Bearing Witness. Between History and Memory
Three times a year the Auschwitz Foundation and Remembrance of Auschwitz publish a journal (which has existed for 25 years) to publicize the most recent multi-disciplinary research on the Nazi camps and the genocide of the Jews and Gypsies. It has taken part in the most recent debates concerning the challenges raised by memory and history. In response to the growing interest in questions of memory that arise at the crossroads of many disciplines – from history to literature and the arts, from sociology to political science – and the ever-growing public demand, the Foundation has decided to mark the journal’s 100th issue by giving it a fresh impetus. At the same time, it hopes to overcome the lack of a publication that gives equal attention to questions of memory and questions of history while not opposing them.
Without abandoning its primary missions, and benefiting from its experience and the knowledge it has acquired, the Auschwitz Foundation has now assumed the task of broadening its field of research to include the issue of mass violence in the historical long term. While taking care to avoid anachronisms, it proposes a critical re-examination of the past and present of our modernity, and of a century in which many states were directly involved in large-scale political violence and massacres, from genocide to ethnic cleansing. Through Bearing Witness: Between History and Memory, the Foundation aims to encourage a critical re-reading of these issues, from the angles of both historiography and memory, and to shed new light on our contemporary history.
Starting with issue no. 117, our review Bearing Witness: Between History and Memory will have a new format. Half will be an academic section (thematic dossiers and other research), and half will be a cultural section addressing events related to remembrance and bearing witness. The latter will consist of columns, regular features, a calendar of events, and a portfolio.
Much has been said and written about group and community memory, limiting the relationships among groups as well as their individual histories to conflicts, “wars”, competitions, or strategies for eclipsing or silencing to such an extent that these terms have become the platitudes of a kind of more general doxa about collective and cultural remembrance. This dossier proposes a critical reading of those terms and that doxa by questioning the emergence, constitution, and inter-relating of different exemplary memories of the major violent episodes of the 20th century. It will address the relationships that those memories can maintain with other memories with which they share, if not the same event, at least similar characteristics and concerns.
Dossier no. 116 (September 2013): Voyages mémoriels [Memorial visits]
Should we fear what has been grouped under the term "memorial tourism"? Or should we take this as a reality of our time? Can any visitor, group or individual, nowadays be absorbed in the category of "tourist"? Or is this category a remote intellectual reduction of a personal experience that everyone is aiming during his visit? The problem appears in a somewhat different light when we think of tours for young people supervised by adults, usually teachers. This dossier tries to give the opinion of historians and teachers who experience such visits.
Previous dossier: no. 115 (March 2013): L’Espagne en construction mémorielle [Spain going through memorial construction]
This file’s objective is to provide a benchmark for understanding the identities and relationships of the plural memory and representation in contemporary Spain. Indeed, it is necessary today to take a fresh look not only on the stratified memories of the civil war, exile and the Franco repression, but also on the reception of other memories such as that of the Holocaust, and to propose new readings. These include the highlighting sometimes of conflicting tensions, sometimes the link between official actions, of the associations and the artistic initiatives.
No. 114 (December 2012): Sites mémoriels [Memorial Sites]
What image do memorial sites, which constitute the concrete trace of remembrance and European history of the twentieth century, give to their visitors today? Exhibition criteria and conservation have changed during the last ten to fifteen years in most of them, like advances in historical research have changed the way we read and reconstruct past events. This is not only due to the fact that we have moved from a past history written by witnesses to a history written by professional historians. A new consciousness has emerged concerning transmission methods (pedagogy of history). It was also necessary to strengthen the research of history by the archaeological methods of research. We tore off the veil of ideology as it was often the element that guided or covered permanent exhibitions and conservation criteria and tours. Can we say we have entered a new era in the manner to transmit the memory? It remains, in many ways, an open bet on the present and the future.
No. 113 (September 2012): Les tabous de l'histoire allemande [The Taboos of German History]
The most painful or ambiguous periods in twentieth-century German history are caracterized by numerous taboos, expressed in literature, photography and film as so many “returns of the repressed”. These studies focus in part on problems of antisemitism, and thus on the relationship of German-speaking societies to the Shoah. They also examine the way in which those societies confronted the violence they suffered, such as bombing, fleeing from the Red Army and the expulsions, and the mass rapes.
No. 112 (June 2012): Les enfants de la Guerre d'Espagne. Expériences et représentations culturelles [Children of the Spanish Civil War: Experiences and Cultural Representations]
The dossier in this issue deals with the experiences and cultural representations of childhood during the Spanish Civil War. It aims to help towards a better understanding of that conflict, which tore apart a population living on the same territory, by offering a view of how Spanish children lived through it – as expressed in various forms during or after the war – and some varied representations of those same children, particularly those coming from adults.
