DANIEL R. SCHWARTZ: Most of our texts within our Memoirs section begin in a pedestrian world of apparent normalcy, within a seemingly stable culture. What follows is usually a progressive narrative of disruption and deterioration, an unweaving of the strands of individual and cultural constructions, until Jews are faced with unspeakable horrors of hunger, starvation, deportation, disease, crematoriums, and death marches. In Wiesel's case, the very emphasis on graphic details has the fabric of a dreamscape.
It is as if imagining the Holocaust requires metaphors and parables. Of course, different writers choose different approaches. Night and Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi are memoirs. But they exist on the borderland between fact and fiction.
In each, the artist shapes his vision into a coherent form, highlighting some episodes that have value in terms of his structure, while discarding or giving minimal attention to others. Perhaps all Holocaust fiction is disguised autobiography. The personal is rarely far from Holocaust texts, whether they purport to be autobiographical or not.
Whether an autobiography or fiction, surviving children-- Kosinski, Wiesel, Appelfeld-- tell stories in which they struggle with trauma and try to rescue themselves from history. If not biologically, in language reaching back and reconnecting with the word, they strive to re-establish a lineage, a paternity to which the self has a link and to try to wrench themselves from history, even while acknowledging that history. Wiesel is 12 in 1941. And his is the story of adolescence.
Appelfeld was born in 1932. And as a young boy, after his mother was killed, escaped from a labor camp. Kosinski, we now know, invented himself, and in a much less flagrant way. Appelfeld recreated himself as an Israeli novelist.
Schwarz-Bart is a survivor, but chooses a mythic approach to give shape and order to the history he has lived through. He imagines the end of a centuries-old family line, even as we hear his voice establishing another one. A generation younger, born in 1948, Spiegelman discovers a new genre uniting cartoons with documentary, as he seeks to overcome mental illness and alienation to discover himself.
The point I am making is that all of our novels have an ingredient of memoir. What the aforementioned writers are implicitly arguing is that to know ourselves we have to write ourselves, make a record. All are narratives, more or less, stories about personal and historic memory.
And Spiegelman's cartoons are no different. He treasures the notes and tapes he makes in interviews with his father. Because by telling the story of his father, he tells his own story and thus, better understands himself. His artist narrator's greatest rage is at his father for destroying his mother's wartime memoirs.
In this section I wish to discuss, in detail, two moving memoirs, Wiesel's Night, Levi's Survival in Auschwitz, and a diary that has survived, The Diary of Anne Frank. Let us think, for a moment, about the difference between memoirs and diaries. Diaries ask the reader to complete the story, to provide historical nexus, to provide a bridge between entries.
Yet the reader must resist putting into plot where there isn't one. Just as in civil war and other prisoner-of-war diaries, we see in Anne Frank's diary complaints of selfishness, petty thievery, ill manners, rudeness and spite. By contrast, memoirs depend on a different kind of memory.
The intervening years of experience and the psychological damage blocking, dulling, or distorting events, play a role in shaping narratives. Memoirs are a mixture of autobiography and history. Memoirists are concerned with how they will be remembered and how to present themselves in a favorable light. But diarists write for the moment.
Of course, that we have Anne's rewritten diary gives it an aspect of memoir. In Anne's writing to the moment we see a dialogue between hope and fear, between self immersion and historical awareness, between adolescent naivety and insightful understanding of human behavior, and between specific Jewish consciousness and more universal human responses.
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In this room we shall examine the relationship among memory, imagination, and telling of the Holocaust in specific examples of memoirs, diaries, novels, fables, and cartoons. Not only will we discuss the powerful narratives of witnesses such as Elie Wiesel and Anne Frank, but also important novels, fables and cartoons about the Holocaust. Our goal is to understand the diverse ways the Holocaust has been rendered and how those ways of telling have shaped our understanding of the events of the 1933-45 period in Europe.
This video is part 3 of 11 in the Imagining the Holocaust series.