Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Memory and the Shoah. To talk or remain silent? From silence to the era of witness.

The Shoah and the accounts of it are sources of embarassment for a young Israeli society. The European Jews are the symbol of a people resigned to their fate, led like lambs to the slaughter, unable to fight for an ideal, crippled by the exile’s mentality, a people in which Israel doesn’t want to recognise itself. While for the refugees arriving from Europe (in 1950 1 Israeli in 3 was a survivor) the need to recount was a moral and historical duty, a debt to the &ldquodrowned”, a way to divide an untenable burden, Israel had no wish to listen to them. It’s enough to take the example of Yad Vashem, the mausoleam in honour of the victims of the Genocide, planned since 1942, it was finally realized only in 1953.

The trial of Adolf Eichmann, held in Jerusalem in April 1961, signals a turning point and a crucial event for the emergence of the memory of the Shoah. With this trial, which was given the primary task of teaching a lesson in History, the memory of genocide becomes a founding element in the Jewish identity, and claims its rightful attention long denied. Israel itself turns a page, and makes the Shoah one of the founding stories of the Nation.

Hauser, representing the prosecution, based his case on the evidence of witnesses, as opposed to that which had occurred in Nuremberg, where the written always trumped the oral. For the first time, the survivors had the feeling that they were really being listened to. As shown by Annette Wieviorka, the Eichmann trial started what has become known as the “Era of the witness”. This trial freed the words of the witnesses creating a social demand for testimony. The survivor now gets a social identity precisely as a surivor, which has a value outside the small circle of people who have lived the same experience, and that is recognised by the entire society

Very simply, the passage of time, and the change of context, both socially and politically, brought about a growing sensitivity, and a growing interest in the Jewish world and its tragedy. At the end of the seventies, the TV series Holocaust (watched in America alone by 120 million people) sparked a wave of emotion and lively debate, which provided a new impulse: its screening in fact, as had happened already in the Eichmann trial, provoked a burning need to recount. The survivor now is a respectable figure and is respected exactly because of his experience, and the account of this experience is considered an inheritance from which everyone can benefit.

The publishing houses create in their catalogues specific collections in which they publish the testimony of survivors, testimony that now are told finally in a systematic manner, and videotaped. The first “Film project on the Survivors of the Holocaust” is born, known now as the Fortunoff Video Archives for Holocaust taken on in 1982 by the prestigious Yale university, and which by 1995 comprised 3600 testimonies, equivalent to circa 10,000 hours of interviews.

Along with this, amongst others, is the Survivors of Shoah Visual History Foundation founded by Steven Spielberg in 1994. During the shooting of Schindler’s List Spielberg became convinced that &ldquoThere’s a need to preserve History as it happened, and that it’s put across by those who have lived through it and managed to survive; it’s fundamental to see their faces, to hear their voices, and to understand that those who suffered the Shoah are normal people, like you and I”. With respect to the Fortunoff Archive, the intent of the Spielberg Foundation is not only that of allowing the witness to speak, and be heard. At the centre of Spielberg’s project there is the concept of passing on the memory from one generation to the other.

In April of 1998, the testimonies collected worldwide, in (circa) 30 different languages, were 42,274, of which though only 1600 have been catalogued to date.

A further change in the last couple of years has also been the push for those racially persecuted to talk, and to recount their experiences in particular to the young. It’s no longer solely an inner need or a moral duty, though that continues to exist, but also a social imperative. An imperative that every day becomes stronger, influenced by the inexorable passing of time, and the birth and the assertion of a Revisionist movement, if not even a Denial movement, and from a growing willingness to listen that today has resulted in a real and true explosion of testimony.

The HolocaustShoah page

Survivors of the Shoah Visual history foundation


Fortunoff video archive for holocaust testimonies

Primo Levi page – scriptorium

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