Remembering the stories of the Holocaust

The fall of the Nazi regime left many societal questions to be answered. Who was to be deemed a perpetrator? a survivor? How would this be determined? Was society at large ready to self reflect and address the horrors committed?

Werner Sollors article Everybody gets Fragebogened Sooner or Later: The Denazification Questionnaire as Cultural Text, outlines one of the ways that were chosen to attempt to identify those that had supported the Nazi regime. One of the questions required German employment seekers to identify who they had voted for in elections prior to the war. Similarly the “Medelbogen” questionnaire asked for a self classification into one of 5 categories of offenders (major, offender, lesser offender, follower, or persons exonerated). These were just a part of the efforts of identifying perpetrators that were not as prominent as those being tried at the Nuremburg Trials. I question the successfulness of some of these methods, as for example self identification could allow perpetrators to lie or mislead their roles, something that was researched by Mary Fulbrook.

Fulbrook attempts to answer some of these questions by looking at how perpetrators dealt with the actions they had taken under the Nazi regime. Through her research she identified that perpetrators in most cases would use the strategy of self distancing by arguing ignorance or innocence in the crimes committed during the war. Further, this type of self distancing was bot only used by the nazi perpetrators, but those victims who were placed within Primo Levi’s “Gray Zone”. The Gray Zone is a moral zone where victims committed crimes themselves out of self preservation, this was the case of the Jewish Kapos or Sonderkommandos.

This was only half of the story; how would society react to the stories of the victims? Would the victims be able to speak about the horrors of the Holocaust? Fulbrook shows that victims immediately after the war tended to share their experiences amongst themselves. However, overtime this changed for a variety of reasons, but the most important was “not so much a matter of survivors “finding a voice” as of the emergence of audiences willing to listen”. One interesting point Fulbrook raises is the importance of technology in capturing these stories. She argues that technology such as VHS and Betamax meant that “No longer were there just a handful of published, literary representations, penned by a few well-known names; now hundreds of thousands of ordinary people were able to “tell their story”. I was left wondering how things would have gone if it were not for technology that allowed for these stories to be captured and more importantly widely accessible? Would people have been able to reach such a large audience with their stories? History up until this point had always been recorded by historians and therefore required to some extent a barrier to entry for the public, i.e. they had to be interested and have access to the texts. Whereas the ability of historians and groups to record the stories of survivors and distribute to anyone that had a tv meant that the barrier for entry was vastly reduced.

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