AMS 391 • Holocaust Memory
12:30 PM-2:00 PM
What does having a memory of the Holocaust mean for those who were born (long) after the events took place? What does a cultural memory or a postmemory of the Holocaust look like? Do those with a familial connection to the Holocaust have a different or more authentic memory than second-hand-witnesses, or vicarious witnesses? Does the memory or postmemory of the Holocaust differ from nation to nation, or does it have some universal traits? How does trauma or its trans-generational transmission affect this memory? Do women and men have different or similar memories of the Holocaust? In this course we explore cultural, literary, and historical concepts of memory as they have developed over the past twenty years within the fields of Holocaust studies, psychology, history and literary studies, with as our specific case studies literature written by second generation authors, adult children of Holocaust survivors (and some authors who are not properly speaking second generation but convey a form of (delayed) memory of the Holocaust in their work nevertheless) within three very different national contexts: The U.S., Germany, and the Netherlands. That is, in nations that were, respectively bystanders, perpetrators, or victims during WW II. But these distinctions, too, prove far too facile, and the reality of life after the Holocaust for Jews in these different nations is far more complex than their wartime roles hint at. This course thus examines the literature produced by children of survivors in the U.S, Germany, and the Netherlands while situating this culture both in a historical context (how, when and where did the second generation and their literature emerge) and in a comparative cultural context. For whereas a number of recent studies have explored American and Israeli literature and art by children of survivors (Efraim Sicher's Breaking Crystal, Alan L. Berger's Children of Job, Marianne Hirsch's Family Frames), neither looks systematically at this second generation culture in a comparative perspective, taking into account a similar cultural production that has emerged in Western Europe. What can be argued in light of such a comparative study is both a striking resemblance between the different second generation literatures (some themes and narrative strategies overlap), and revealing differences. These similarities and differences can in turn be understood better through the use of notions of postmemory, cultural memory and secondary witnessing. We will critically consider these theoretical approaches and figure out how well they work in both the U.S. and European context and investigate how the transmission of Holocaust trauma may be equally affected by individual experiences and by nation/political context.
Sample texts read in full or excerpts (in translation or in original, depending on students background) (subject to change): Alain Finkielkraut Le Juif Imaginaire (1980) (The Imaginary Jew) David Grossman See: Under Love (excerpt) Helen Epstein Children of the Holocaust (1979) Art Spiegelman Maus: A Survivor's Tale (1986-1991) Thane Rosenbaum Elijah Visible (1996) Cheryl Sucher The Rescue of Memory (1997) Jonathan Safran Foer Everything is Illuminated (2002) Henryk M. Broder et al., eds. Fremd im eigenen Land: Juden in der Bundesrepublik (1979) Maxim Biller Wenn ich einmal reich und tot bin (1990) Helene Weijel In twee werelden (1985) Carl Friedman Tralievader (1991) (Nightfather)