Speaking at the AGS: The Testimonial Turn? Remembrance and Representation in German Holocaust Literature between 1962 and 1977

As a nice Christmas present, I’ve had my abstract for the Association for German Studies in Great Britain and Ireland conference next year accepted for the History and Remembrance panel. I love going to the AGS – German studies is a small and geographically fragmented community in the UK, but it’s also extremely friendly and supportive. Many of the scholars I meet there every few years are not only leading researchers on the cutting edge of German, cultural and literary studies, but also old friends and mentors. There’s something really wonderful about our community, I feel; as anyone who is interested in modern languages in the UK will know, some in our research community have had a challenging time of it recently, as some departments have been forced to close and fewer students have been taking German at A-level. But the vibrancy of German studies research hasn’t been damaged, and neither has the spirit of camaraderie and solidarity shared at our annual gatherings in the AGS and WIGS. It’s fantastic to watch the intellectual development over years and decades of my community of scholars – and the socialising should be fun too.

It’s also really great – on a less elevated note – to have events to look forward to in the New Year! I’m at the stage in sabbatical that I dubbed ‘pyjamas and ballgown’ during my PhD; that stage of research where I rarely leave the house and start wearing pyjamas all day, and then dress up to the nines to compensate whenever a rare opportunity to meet my fellow-human beings arrives. So if you’re going to the AGS, and spot a researcher in a sequinned ball gown declaiming about Holocaust literature in spangly high heels, that’ll be me.

Here’s my abstract: I’d better book my archive trips so that I’ve done the research by then!

The Frankfurt trials and the trial of Eichmann in Jerusalem in the 1960s have been viewed as turning points in German memory of the Holocaust. While Arendt’s ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’ created a new discourse of perpetrator guilt, Peter Weiss’s ‘Die Ermittlung’ created what many saw as a groundbreaking German aesthetic response to the Holocaust. This paper examines this so-called ‘testimonial turn’ (Wieviorka 2006) using a Bourdieusian model of the literary field to examine the extent to which the 1960s truly saw a turn to the voice of the victim in the developing German ‘Holocaust canon’. Using the works of Weiss, Adler and Hilsenrath as case studies, it argues that implicit aesthetic and ethical norms, imposed by gatekeepers from Adorno to publishers, still set limits on the form and content of German literary testimony to the Holocaust. The shifting status of ‘Die Ermittlung’, from celebrated cultural event to a text accused of erasing the specificity of Jewish victimhood, is set against the tepid reception accorded to Adler’s Holocaust testimonial novels ‘Eine Reise’ (1962) and ‘Panorama’ (1968), and the difficulty Hilsenrath had in finding a German publisher for  ‘Der Nazi und der Friseur’ into the 1970s. The paper thus argues that the voice of the victim still struggled to find German publishers and audiences into the 1970s.