No. 111 (December 2011): Art & propagande : jeux inter-dits [Dangerous Game between Art and Propaganda]
Since the media came into existence, political institutions from political parties to governments have used them to promote their image, in order to win the support of the public to whom their messages were addressed. Authoritarian powers use the media as a means of consolidating their domination. But how can artists take part in propaganda whose purposes are the opposite of those generally attributed to art? Does that mean setting aside their vocation, or do they themselves distort that vocation?
No. 110 (October 2011): Déplacements, déportations, exils [Displacements, Deportations, Exile]
States and criminal groups exploit population displacements to isolate or get rid of the target population. In addition to being denied their normal rights, these populations lose visibility and are deprived of their reference points and social frameworks. In this way it is possible to make them the victims of constraints (deterritorialization, forced labor…) or violence (famine, massacres genocide…). These developments have spread on an unprecedented scale since the 1914-1918 war and continue to grow worldwide. But there is also a dimension of remembrance to this reality - memories of these displacements are now being expressed in literature, and in exhibitions and museums. This dossier examines this contemporary double aspect of history and memory.
No. 109 (March 2011): La bande dessinée dans l'orbe des guerres et des génocides du XXe siècle [Twentieth Century Wars and Genocides as Portrayed in Graphic Novels and Comic Strips]
Graphic novels and comic strips have played a part in the darkest events of our recent history, both as a wartime tool and through their accounts of genocide.
The first part of the dossier evokes the part played in France, Great Britain and the Netherlands during the Second World War by publishers and authors of comics who chose the medium as a means of serving or resisting the enemy. The contribution made by comics to the war effort highlights its potential as a means of action and propaganda.
The dossier’s second part concerns the possible ways in which authors of graphic novels can choose to describe these events: the two World Wars, the Armenian, Jewish, Cambodian and Tutsi genocides or the Sabra and Chatila massacres. The creative imagination they have displayed in approaching subjects which were long considered as taboo for the medium bears witness to its ability to transcend the mere “restitution” of the facts.
No. 108 (July-September 2010): Le traitement de l'histoire dans les documentaires filmiques [How Documentaries Handle History]
This dossier sets out to analyze the constraints on television programs dealing with historical subjects. It focuses in particular on history documentaries produced for or by television, which is now the main medium for transmitting history. Contributors include not only historians (Annette Becker, Laurent Veray, Isabelle Veyrat-Masson) whose work deals with the relationship between moving pictures and their cognitive value, in order other researchers and teachers (Charles Heimberg, Fanny Lautissier, Matthias Steinle). In addition there are contributions from the film-makers themselves: directors (Patricia Bodet, Serge Viallet), producers (Jacques Kirsner) and specialists in researching film archives (Anne Connan, Christine Loiseau). The documentary La Chaconne d’Auschwitz [Bach in Auschwitz], which raises important questions regarding memory and the nature of truth, is analyzed from the viewpoint of the historian and historiographic adviser Sonia Combe and commented by the film’s director (Michel Daëron) and editor (Eva Feigeles).
No. 107 (April-June 2010): L'Aveu [Avowal]
During the course of history, avowal/confession has moved away from the purely legal sphere (and/or Christian ritual) towards other social spheres. It is now manifested or expressed in a variety of circumstances, as shown by the contributors to this dossier, who envisage confession in structural terms. The analysis by linguists, specialists in literature, historians, and computer or media researchers, of literary or other texts, fiction and documentary films or specific events, shows that a confession bears witness to both the relationship which individuals or groups maintain with their past and future, and their relationship with those others for whom the confession is intended. But while some contributors show how a confession tells the truth, others show that it may also be anything but true, or serve to reveal a different truth from what its audience might have expected.
No. 106 (January-March 2010): Faux Témoins [False Witnesses]
The contemporary social sciences are paying increasing attention to work on testimony and witnesses. The other side of the coin is that little attention is paid to false testimony and false witnesses, except by those who expose them. Yet the phenomenon of false witnesses merits being taken seriously. This dossier does just that, by answering a number of questions. The testimony of witnesses is necessary, but what are the social and psychological elements which make it possible for false testimony to be believed for a shorter or longer period? What part do the cultural and media industries play in incidents of false testimony? How should we view the relationship between false testimony, false witnesses and fiction?
No. 105 (October-December 2009): Charlotte Delbo
Why a dossier on Charlotte Delbo?
The major studies on her come from the UK and the US – in France, beyond a narrow circle of admirers and academics, there has been no interest in her or her work, no special issue of a literary review, no collected edition of her writings.
Charlotte Delbo (1913-1986) was a leading intellectual and woman of the theatre. She soon became committed to communism, though without joining the party. Her resistance activities led to her arrest and deportation to Auschwitz in the famous women’s convoy of January 24, 1943, and a subsequent transfer to Ravensbrück. Her works describing her camp experience, which are among the major testimonies on Nazi terror in the concentration camps, were followed by many other texts, mainly written for the stage, which confirm her opposition to all forms of political oppression, from Algeria to the Gulag and from Chile to Greece.
