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DAVID SUCHOFF A Yiddish Text from Auschwitz: Critical History and the Anthological Imagination Introduction The following text, written at Auschwitz on 3 January 1945, introduces an anthology ofwritings composed byJewish prisoners within Auschwitz itself. That anthology was lost, while this remnant remains. Avraham Levite's piece, presented here in a new translation, offers itself as a plea from the "other planet" that was Auschwitz to postwar generations, calling upon them to appreciate a fully Jewish and critical historical voice that was forged within its bounds. The introduction presciently voices its author's certainty that Jewish life at Auschwitz and the Holocaust as a whole would be distorted in representations of the event, submerged by a world eager to ease its conscience, cry and feel better, and thus to deny or rninirnize the facts of Jewish suffering. The price of world recognition, Lévite reasons from history, would be the diminution of the powerful voice of Yiddish life. This concern with the difference between history and memory gives Levite's text an uncannily contemporary ring, as it presciently calls upon its readers to beware of the lures of an "objective" history. In recent debates on the differences between popular "memory" and professional "history" of the Holocaust, in the German "Historian's Debate" of the late 1980s as well as in Israel, attention has been focused on the gaps and absences created by apparently objective historical accounts that would make Germany, too, a victim, or swamp the moral importance of the Shoah by seductive screen versions. The public question of how to memorialize and to remember, without producing a fetishized objectivity that forgets, has challenged the historical profession to become more literary and to include witness material such as that included and described in Levite's essay. As one of the foremost contemporary historians of the Holocaust puts it, the history PROOFTEXTS 19 (1999): 59-69 O 1999 by The Johns Hopkins University Press 60DAVID SUCHOFF of the Shoah must sustain a critical tension between the commentary, living voice, and memories of actual Holocaust victims with the objectivity and dispassion of historical accounts.1 Levite's essay precedes the current critique of history and memory by taking an explicitly critical stance toward an historiography that was yet to come. Unlike professional historians, Lévite announces the intention of his fellow Jewish writers to construct their own objective record of the subjective Jewish experience of an infernal, everyday life. Writing from within Auschwitz itself, Lévite prophetically saw that a universal historical perspective and Jewish memory would be at odds when the Holocaust became history. The different contexts and languages in which Levite's piece has appeared suggest that the Yiddish language is a crucial and underrepresented voice in Holocaust historiography. The Yiddish writer tackles the experience of Auschwitz in a language that sounds, but does not look, European; he thereby evokes in his very linguistic medium the central tension between Jewish particularity and the claims of a modern and universal culture. Yiddish writing, in other words, sounds and breathes the rich and productive plurality of Jewish modernity. Calling as it does upon Yiddish cultural context for much of its resonance, Levite's essay was first published in the original Yiddish in YlVO-bleter in 1946.2 There Lévite explains that at the beginning of January 1945, shortly before "the liquidation of the tragic death camp, Auschwitz," several "serious boys" (erntste yinglekh) planned to produce an anthology of writings under the title Auschwitz; the collection was to contain poems as well as descriptions and impressions of what the writers had experienced and survived. Several copies of their notebooks were to be buried in the camp in bottles, which was the practice followed in the preservation of Sonderkommando narratives that were discovered after the war.3 Several other copies were to be given to reliable Poles, coworkers in labor details undertaken by the writers outside the camp proper. The collection was also to contain "factual material of historical significance," including descriptions of the "ghetto" and of the "murderers," several "Hebrew poems" (shirim) written by a "HungarianHebrewpoet," an "apology forourcourseofaction" inthe form of"a letter to my brother in Erets Israel," and other items...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3311
Print ISSN
0272-9601
Pages
pp. 59-69
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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