- Editor’s Note
Central issues of memory and personal testimony—their vagaries and internal contradictions, but also the way scholarly traditions come to terms with them—are at the center of the first two articles in this issue: Thomas Trezise’s exploration of the reception of Holocaust survivors’ testimony, and Florent Brayard’s scrutiny of the acts and times of Kurt Gerstein, but also of the complex afterlife of his testimony.
The issues raised do not engage historians and psychoanalysts tout court: in both fields, there are too many schools and lines of inquiry to be conveniently subsumed under one single heading or approach.1 However, these issues are also relevant to many who are neither historians nor psychoanalysts, for they raise fundamental questions concerning the use of evidence and the nature of historical facts. Historians’ use of evidence is examined here in a limiting case—that of the Holocaust, a context that a priori excludes facile attempts to brush aside questions of truth, reliability and trustworthiness in studying the past, and at the same time does not lend itself easily to the comforts of naïve positivism.
In Trezise’s meticulous analysis of Dori Laub’s influential account of an Auschwitz survivor’s testimony, Laub’s timely critique of historians’ limited use of survivors’ testimonies and his insistence on the relational nature of all testimony are taken up and elaborated to provide both a reading very different from the one Laub himself had offered and an illumining study of the complexities of the quest for historical truth. Brayard does not make an abstract plea for taking testimonies seriously but provides an exemplary case study, slowing down the pace of historical narration in order to reconstruct the changing circumstances of Kurt Gerstein’s enunciations and their afterlife in historical research. Nor does the approach he sketches require effacing the inherent moral ambivalence in Gerstein’s actions and the internal contradictions of his testimonies. Both articles deal in different ways with crucial issues of involvement [End Page 5] and responsibility—yielding insights, but also deep moral ambiguity. By seeking to construct valid historical accounts that include testimonies by victims and perpetrators, without reducing their complexity, they pose an important challenge.
1. The uses of memory and autobiography in the historiography of the Holocaust have often been dealt with on the pages of History and Memory; among recent contributions, see Jeremy D. Popkin, “Holocaust Memories, Historians’ Memoirs: First-Person Narrative and the Memory of the Holocaust” (15, no. 1 : 49–84); and Michael Geyer, “Virtue in Despair: A Family History from the Days of the Kindertransports” (17, nos. 1/2 : 323–65). [End Page 6]