Literary testimony, transnational memories: The politics of transmission of Holocaust testimony in the German cultural field

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: School of Modern Languages and Cultures

Abstract

This project is the first to work out a systematic account of how Holocaust survivors bore witness to their experience in literature written in the German language. It asks the following questions: How was a canon of German-language Holocaust testimony formed throughout the 1940s and 1950s? What impact has this hitherto unrecognised canon has had on subsequent German-language literature about the Holocaust? How and why have German-speaking literary witnesses to the Holocaust challenged this canon?

This study proposes that in the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s, an unacknowledged canon of Holocaust literature was formed in Germany. This project aims to create an innovative methodology, drawing on sociology as well as on close literary analysis, to account for the mechanisms that 'canonised' some writers of German-language testimonial literature about the Holocaust and, more importantly, 'excluded' others. The project looks at a series of nine case studies, selected for their exemplary status as excluded writers from the canon of Holocaust literature over the course of the period 1945-2012, and argues that the nine writers were excluded due variously to their their exile status, aesthetic practice, political affiliation and gender. It addresses the following research questions:

1. How was a canon of German-language Holocaust literature first formed in the 1950s, subsequently challenged in the 1960s and rediscovered and/or remediated in the decades that followed? What rules governed the process by which certain German-language authors had their Holocaust literature or literary testimony canonized, whereas other authors were excluded?
2. What influence has this canon had on later Holocaust literature in German, and how has it been remediated in other, German-or English-language literatures? How has this canon of German Holocaust testimony been remediated as a way to 'read' and 'come to terms with' other traumas in different, often transnational contexts?

This project is intended to benefit scholars working in German studies as well as the wider community of scholars working on Holocaust literature, trauma, testimony and cultural memory. The outcomes include a monograph, an edited volume, and two conference papers. In addition, the project will establish a network of scholars concerned with canon-formation in Holocaust literature and its remediation. The project will also establish a Holocaust Memorial Day project based both in the University of Leeds and the wider Leeds community. It will establish links with the University of the Free State in South Africa also, sharing insights into the role of literature and the literary canon in mediating testimony and trauma in post-Apartheid South Africa. It is planned to establish contact both with the Institute for Studies in Race, Reconciliation and Social Justice at the University of the Free State, and with the Holocaust and Genocide Foundation in South Africa, to establish an ongoing dialogue between UK and South African Holocaust researchers and educators.

Planned Impact

I have some experience in building links in knowledge exchange with local partners in Leeds. Most notably, I have successfully bid for internal Leeds funding for an impact project building links to publishers putting out German literature in translation, local translators and German-language writers. This has led to the foundation of a new initiative, 'International Writers at Leeds', a partnership between the University of Leeds and the Leeds Central Library. I have also contributed talks to local community groups (Anglo-German Societies).

Support for all of my impact activities will be provided by the Arts Engaged transformation fund, underwritten with £850k from the University of Leeds. As part of this project, I intend to establish an annual Leeds University Holocaust Remembrance Day event, bringing together voices from the Leeds University Library Liddell collection of wartime testimony, Holocaust literary testimony, and local Leeds-based community writing initiatives (already started by colleagues at the University of Leeds, particularly Dr. Raphael Hallett). The event will provide a space and resources for local community writing initiatives to reflect on the ongoing connections between Holocaust testimony, the war narratives contained in the Liddell collection.

A second set of beneficiaries will be the educators and clients of the South African Holocaust and Genocide Foundation. In collaboration with Dr. Cilliers van den Berg of the University of the Free State of South Africa, I am aiming to build a partnership with this institution. I will be travelling to South Africa in 2013 in the context of an international network on post-trauma cultural studies, and aim to build on his existing contacts with the Foundation to establish a knowledge exchange partnership. I envisage that my research into Holocaust literature and its remediation will enable me to bring insights to the Foundation as to how its work engages with literary and testimonial texts, and how hese can be challenged and remediated in the post-Apartheid context of South Africa. At the same time, I hope to learn from the Foundation how they have used testimonial literature in a public educational context. Between 2013 and 2015, I thus hope to build a lasting partnership that will enable researcher mobility and knowledge exchange between Leeds and South Africa.
 
Title 'Millions of Kisses' 
Description The final performance of the Escape:CYT 'Millions of Kisses' drama project has been released as a DVD. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact This DVD documents the performance of 'Millions of Kisses'. For every DVD sold, a donation will be made to the Motor Neurone Disease Association. 
 
