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5 The Reluctant Witness A man deflects his testimony; for what really cries in him, he keeps silent, sometimes for his own good. -Haim Gouri I n Peter Morley's documentary film, Kitty: Return to Auschwitz, Kitty Felix Hart returns to the concentration camp where she had been incarcerated thirty-three years earlier. Against the backdrop of present -day Auschwitz, Morley films Hart's struggle to describe her experiences there to her adult son who accompanies her. Hart participates in Morley's film for both a public and a private purpose. She returns to Auschwitz in 1978 so that the camera, in filming Auschwitz, will refute those who claim that the Holocaust "never happened," and so that her son, in visiting Auschwitz, will know and understand what his mother endured. She comes to Auschwitz in order that the place of atrocity may bear witness to that atrocity. But the peaceful scene laid before her belies the violence of her memories. At best, the present camp can serve as a silent prop for her own incursions into the realm of remembrance . At worst, its silence and pastoralism refute what she knows to be true. Because the verdant serenity of present-day Auschw.tz misrepresents both personal and historical memory, Kitty realizes she must not only present but represent the camp for her son and for the camera. What Kitty shows her son and the camera does not measure up to the ferocity ofher own testimony. Struck by the contrast between what was and what is, she begins to recount anecdotes and incidents, to pile up the 95 96 The Reluctant Witness everyday details of atrocity, to use words and stories to compensate for what her son and the camera cannot see. The camp holds a set oflocales that trigger her memory. As she reaches each setting, Kitty describes her first night in Auschwitz, the metal bowl that served her as both soup dish and chamber pot, the diseases that ravaged the camp, the selections. Her words and stories engage her son's-and the viewers'imagination . ''You have to imagine," she urges again and again, ''You have to imagine." At each new vista her voice grows more rapid, more emotional, more frantic-and more marked by a Polish accent which was barely discernable earlier in the film. Standing in the central courtyard -the one used for the grueling roll call-she tells her son to picture it bare, without vegetation. ''You have to imagine, there was no grass here. Here was only mud. If there were grass," she adds, "we would have eaten it." Kitty not only supplements but competes with the camera 's vision, ultimately displacing the celluloid images with verbal ones drawn from her own memory. As she plunges into the depths of Holocaust memory--{)r, more correctly, as memory overtakes her-the past claims its place in the present through the shift in her speech pattern. The film builds upon this contrast between script and setting, and the reactions of the onlooker-Kitty's son, and by extension, ourselves , the viewers-to both. Unlike the narrator of Jorge Semprun's novel, The Long Voyage, who ushers the liberators through courtyards that still bear the sights and stench of charnel, Kitty leads her sonand Morley's camera-through a deathcamp grown bucolic, where grass covers the courtyards, the train tracks, the roads. Unable to simply point to the carnage she remembers, Kitty recognizes early on that the Auschwitz she shows her son does not measure up. She realizes that her stories must compensate for what her son cannot see, and what Morley cannot film, because it no longer exists. Her words must trigger his-and our-imagination; her telling must link past with present, must bridge seeing and knowing. Like Semprun's two French nurses, Kitty's son is sympathetic, concerned, well-intentioned -and entirely of another world. His discordant reactions to Kitty's stories mark the chasm separating eyewitness from listener. Unable to easily assimilate what his mother tells him, he has palpable difficulty picturing the Auschwitz of Kitty's memory, and picturing the mother he knows in that Auschwitz. For example, after seeing seemingly endless rows of crude latrine holes, and listening to Kitty's description of the hordes of women fighting for access to them, he exclaims, "And you had no toilet paper!" "Toilet paper!" she responds, incredulous. His inability to grasp what she tells him and to respond appropriately reveals the distance between their worlds...

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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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