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Holocaust Literature

A History and Guide

David G. Roskies

Publication Year: 2012

What is Holocaust literature? When does it begin and how is it changing? Is there an essential core that consists of diaries, eyewitness accounts of the concentration camps, and tales of individual survival? Is it the same everywhere: West and East, in Australia as in the Americas, in poetry as in prose? Is this literature sacred and separate, or can it be studied alongside other responses to catastrophe? What works of Holocaust literature will be read a hundred years from now--and why?

Here, for the first time, is a historical survey of Holocaust literature in all genres, countries, and major languages. Beginning in wartime, it proceeds from the literature of mobilization and mourning in the Free World to the vast literature produced in Nazi-occupied ghettos, bunkers and places of hiding, transit and concentration camps. No less remarkable is the new memorial literature that begins to take shape within weeks and months of the liberation. Moving from Europe to Israel, the United States, and beyond, the authors situate the writings by real and proxy witnesses within three distinct postwar periods: "communal memory," still internal and internecine; "provisional memory" in the 1960s and 1970s, when a self-conscious Holocaust genre is born; and "authorized memory," in which we live today.

Twenty book covers--first editions in their original languages--and a guide to the "first hundred books" show the multilingual scope, historical depth, and artistic range of this extraordinary body of writing.

Published by: Brandeis University Press


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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pp. 4-7


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pp. vii-8


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pp. viii-9

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pp. ix-xii

In 1963, the Montreal branch of the Jewish Labor Bund marked the twentieth anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising. Oldline Socialists, they commemorated the uprising by gathering on April 19, which fell on a Friday that year. No synagogue would host a secular event on the Sabbath, so they met in a school auditorium; ...

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1 | What is Holocaust Literature?

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pp. 1-20

What is Holocaust literature? Where does it belong, and how is it changing? Is it to be read as a genre of literature about death, war, atrocity, or trauma? Does this vast outpouring of writing invite comparisons with responses to other Jewish catastrophes or with other forms of Jewish resistance? ...

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2 | Wartime Writing in the Free Zone: 1938-45

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pp. 21-42

The classifiers at the Library of Congress dignified the Holocaust with a consistent name, identified its specific victims, defined its rough temporal boundaries, and parsed it into broad humanistic categories. But without a spatial grid it is impossible to retell its story from beginning to end, as tell it we must if we are ever to understand the unfolding of the Holocaust in public memory. ...

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3 | Wartime Writing in the Jew-Zone: 1939-45

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pp. 43-74

Within the occupied war zone, the counterpoint to mobilization was resistance. As long as there was hope of survival, resistance took one form. When all hope was lost, it took another. Inside the Jew-Zone, therefore, we must proceed year by year. Running through the Jew-Zone is an all-important timeline divided into before and after. ...

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4 | Communal Memory: 1945-60

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pp. 75-124

Wartime writing was created at the confluence of a specific time and place by people variously positioned between the living and the dead. Writing in the immediate aftermath of the war had a similar birth. The response to what had just happened—impossible to comprehend and impossible to forget—needed a habitat, a sanctuary, within which to gestate; ...

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5 | Provisional Memory: 1960-85

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pp. 125-156

The next quarter-century was a time of discovery, of seeing things as if for the first time. Lo, there were survivor witnesses living in our midst, wrote the Hebrew poet, Natan Alterman, whose image, “beyond life and beyond nature,” had become indelibly etched into the national pysche (1961, 522). Here they stood, on the witness stand, demanding retribution from their murderers, ...

Plates follow page 148

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pp. 162-177

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6 | Authorized Memory: 1985-Present

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pp. 157-188

English, merely a mediator until now, became the authorized language of Holocaust memory—with a German accent if spoken by British survivors, and a Polish Yiddish accent if spoken by naturalized American citizens. This marked a fundamental shift from the languages in which the Holocaust was lived to the languages in which it was relived. ...

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Guide to the First Hundred Books

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pp. 189-315

Parents who raised their children speaking Yiddish spoke to them about the Holocaust. The conversation that began in 1938 has never ended. It went on everywhere, from Buenos Aires to the Bronx, from Melbourne and Mexico City to Montreal. Dedicating this book to his three children, the poet, novelist, critic, ...

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pp. 315-316

In 2004 I was commissioned by Laurie E. Fialkoff to write a thousand-word book review for Studies in Contemporary Jewry that—with the blessing of the volume editor, my friend and colleague, Eli Lederhendler—grew into the longest review essay in that journal’s history. “What Is Holocaust Literature?” appeared in 2005, 21:157–212. ...

Works Cited

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pp. 317-340


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pp. 341-342


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pp. 343-356

E-ISBN-13: 9781611683592
E-ISBN-10: 1611683599
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611683578

Page Count: 360
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 824729234
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Holocaust Literature

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Subject Headings

  • Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945), in literature -- History and criticism.
  • Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) -- Influence.
  • Holocaust survivors -- Biography -- History and criticism.
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