Description I have discovered new or neglected archival materials relating to the literary production of four Holocaust survivors: H. G. Adler, Edgar Hilsenrath, Jurek Becker and Bruno Apitz. This has enabled me partially to trace their paths to publication, giving me the insight into canon formation that I was seeking. In particular, I discovered how Adler's 'outsider' status excluded him from publication, but how, by contrast, Hilsenrath skilfully manipulated any evidence of 'outsider' status such as negative reviews or letters to gain publicity. At the same time, my research into the often random, carefully curated or censored items stored in literary archives of Holocaust survivors led me to reject the original positivistic assumptions behind my research questions. Instead of assuming that 'objective' evidence can be found to determine why a writer became 'canonized', I started reading some of their novels as 'Holocaust metatestimony'; novels that describe the very process of testifying to their sufferings in the post-war world, and the frustration at having that testimony rejected or exploited by their hearers. I am developing a new methodology of reading these works of art as 'archives of feeling', unruly supplements to the carefully-curated literary archives that I set out to investigate. This new investigation has led to a further enquiry, 'Performing the Jewish Archive', funded as a major Care for the Future research project by the AHRC.
Exploitation Route My findings on the ways in which some testimony to the Holocaust is heard while other voices are silenced has potentially transformative power in the areas of testimony and post-conflict and post-traumatic studies. In particular, I have discovered that art, rather than playing a therapeutic function, may bear testimony to the negative emotions that persist within a survivor, and are necessary to that survivor's identity, even when they are seemingly re-integrated into society. My insights into the limits of the archive as a source of the 'truth' of a literary work or of a person's sufferings, and the importance of artworks as supplements to those archives, is of importance to researchers using archives of all kinds.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Other

URL http://arts.leeds.ac.uk/transnationalholocaustmemory/
 
Description My methodological findings on the uses of archives to allow the neglected voices of victims to be heard again, and the limits of those archives in providing socially desirable narratives of closure and forgiveness, were used in the production of a play, 'Millions of Kisses', from the Yorkshire Holocaust Survivors' Friendship Association. This engaged 16 young people from the Escape Youth Theatre Company, who acted in a production based on letters from Holocaust victims found in the archive. This production was staged at Holocaust Memorial Day 2014, to an audience of 400 members of the local community. The audience commented on the quality and respectful nature of the production, while the young actors testified to the transformative effect that acting out the narrative in the letters had had on their senses of social justice and identity. The play had another production in Lawnswood School in March 2014 to an audience of 100, has been produced as a video, and will be performed again in September. In addition, I presented my research in September 2013 at the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Foundation, to an audience including the German ambassador, members of the South African Jewish community, members of the Rwandan community, and participants in the struggle for apartheid. The lecture, on 'Literature and Forgiveness' sparked a lively debate in the role of literature as a site for the refusal of forgiveness and a challenge to societal narratives of reconciliation and closure. My findings have also contributed to a major new AHRC-funded project, 'Performing the Jewish Archive' which, over the next three years, will explore ways in which the archives of Jewish artists can be re-animated and brought to new audiences through performance. This draws on the experience of 'Millions of Kisses' as well as on my scholarly research into the limits of positivistic archival research. Five performance festivals on four continents will test the idea of 'performing the Jewish archive' as an ethical mode of engagement with lost artworks and the voices of victims. A further strand of this project draws on 'Millions of Kisses' and builds a lasting partnership between the Yorkshire Holocaust Survivors Friendship Association, the University of Leeds and the Theatre Company Blah Blah Blah in developing creative workshops to engage a new generation of young local people with the holdings of the YHSFA archive.
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Care for the Future Large Grants
Amount £1,500,000 (GBP)
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2014 
End 11/2017
 
Description Millions of Kisses 
Organisation Escape Contemporary Youth Theatre
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution I provided research into the Yorkshire Holocaust Survivors Friendship Association archive, uncovering and facilitating the translation of German-language letters from two Holocaust victims, used as the basis for a theatrical production, 'Millions of Kisses', by the Theatre Company Blah Blah Blah and Escape Youth Theatre.
Collaborator Contribution The YHSFA made the archival materials available to me, put me in contact with the relatives of the victims, and granted permission for them to be used in a Holocaust Memorial Day theatre production, 'Millions of Kisses'. The Theatre Company Blah Blah Blah wrote the script for the production. The Escape Youth Theatre company produced 'Millions of Kisses' for the Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony at Leeds Town Hall in January 2014. This collaboration continues.
Impact 'Millions of Kisses', a youth theatre production.
Start Year 2012
 
