Manual On Listening to Holocaust Survivors: Beyond Testimony

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  4. On Listening to Holocaust Survivors: Beyond Testimony, 2nd edition, revised and expanded

Hannah Polin-Galay. Only a small percentage of these interviews has been viewed for research, and scholars are still struggling to determine what analytical frameworks and listening practices will enable us to interpret these voices. We have come a long way since testimony was treated as a raw source of unadorned memory, more authentic than literature and art about the Holocaust. The most prominent line of this scholarship has focused on the impact of trauma on the narration of memory, and indeed the study of survivor testimony has had a significant impact on the formation of trauma studies.

Holocaust Survivor Paula Lebovics Testimony

Among historians, the effect of personal point of view on the reliability of these sources has been a continual point of debate. In her brilliant and rigorous new book on Holocaust memory among Lithuanian Jews, Hannah Pollin-Galay does not intervene in these debates so much as zoom out, in order to remind us that what qualifies as history and how we define personal trauma are culturally mediated.

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Whether survivors were interviewed in their mother tongue or another language, in a location close to where they grew up or in another country, has a profound impact on the stories they tell. In addition to testimonies housed at the Fortunoff Archive, the Shoah Foundation, and Yad Vashem, Ecologies of Witnessing includes interviews that Pollin-Galay conducted herself in Yiddish with forty-six survivors in Lithuania in ——an archival portrait of immeasurable value in this disappearing community.

Comparing these sources reveals that survivors and their interviewers tend to reproduce three distinct genres of testimonial storytelling. In North America, Pollin-Galay observes that memory of the Holocaust often takes a personal-allegorical form; in Israel, testimonies take on a more communal-monumental significance; and finally, among Yiddish-speaking Jews in Lithuania, testimony serves a collective-forensic function.

The nation? The community? The second term in the pairing refers to implicit expectations about what the story should accomplish. Should testimony provide a universalist framework for interpreting antisemitism or trauma writ large? A tribute to collective Jewish agency? Or an eyewitness reconstruction that can reliably identify victims and perpetrators? While a psychologically rich language of self and family characterizes the American testimonies, and Israeli testimonies highlight the redemptive strength of Jewish organizational life, testimonies in the Yiddish-Lithuanian ecology focus on another set of main characters.

Who exactly constitutes the eygene can shift throughout a given testimony, as survivors describe the destruction of their communities and impromptu forms of kinship. In Yiddish testimonies, she notes that not just the characters but also the settings where pre- and postwar life play out are distinct. In the Yiddish-Lithuanian ecology, the collective but unofficial spaces of the street and the apartment courtyard frame noteworthy episodes in testimony.

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Roth, Edward J. The book contains a wealth of insights essential to understanding the dimensions and impact of the Holocaust.

It is the premier example of sharing authority in the interview--a radical break from the approach of most 'testimony' projects. Stating that more history is learned through conversation rather than a one sided testimony, "On Listening to Holocaust Survivors: Beyond Testimony" is an insightful and thoughtful addition to any Holocaust studies collection. The result is a truly important book both powerful and compelling.

When Memory Speaks, How Should We Listen? | In geveb

His views, ultimately, are a synthesis of psychological, historical, sociological and theological outlooks that have come before, viewed in concert with a courage to defy convention while retaining an ever-abiding sympathy for victims. We learn what it takes to study well and justly the lives of others—the time needed, the tact, the perseverance, the dedication, the consideration, the contemplation, and, not least, the moral energy.

Greenspan moves us beyond the celebratory and psychiatric discourses that tend to govern the way we think and talk about survivors and enables us to hear them as if for the first time. The result is an incomparable work: No one has measured the depths of survivors' accounts more insightfully and discretely, with more scrupulous attention to detail, context, and implication, than Greenspan. Printable version.

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On Listening to Holocaust Survivors: Beyond Testimony, 2nd edition, revised and expanded

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