Cohen (Jerusalem): Intrusive or Summoned Memories? The Post-war Diaries of Yehuda Bacon

Viktoriya Sukovata (Kharkiv): Diary of the Jewish Doctor Albert Tsessarsky as Ego Document on the Holocaust in Central Ukraine

Benjamin Grilj (St. Pölten): Rudolf Tintners Theresienstadt Tagebuch 1944–1945. Umgang mit einem Egodokument

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