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Reviewed by:
  • Literature of the Holocaust ed. by Alan Rosen
  • Russell Alt-Haaker (bio)
Alan Rosen, ed. Literature of the Holocaust. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2013. 321 pp. ISBN 978-110701273, $29.99.

Literature of the Holocaust, edited by Alan Rosen and published by Cambridge University Press, is an ambitious study of writings produced both during and after the Holocaust as a response to the victims’ experiences and their plight. The volume of sixteen essays provides an extensive overview of essential readings vis-à-vis categories such as national tradition, language group, theme, and genre—all within a historical and interpretive context. [End Page 1146]

This is not the first scholarly collection to address the place of the Holocaust within national contexts—the 2006 volume Shoah in der deutschsprachigen Literatur edited by Norbert Otto Eke and Hartmut Steinecke is a similar undertaking that springs to mind with regard to German-language literature. What distinguishes Literature of the Holocaust from other such endeavors, however, and what makes it so valuable, is its presentation of many national literatures and languages in one reference work. What’s more, each of the volume’s contributors negotiates the literature in the language in which it was written. The volume should be commended for this last point in particular, as the contributing scholars are able to discuss untranslated works from “minor” or lesser-known languages that would otherwise be inaccessible to English-speaking readers.

Literature of the Holocaust is structured in three parts: wartime victim writing, postwar responses, and other approaches. In each, special attention is paid not only to the impact of socio-political circumstances on the production and reception of Holocaust literature, but also on genre and language, especially with regard to the latter’s importance to the victims and its place within the historical events of the Second World War and the Holocaust. Editor Alan Rosen has been pivotal in establishing this last topic as a focus of scholarly inquiry with his 2005 book Sounds of Defiance: The Holocaust, Multilingualism, and the Problem of English. Rosen is therefore no stranger to working with literature and film in his research, though in the introduction to Literature of the Holocaust, he specifically notes the “dominant role” that historical accounts, records, and writings have had in creating the factual and interpretive paradigms of the Holocaust. He hopes the present volume will “show [that] literature too has made its special contribution” (2). However one feels about the distinction scholars draw between factual and fictional or historical and literary accounts of the Holocaust, Literature of the Holocaust deftly elucidates the essentially human—meaning the psychological and emotional—dimension captured in such writings, something not necessarily available, or not necessarily of interest, to approaches that are ostensibly less subjective and more documentary in nature.

The first section of the volume contains two essays—one on wartime victim writing in Eastern Europe by David G. Roskies, and another on wartime victim writing in Western Europe by David Patterson—with a special focus on the importance of the diary as a means for the victims to record their personal experiences of this grim chapter of the twentieth century as it unfolded around them. The second section broaches different literatures of the Holocaust based on language group, and to a certain extent, national paradigm (though the destruction of shtetl culture, the migration of Holocaust survivors, shifting national borders, the establishment of the state of Israel, and the [End Page 1147] fall of Communism, among other things, make this category somewhat more tenuous). It includes essays on Italian (Robert S. C. Gordon), German (Stuart Tabener), Hebrew (Sheila E. Jelen), Yiddish (Jan Schwarz), Russian (Leona Toker), English (S. Lillian Kremer), Polish (Monika Adamczyk-Garbowska), Hungarian (Rita Horváth), and French (Jeffrey Mehlman). The third and final section provides an investigation of oral texts, such as testimony or oral memoir (Alessandro Portelli) and song (Shirli Gilbert). It also explores Sephardic and Ladino responses to the Holocaust (Judith Roumani), gives an overview of existing Holocaust literature anthologies in English translation (Alan Rosen), and traces the fault lines between historical and literary accounts of the Holocaust and its aftermath (Eric J. Sundquist). The volume is rounded out with a...


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