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The trials of representation : critical and aesthetic reflections of Holocaust perpetrator trials, 1960-65 / by Scott A. Windham.

Publication | Library Call Number: PN56.H55 W56 2002

Since the end of World War II, a dominant issue in public debates over Holocaust perpetrators has been the question of exemplarity: the extent to which perpetrators were characteristic of the German mainstream. In this dissertation, I explore how the critical and aesthetic responses to major Holocaust perpetrator trials—particularly Stanley Kramer's Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963), and Peter Weiss's Die Ermittlung (1965)—drove public debate over this issue in Germany and abroad. This dissertation exposes how these works restage a Holocaust trial in order to critique that trial's conduct or findings, and it emphasizes how the works use the trial format to lend themselves the authority of the legal system. Each of these works, I argue, comments explicitly on the issue of exemplarity: in each work, popular guilt is on trial, as defendants are portrayed as representatives of a guilty German public. Kramer, Arendt, and Weiss thus reflect on the very concept of Holocaust perpetrator: the literal and figurative imagery that comes to mind when we think about Holocaust perpetrators. And for all three authors, this concept forms a part of German political identity: the degree to which perpetrators are understood to be representative of the German public is the degree to which Germany is understood to be “a nation of perpetrators.” My reading of these works suggests, moreover, that the resolution they impose on the issue of exemplarity is undermined by their own means of representation. By embedding the trials within a work of fiction or criticism, as well as through active reflection on the strategies of representation used in trials, these works demonstrate basic similarities between the ways Holocaust trial defendants were represented in court and the ways fictional characters are created in literature, theater, and film. I demonstrate that these similarities threaten to invalidate the authority of the trial format in these works, thwarting their claims to factuality. The conflict between competing arguments about the defendants then becomes evident, a tension that itself best defines the unresolved questions about the guilt of the German population.

Windham, Scott A.
Record last modified: 2018-04-24 16:01:00
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