Drawing on the Holocaust

Monday 23 January 2012, 2.00PM to 5.30pm

Registration is now open for the second Aftermaths workshop: “Drawing on the Holocaust”. 

Everyone is welcome, including postgraduates, members of staff and the wider community in York and the surrounding area. 

To register please e-mail Helen Jacobs (helen.jacobs@york.ac.uk) with the following information:
• Your name
• Your first and second choice of discussion group (see below)
• Your field of research
• Your stage of research (if a student)
• Your institutional affiliation

Workshop Theme

Even in the twenty-first century, the overriding focus of researchers working with representations of suffering arguably remains the Holocaust. However, many of the academics and practitioners who built their names in this field are now applying their knowledge to new memorial and conflict settings.  What are the challenges involved in such gestures?

Workshop Structure

We will begin with four 15 minute research presentations and then split into discussion groups to discuss the key questions outlined by the speakers.  After coffee there will then be a plenary paper given by Professor Robert Eaglestone followed by a round table for all speakers and respondents.

After the workshop we will move downstairs for a public debate about The Public Secret in RCH/037.  This will be followed by a drinks reception and the opening of the Portraits for Posterity exhibition.

Please choose one of the following discussion groups.

GROUP A: Rebecca Jinks, History, Royal Holloway, University of London

This presentation will explore the ways in which the Holocaust has influenced representations of other genocides, taking the 1990s conflict in Bosnia as a case study. I will look at what we can learn by contrasting western representations of the events with those produced inside the former Yugoslavia, examining both the politics of comparison and the extent to which it is methodologically useful to apply theories of Holocaust representations elsewhere.

Key questions: What different functions can the Holocaust have in the representation of other genocides? Why is the use of the Holocaust frame significantly different in western and domestic accounts of the conflict? What areas of Holocaust theory can be most usefully applied in other contexts?  

GROUP B: Isabelle Hesse, English & Related Literature, York

This presentation will consider how the Holocaust is used in postcolonial fiction through the example of Anita Desai’s Baumgartner’s Bombay. The main character, Hugo Baumgartner – a German-Jew who flees to India to escape persecution in Nazi Europe – is positioned as a witness to the partition riots in India. We will discuss how Desai uses the Holocaust as a specifically European catastrophe to set up a comparative framework, or rather a point of entry, for the Indian ‘holocaust’ and how the Holocaust, and the Jewish protagonist, function as a model but also as an illustration for the suffering of the Muslim minority in India.

Key questions:  What is achieved by using one victim to narrate the suffering of another victim?  What are the problems of transplanting one victim to another context?  What is considered an appropriate approach to adopting, and adapting the Holocaust, as an outsider? Can an outsider’s appropriation of the Holocaust and Jewishness be more than a means to an end, a narrative strategy?

GROUP C: Channa Cune, English & Related Literature and Health Sciences, York

This presentation is grounded in my work with survivor writing groups.  I will discuss survivors’ experiences from across the field of trauma-writing, examining the commonalities underlying each individual expression.  Listening to the experiences of survivors of different atrocities brings me to consider them all as 'survivors of life'.  The main task of the writer appears to be the (re)construction of a reasonably integrated identity. Circumstances and histories do, of course, differ, but human suffering is present in all of them and needs to be coped with by the survivors with whatever means they find available.  This task can be viewed from the perspectives of many disciplines and creates a confusion of tongues among communities of scholars, therapists and survivors. Beware of interpretations of survivors' experiences! They often lead to re-traumatisation or at least missing the point for the survivor.

Key questions: Are survivors’ interests served by regarding their traumata as unique? Can we envisage an approach where personal uniqueness fits into a context of commonality of trauma?

GROUP D: Anthony Levin, English & Related Literature, York

This presentation will discuss the relationship between third generation survivor testimony and fiction. Drawing on material from American author, Joseph Skibell’s haunting narrative A Blessing on the Moon, the intention is to examine the figure of the ghost as a trope for narrating trauma in the Aftermath. As well as being a liminal figure, both dispossessed of the ‘World to Come’ and invisible in the material realm, Skibell’s ghostly-protagonist, whose death coincides with the disappearance of the moon, challenges broader notions of being and non-being, presence and absence, with regards to Holocaust memory. Neither directly testimonial, nor simply a fictional howl of pain, this text posits another response to the Holocaust which poses enduring questions about how we write and read testimony two generations on.

Key questions: How can we approach third generation survivor writing theoretically? How productive are figures of ghostliness and haunting in the discussion of memory and testimony? What light can third generation writing shed on the relationship between fiction and testimony?

Public Debate and Exhibition Opening

The event will be followed by a public debate on the topic of The Public Secret.  The discussion will be led by Robert Eaglestone and chaired by Zoe Norridge.

Panelists include:
• Max Silverman (French, University of Leeds)
• Henrice Altink  (History, University of York)
• Nicholas Pleace (Centre for Housing Policy, University of York)
• Keon West (Institute of Psychological Sciences, University of Leeds)
• Matt Writtle (Documentary and Portrait Photographer)
• Lars Waldorf (Centre for Applied Human Rights, University of York)

The debate will be followed by a drinks reception and the opening of the Portraits for Posterity exhibition.


Location: Ron Cooke Hub, Room 103 (Heslington East)

Email: zoe.norridge@york.ac.uk