Description Millions of Kisses 
Organisation Holocaust Survivors Friendship Association
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution I provided research into the Yorkshire Holocaust Survivors Friendship Association archive, uncovering and facilitating the translation of German-language letters from two Holocaust victims, used as the basis for a theatrical production, 'Millions of Kisses', by the Theatre Company Blah Blah Blah and Escape Youth Theatre.
Collaborator Contribution The YHSFA made the archival materials available to me, put me in contact with the relatives of the victims, and granted permission for them to be used in a Holocaust Memorial Day theatre production, 'Millions of Kisses'. The Theatre Company Blah Blah Blah wrote the script for the production. The Escape Youth Theatre company produced 'Millions of Kisses' for the Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony at Leeds Town Hall in January 2014. This collaboration continues.
Impact 'Millions of Kisses', a youth theatre production.
Start Year 2012
 
Description Millions of Kisses 
Organisation Theatre Company Blah Blah Blah
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I provided research into the Yorkshire Holocaust Survivors Friendship Association archive, uncovering and facilitating the translation of German-language letters from two Holocaust victims, used as the basis for a theatrical production, 'Millions of Kisses', by the Theatre Company Blah Blah Blah and Escape Youth Theatre.
Collaborator Contribution The YHSFA made the archival materials available to me, put me in contact with the relatives of the victims, and granted permission for them to be used in a Holocaust Memorial Day theatre production, 'Millions of Kisses'. The Theatre Company Blah Blah Blah wrote the script for the production. The Escape Youth Theatre company produced 'Millions of Kisses' for the Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony at Leeds Town Hall in January 2014. This collaboration continues.
Impact 'Millions of Kisses', a youth theatre production.
Start Year 2012
 
Description University of Cape Town 
Organisation University of Cape Town
Department Department of English Language and Literature
Country South Africa 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Together with my University of Leeds German Department researchers Stuart Taberner (PI) and Frank Finlay, I was awarded £30,000 by the British Academy to collaborate with colleagues at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, led by Dr Sandra Young of the English department. The aim is to explore 'cosmopolitan memory' (Levy and Sznaider) in contemporary Germany and South Africa and the way in which the global circulation of traumatic memories, including the Holocaust, underpins the rhetoric of cosmopolitanism in each country. The focus will be on literary texts emanating from Germany and South Africa. Post-unification Germany and post-apartheid South Africa are frequently paralleled. Broad-brush comparisons have been made of the ways the two countries are redeploying their traumatic pasts in an attempt to forge new national identities. Invariably, such parallels have been offered as generalisations only. There has been no detailed comparison of the contradictions that emerge when traumatic pasts are invoked in the cause of nation-building. Specifically, an avowed openness to the world purportedly demonstrating the overcoming of past prejudice may co-exist awkwardly with the continued marginalisation of 'others' who appear to threaten the cohesion of the nation such as immigrants, refugees, homosexuals, and religious minorities. This project brings together scholars from the UK and SA to explore these issues. Our objectives are to produce the first analysis of literature from Germany and South Africa as a critique of nation-building precisely from the perspective of the cosmopolitan ideals that each country claims to embody and to build an international team for future, wider collaboration. We have hosted a workshop in Leeds in October 2015 to discuss these questions. The three-year collaboration began in early 2015
Collaborator Contribution The South African partners have hosted a workshop at the University of Cape Town in March 2015 to discuss these questions.
Impact None yet
Start Year 2015
 
Description 'Literature and Forgiveness' (Johannesburg) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk sparked important discussion on the right to refuse reconciliation and the role of literature in making restitution and archiving difficult emotions in post-conflict situations.

After my talk, the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Foundation became an ongoing partner with the University of Leeds, and is due to show the AHRC-funded travelling exhibition 'Germany's Confrontation with the Holocaust in a Global Context', this summer. They are also a partner on the multi-disciplinary set of projects, 'Transnational Holocaust Memory', involving University of Leeds scholars, South African scholars and international arts and heritage associations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://arts.leeds.ac.uk/transnationalholocaustmemory/2013/09/24/public-engagement-at-liliesleaf-farm...