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3 Voices from the Killing Ground Tief in der Zeitenschrunde, beim Wabeneis wartet, ein Atemkristall, dein unumstossliches Zeugnis. [Deep in the time-crevasse, by the honeycomb-ice, there waits, as a breath-crystal, your unimpeachable testimony.J -Paul Celan "Whatmadness is it that drives one to list the various kinds of Jews who were destroyed?" Rachel Auerbach asked herself in ''Yizkor, 1943," as the Nazis systematically liquidated the Warsaw Ghetto. Written on the "Aryan side" ofWarsaw, Auerbach's lament for the ghetto Jews represents one piece of a vast project to document Jewish life and its brutal destruction. The "madness" that drove Auerbach to document the struggles of the Warsaw ghetto compelled countless others to write, to record, and to preserve a record of Jewish life and Jewish deaths.! More than forty years later, in The Drowned and the Saved, Primo Levi explains that because the dead cannot tell their own story, sur47 48 Voices from the Killing Ground vivors like himself "speak in their stead" (84). The stories of those who perished, however, reach us not only "by proxy" through the survivor. They also comes to us directly in the words of some of those who perished . From across the years, diaries, chronicles, even vast archives are unearthed on the killing grounds of the Third Reich. Written privately or in concert with others, thousands of pages of diaries and chronicles survived the murder oftheir authors. While memoirs and fiction written later by survivors self-consciously question the nature of memory, language, and representation, these earlier works claim for themselves a powerful and direct testimonial form. The trope of muteness shapes later works from within, figuring an internal set of complexities ; by contrast, it intrudes on the earlier body of writing as an external silencing force against which the ghetto writers do battle. Two recurrent images inform survivor narratives, figuring so frequently in fiction, prose, diaries, memoirs, and poetry that they may be considered type scenes. In the first, the victim of Nazi atrocity resolves to survive the genocidal assault in order to testify against the perpetrators and on behalf ofthe victims. In the second, the survivor of Nazi atrocity struggles with the impossibility of fulfilling that oath. The survivor -the former victim-testifies, but no one believes, understands, or pays attention. Or, overwhelmed by painful memories and the formidable work of testimony, the survivor remains silent. These two type scenes frequently occur within the same narrative. Juxtaposed, they illustrate the testimonial struggle ofthe survivor to impart a terrible knowledge-what Maurice Blanchot paradoxically describes as "the wish of all, in the camps, the last wish: know what has happened, do not forget, and at the same time never will you know" (82). Taken together, the two scenes also exemplify what Shoshana Felman has called "the crisis ofwitnessing."2 What precipitates the crisis of witnessing? The matter should be straight-forward: a horrible crime occurred in the presence of witnesses who later come forward to speak what they know. No reasonable person today doubts the facts of the Holocaust-doubts that Nazi genocidal practices were horribly and systematically enacted against women, men, children, the elderly, adolescents, who lived through and died under conditions of unspeakable atrocity. What in the nature of the Holocaust, language, memory, or witnessing, so complicates, then, the act of testimony? When contrasted with the more familiar writing by survivors, the voices that emerge in ghetto writing sound strangely confident. If muteness at all figures in the works of the ghetto scribes (David Roskies's term), it does so primarily in response to external circumstances-the Voices from the Killing Ground 49 hermetic isolation behind the ghetto walls; the presence of spies and censors, the highly regulated flow of disinformation into the ghettos. The juxtaposition of spoken and unspoken recollections in survivor writing marks the massive trauma they experienced, as it configures the topography of memory: the sheer pain of remembered events, the need for survivors to move on, the difficulty in doing so, the utter incongruity ofthe "normal" world with "planet Auschwitz," the presumptuousness in speaking for the dead. The figure ofthe mute witness develops, then, as a post-Holocaust trope, rather than a predominant presence in ghetto testimony. Recent thinking on posttraumatic stress locates a species of muteness at the site and moment oftrauma. Subsequent amnesia and aphasia reflect an already constituted belatedness that distances the victim from the events at hand. Indeed, Cathy Caruth's work on posttraumatic stress disorders situates the "enigmatic core...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781438407074
Related ISBN
9780791431290
MARC Record
OCLC
42855116
Pages
276
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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