Passages of annihilation : the autobiographies of Holocaust survivors as Midrash / by Deborah Lee Ames.
Bakhtin theorizes that literary allusions create a heteroglossic text, a text that is enlivened through the dialogic interaction of the writer and the text quoted. My study of autobiographies written by Jewish survivors of the Holocaust asserts that certain works engage in such intertextual heteroglossia when they refer to the Hebrew Scriptures and, moreover, that when survivors use Scripture in order to explicate their Holocaust experience, they participate in Midrash. Although Midrash can be understood to consist of a specific canon of rabbinic Biblical thinking, a broader connotation of Midrash includes any hermeneutic or exegetical activity, particularly as it relates to the Jewish people. Because the autobiographers use the Biblical text as commentary upon the Holocaust, they raise theological questions particularly as the allusion often throws into sharp relief the Nazi inversion of Biblical activity or thought. The introductory chapter establishes the significance of intertextuality by Bakhtin and Eliot and argues that contemporary autobiographers who are not rabbis may nonetheless participate in Midrash. The chapters which follow concentrate upon Biblical stories found in Genesis and are organized according to the chronology of events commonly experienced by the lifewriters: transportation to the camps, life in the camps, and liberation. Chapter Two examines Frank Stiffel's allusion to Noah's ark (Genesis 6–9) as he describes the inhumane conditions of the transport in the cattle cars. Chapter Three explores the ubiquitous allusion to the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1–6), particularly as explicated by Primo Levi. Chapter Four focuses upon Elie Wiesel's preoccupation with the Akeda, the Hebrew term for Abraham's acquiescence to God's enigmatic command to sacrifice his son Isaac (Gen. 22). Chapter Five concludes with the liberation by considering Jacob's wrestling match with the angel (Gen. 32:23–33), wherein the patriarch is simultaneously injured and blessed, an image which Ka-Tzetnik 135633 finds compelling in two of his autobiographical accounts.
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