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Call for Papers: The Future of Holocaust Testimonies

Call for Papers for an edited book on

The Future of Holocaust Testimonies: 
Preserving, Researching, and Re-Presenting Survivor’s Voices

Edited by 
Boaz Cohen (Western Galilee College),
Wolf Gruner (University of Southern California),
Miriam Offer (Western Galilee College),
and Thomas Pegelow Kaplan (Arizona State University)
 

Survivors and their testimonies have been central to Holocaust research and memorial culture. Even before the end of the Shoah, survivor historians in parts of Eastern Europe liberated from Nazi occupation collected testimonies and conducted interviews with fellow survivors. These practices constituted an integral part in rebuilding lives, coping with trauma, and shaping collective memories (Laura Jockusch). The 1960s trials of Nazi perpetrators, which were increasingly driven by Holocaust survivor-witnesses, laid the groundwork for the transformation of survivors into “survivors” in courtrooms from Jerusalem to Frankfurt/Main (Carolyn J. Dean). By the late 1970s and early 1980s, the beginning “era of the witness” (Annette Wieviorka), survivors and their testimonies were subject to further changes in increasingly transnational Holocaust memory cultures. Accompanying the rise of Holocaust Studies in North America and parts of Europe, survivors assumed often prominent positions in public discourse, frequently spoke in communities, schools, and universities, and—imbued with moral authority—conveyed a range of lessons about past and future genocides. During the 1990s, audio-visual projects, most noteworthy by the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation (now USC Shoah Foundation), recorded Holocaust survivor voices around the globe in unprecedented numbers, further elevating their standing and significance. At the same time, international Holocaust scholarship shifted from a preoccupation with perpetrator records to the voices and agency of persecuted Jewish populations that had already been at the center of the work of many Israeli scholars for decades. 

At the end of the twenty-first century’s second decade, most adult survivors of the Holocaust are no longer with us and more and more child survivors – brought into sharp focus by the recent death of prominent survivor-activists like Eva Kor – are passing away. In the U.S. today, the number of survivors has shrunk by about half to under 70,000 in the span of the last decade. In Israel, the survivor population had fallen to less than 150,000 by 2015. Estimates for 2025 put this figure closer to 45,000. In response, various organizations have stepped up their efforts to record accounts from remaining survivors. The USC Shoah Foundation has introduced its “New Dimensions in Testimony” project that records three-dimensional, interactive testimonies of Holocaust survivors, which it is making available at museums throughout the United States. 

With fewer and fewer survivors remaining among us, educators and researchers need to reconsider how and in what forms Holocaust scholarship and the memory of the Holocaust will continue. The main focus will certainly be the legacy that survivors leave behind in the forms of written, audio, and video testimonies. Holocaust testimonies have been studied in a myriad of ways. Many scholars have analyzed the devastating impact of the genocide on the survivors. They have focused on a range of factors from trauma to identity formation. Others have examined the transmission of survivor testimony to their children and grandchildren, who have their own stories to tell and are profoundly shaped by what some have conceptualized as “postmemory” (Marianne Hirsch). A different body of scholarship has shed light on survivors and their testimony in the broader societal contexts of Holocaust consciousness and memory. Still others, especially some cohorts of historians, have shifted the focus back to what these testimonies reveal about the actual events of the Shoah. A number of historians have proposed to take these sources at face value and dismissed approaching them with “cautious skepticism” (Jan Gross). Still others have compared larger bodies of testimonies, constructed “collected” and “core” memories (Christopher R. Browning), and used them as the main sources for monograph-length studies of the Shoah.

This edited volume sets out to reevaluate the study and role of Holocaust testimonies in the twenty-first century. The prospect of a world without Holocaust survivors poses profound challenges, precisely because their testimony has become so central to Holocaust memory, education, and research since the 1980s. Scholarly work on survivor testimony is done today in many academic disciplines. The rich and varied corpus of testimonies requires the collaborative efforts of researchers across disciplines to enable us to hear the voices of survivors articulated through their testimonies. This volume takes stock of the extensive work that has been accomplished, discusses the challenges, and explores new ways of preserving, analyzing, and re-presenting Holocaust survivor testimonies at this critical time.

In light of these objectives, we are welcoming contributions by scholars from a wide variety of disciplines, ranging from history and literary analysis to linguistics and genocide studies as well as from psychology and neuroscience to anthropology and memory studies. The editors encourage a broad variety of approaches from empirically oriented case studies to theoretical and methodological reflections. We also invite comparative work, contrasting testimony by Holocaust survivors with survivors of other genocides, and cross- and transnational studies. Lastly, we only accept work that has not already been published elsewhere.

The essays should address some of the following questions without being limited by them:

What are the meanings and conceptualizations of “Holocaust testimony”?

What are the key methodological and theoretical approaches in the study of Holocaust testimonies? What are these approaches’ accomplishments and shortcomings and how can we sharpen our readings of these invaluable sources?

How should Holocaust testimonies be classified and categorized? 

What role do gender, occupation, age, place, and/or time play?

What are the insights and challenges of analyzing multiple testimonies given by the same survivors at different times after 1945? 

How does video testimony differ from other forms of testimony (written, audio and the like)? What specific approaches does the study of these testimonies require? 

How do the changing contexts (oral history, courtroom testimony, public presentation, conversation among survivors and the like) in which testimonies are given impact their form and outcome?

How have Holocaust testimonies shaped the construction of history and memory cultures? To what extent did the increasing significance of testimonies and their collection since the 1990s reflect a crisis in confidence in academic history and the work of professional historians and scholars of related disciplines? How do testimonies affect and/or change historical understanding and memorialization?

What insights do early Holocaust testimonies (of the 1940s and 1950s) convey? How do they differ from later testimonies (since the 1980s)? Is there a need for re-reading and re-interpretation and what forms would it take?

What are the challenges of a time in the not too distant future, when there will be no more Holocaust survivors to give testimony?

What is the role of second- and third-generation Holocaust testimony? What are the prospects and limits of concepts such as postmemory? What can we learn from studies of intergenerational transmission of trauma and resilience?

What are the prospects and limitations in the use of three-dimensional, interactive testimonies of Holocaust survivors such as the USC Shoah Foundation’s “New Dimensions in Testimony” project for Holocaust education, memory, and research?

What strategies have Holocaust deniers employed to undermine Holocaust testimonies? What is the role of survivor-witnesses and their testimonies in combatting Holocaust denial?

Please submit an abstract of up to 400 words (including title) and a 100-word bio to Boaz Cohen (BoazC@wgalil.ac.il), Wolf Gruner (gruner@dornsife.usc.edu), Miriam Offer (miriamoffer@gmail.com), and Thomas Pegelow Kaplan (thomaspegelowkaplan@appstate.edu) by January 1, 2020.