No. 104 (July-September 2009): L'Antifascisme revisité. Histoire – Idéologie – Mémoire [Anti-fascism Revisited: History, Ideology, Remembrance]
On the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disappearance of the GDR, this dossier re-examines anti-fascism as an essential foundation of that “other” Germany, an anti-fascism “by decree” according to some, a “myth” according to others. It seeks to review the concept of anti-fascism, taking into account both historical realities and ideological manipulations. Recent research using archives which are still relatively unexplored gives a more balanced image of anti-fascism in the former GDR, its aspirations, its limits and its memory.
It was important not just to analyze anti-fascism in East Germany, in order to offer some points of comparison. Thus the dossier considers the perception of anti-fascism in Italy and France, the complex history of Slovene resistance in Austria, and the checkered history of an international association such as the FDIF. It combines historical and cultural studies, with analyses of documents on the lives of heroic anti-fascists, exhibitions, monuments or literary works.
No. 103 (April-June 2009): Crimes et génocides nazis à l'écran [Nazi Crimes and Genocides on the Screen]
This dossier responds to the need to take stock of the images which have had such an influence on the media in the second half of the twentieth century, so that the theme of concentration camps in films, photography and art has become a genre in itself. The images which were filmed at the end of the war by the Allied troops as they discovered the Nazi concentration camps had an overwhelming effect on the imagination in following years. Some people even consider them as the foundation of modernity in film. Their influence can be found in documentaries, fiction films, avant-garde cinema and mass-market movies, in all sorts of visual productions from all horizons. The cinema of the last 40 years may even be considered to have inspired the institutionalization of the Shoah rather than accompanying it. How should this insistent pervasiveness be analyzed?
No. 102 (January-March 2009): Criminels politiques en représentation. Arts, cinéma, théâtre, littérature, médias [The Portrayal of Political Criminals in Films and Plays, in Literature and in the Media]
Crime and mass violence have always occupied a prominent place in the arts and literature (martyrdoms, massacres, battlefields), and that tendency continues today. The crimes committed by the Nazis and their accomplices were denounced on stage in the 1960’s (The Investigation by Peter Weiss, The Deputy by Rolf Hochhuth). Besides the Nazis, Franco had his hagiographers like every other despot, and until recently the ambiguity of Phalange leaders could be found portrayed in Spanish novels dealing with the period. Novels about the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide are now being published, and there are films and comic strip albums on the Khmers Rouges. This dossier explores the various appearances of political criminals in literature, films, the theatre and the visual arts in Europe, Africa and Asia. It also examines the way in which they are represented in the media, especially in Argentina and South Africa, and asks: “Can the killers really be considered as witnesses?”
No. 101 (October-December 2008): Quelle pédagogie, pour quelle(s) mémoire(s) ? [How to Educate, How to Remember?]
How can we use our varied and many-voiced experiences to devise new ways of “teaching remembrance”? Education is entrusted with the task of transmitting that special knowledge of extreme violence now known as remembrance, a specific but multi-aspected term, and is therefore regularly called on to satisfy the current expectations of our modern societies. In particular, education must meet the need to respond to the recently emerging desire of certain communities and social groups for a remembrance which expresses their identities.
This dossier examines the teaching of historical complexity in light of the multiplicity of national and community sentiments. It considers the influence of current remembrance, and the place of the Shoah in remembrance. It also examines many methodological aspects of the subject.
No. 100 (July-September 2008): Questions de « bourreaux » [Questions about the “Executioners”]
These days, executioners are more often to be found on the scaffold to be executed than to do their job.
The word “executioner” now refers to all those who, starting with the initial plans and ending with the killings themselves, and including everyone who contributes in between, commit those collective crimes which are a distinguishing feature of our society. The articles in this dossier examine the executioners as myths, in their private lives and their diaries, how they are formed, and the organization they have sought to establish in the places where they were perpetrators. This is a vast subject which is unlikely ever to go out of date: indeed, it is relevant here and now.
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Distribution: Les Belles Lettres
Director: Henri Goldberg
Editor in Chief: Philippe Mesnard
Editorial Secretary: Nathalie Peeters
Daniel Acke (Belgium); Marnix Beyen (Belgium); Sonia Combe (France); Martin S. Ronald Commers (Belgium); Emmanuelle Danblon (Belgium); Sophie Ernst (France); Janos Frühling (Belgium); Carola Hähnel (Germany); Silvain Keuleers (Belgium); Fransiska Louwagie (Belgium); Philippe Mesnard (France); Didier Pollefeyt (Belgium); Lieven Saerens (Belgium); Frediano Sessi (Italy); Régine Waintrater (France); Jacques Walter (France).