To 'bear witness where witness needs to be borne' : diary writing and the Holocaust, 1939-1945 / by Alexandra Garbarini.
This dissertation examines Jewish diarists' attempts to comprehend the unimaginable genocide as it unfolded around them and of the meaning of their own lives in this radically altered world. It explores the function and meaning of diary writing within Jews' meaning-making struggles. Alternating between close analyses of individual diaries and larger thematic perspectives, it examines the different impulses—historical, theological, familial, and ethical—that compelled individuals to record their experiences. Moreover, it details how Jews' goals for their diaries changed over time, in response to mounting knowledge about the ensuing extermination. For most Jews, simply keeping a diary in the first years of the war demonstrated their participation in a widespread European trend, as well as their belief that their wartime experiences would be familiar and thus narratable. After 1942, however, when many diarists began to hear news of mass killings and extermination or had first-hand experience of the killings, they shifted their narrative frameworks. Thus, this study marks out what was particular to Jewish diary writing during the Holocaust as well as how it connected to the broader European histories of diary writing, of reading, of subjectivity, and of the family. Focusing largely on unpublished diaries, this study adds a wide range of victims' voices to Holocaust historiography, including those of Jews in hiding in Poland and little-known diarists from Germany and France. Beyond unearthing new individual stories, this dissertation creates new ways of categorizing Jewish wartime experiences based on their strategies of interpretation. Looking at the variety of ways that Jews attempted to make sense of the unimaginable gives us an alternative means of categorizing Jewish experiences from this period, one which highlights both the shared experience of being a Jew under Nazi occupation—as meaning-makers rather than passive victims—and the diversity of modern European Jewry in the mid-twentieth century. Furthermore, this study reveals the genesis of issues that would become central to postwar thought, including the limits of representation, the relationship of memory to history, the concept of a fragmented self, the potential impossibility of mourning trauma, and the moral fallibility of Western science and democracy.
Record last modified: 2018-04-24 16:01:00
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