Early Modes of Writing the Shoah. Practices of Knowledge and Textual Practices of Jewish Survivors in Europe (1942–1965)

Project description

This project focuses on the practices of knowledge and the textual practices of seven Jewish authors who developed distinctive modes of writing about the Shoah between 1942 and 1965. At the center of the project stand the works of Joseph Wulf, Michel Borwicz, Nachman Blumental, and Noé Grüss, who belonged to the Central Jewish Historical Commission in Poland and later immigrated to France and Germany. In addition to this group of authors, the project also looks at the works of Jacques Presser and Abel Herzberg, two Dutch Jews who remained in Holland after the war, as well as the writings of H.G. Adler from Czechoslovakia, who immigrated to England in 1947. Even while detained as prisoners or on the run from the Nazis, these authors still conducted research on genocide (including collections of documents and witness reports) and developed different modes of writing (literary, testimonial, academic, in different styles and genres) that articulated new forms of knowledge. Their writings are characterized by their interdisciplinarity and the ways in which they balance and shift between objectivizing and subjectivizing gestures. This body of work is polyvalent right down to the diverse modes of writing, through which the texts combine and blend the perspectives of the scholar with those of the author and/or eyewitness.

Up until now, these authors have been treated separately as belonging to discrete fields of knowledge (some to history, some to literature). Departing from this divisive approach, the project examines the multifaceted nature of their practices and further asks how the knowledge the texts produce and the modes of writing they employ undermine or even transcend the usual divisions between styles, genres, and disciplines. As part of this examination, the project also pursues the hypothesis that, on the one hand, there are certain lines of continuity between the practices of knowledge developed before the war and those that followed, while, on the other hand, there was a significant rupture in practices of knowledge that might be interpreted as the result of the »Catastrophe« that befell human knowledge with the Shoah. This study will make it possible to better comprehend the epistemological value of these practices and the extent to which they still apply to research today—not just in the specialized field of Holocaust studies but also more broadly in the field of the history of knowledge.

The establishment of the Shoah as an object of knowledge will be analyzed according to the following three aspects:

  • The presentation of a heretofore marginalized text collection that was written before the »era of the witness« hailed by the 1961 Eichmann trial.
  • The analysis of an innovative culture of knowledge surrounding these texts and embedded in specific cultural and political contexts.
  • The combination of approaches from the epistemology of history and social science with the unique forms of knowledge that literature and witness testimonies make available.

The goals of the project rely on an interdisciplinary approach that unites the field of history with literary studies, in particular the French histoire culturelle des écrits (»cultural history of writing«) with the German Kulturwissenschaft (»cultural studies«).

The project takes place in German-French cooperation. Historians and literary scholars of the two linguistic areas engage in dialogue in order to bring German-French dynamics into the European exploration of the Shoah.
Head of the project is Aurélia Kalisky (ZfL). She is supported by Nicolas Berg (Simon-Dubnow-Institut), Elisabeth Gallas (Simon-Dubnow-Institut) and Katrin Stoll (DHIW).
The main cooperation partners in France are Judith Lindenberg (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Centre de Recherche Historique) and Judith Lyon-Caen (EHESS / GRIHL / CRH).
Audrey Kichelewski (Universität Straßburg) and Anna Saignes (Universität Grenoble) also work on the French side. Furthermore Conny Kristel from the Amsterdam Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies (NIOD) participates in the project.

Funded by the French National Research Agency (ANR) and the German Research Foundation (DFG) March 2017–February 2020


International conference
12 Apr 2018 – 13 Apr 2018

Telling, Describing, Representing Extermination. The Auschwitz Sonderkommando, their Testimony and their Legacy

Centre Marc Bloch (CMB), Friedrichstraße 191, 10117 Berlin / ZfL, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, 3. floor, conferece room

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PREMEC - Second Workshop in Paris
16 Feb 2018

Joseph Wulf: A Polish-Jewish Historian in Western Germany. The Knowledge of the Witness, the Engagement of the Historian and the Writing of History

Académie polonaise des sciences à Paris, 74 rue Lauriston, 75016 Paris

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Lecture by Nicolas Berg and discussion with Aurélia Kalisky
15 Feb 2018 · 11.00 am

West German Historians and the Holocaust. A critical Reconsideration of their Topics, Narratives and Concepts

École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, 54 Boulevard Raspail, 75006 Paris (FR), Salle AS1_24

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PREMEC - First Workshop at EHESS in Paris
24 Apr 2017 · 9.00 am

Early Modes of Writing the Shoah. Practices of Knowledge and Textual Practices of Jewish Survivors in Europe (1942–1965)

EHESS, 105 Boulevard Raspail 75006 PARIS

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