Chain of Testimony: The Holocaust Researcher as Surrogate Witness [chapter]

Anne Karpf
2013 Representing Auschwitz  
Affect and Research On first learning that the Scrolls of Auschwitz, the testimony of the Sonderkommando found buried near the crematoria at Birkenau in the extermination camp itself, were to be analysed as literary documents, my reaction was an involuntary but resounding 'no'. Here, in its own way, was surely 'the surfeit of memory' that Charles Maier (1993) had talked about. Not only did it seem almost impossible to view the Scrolls as texts when their very materiality was so charged, but I
more » ... so charged, but I also could not help but wonder how Nicholas Chare and Dominic Williams could mobilise their cognitive skills without also letting loose a school of other, less welcome, sensibilities. The Scrolls, I found myself initially thinking, belonged more in a reliquary than academic seminar. In the event (2010), Chare and Williams's meticulous scholarship and deep sensitivity rendered such misgivings redundant, and I dismissed my own first instincts as those of someone, a child of survivors, with a heightened engagement with testimony. Yet as I began to reflect more on the question, it seemed to me that such instinctual responses should not immediately be evicted but were themselves material that merited analysis because they touch on powerful ideas about how Holocaust research can and should be conducted, and speak of the existence of an underworld of unruly feelings that, by being exposed to the light of scrutiny and discussion, can help deepen and enrich Holocaust scholarship. Debates about the role of affect in researching and writing about the Holocaust are not new: it is almost 15 years since Dominick LaCapra talked of the need 'to examine one's implication in the problems one studiesissues that are pronounced with respect to extremely traumatic phenomena in which one's investment is
doi:10.1057/9781137297693_5 fatcat:aksmfqd3xrbd5iwpcp3nd3yz3u