About the Conference

(Un)Witnessable: The Holocaust in the East

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Perry World House, 3803 Locust Walk

10 AM – 5 PM Panels

Slought Foundation, 4017 Walnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19104


Anika Walke (Washington University, St. Louis)
“Witnessing and Remembering the Holocaust in Belarus”

“All in all, as many if not more Jews were killed by bullets as by gas, but they were killed by bullets in easterly locations that are blurred in painful remembrance.”
From “Holocaust: The Ignored Reality” by Timothy Snyder

“No fiber of my body will forget this.”
From “Babi Yar” by Yevgeni Yevtushenko

The fields of Holocaust and trauma studies have been dominated by material and testimonial-based evidence. While these forms of witness capture the concentration camp narrative and illuminate aspects of the catastrophe in Western Europe, the East remains underdeveloped in popular knowledge and scholarly discourse.

This is in part due to the contrast between Nazi extermination strategies in the Western and Eastern regions–the programmatic, mechanized, and obsessively documented camp model versus the Holocaust administered by bullets, where the majority of victims were killed by shooting squads, often near their homes and even by people they knew. Beyond the workings of an alienated bureaucratic apparatus or oppressive ideology, the East tells a story of personal contact where every pull of the trigger bore the weight of an individual’s own decision to shoot.

Furthermore, the Holocaust in the East remained untold and even denied as a result of Stalin’s post-war anti-Jewish campaign, which among other official memory politics, rejected the fact that Jews were both targeted by and fought against the Nazis along with other Soviet nationalities. Thus, Jews were neither soldiers, nor martyrs, leaving their story with no place in official Soviet discourse.

This conference seeks to investigate the (un)witnessed and (un)witnessable atrocities in the East–the vast territory of the Soviet Union as well as the eastern regions of Poland. In the absence of concrete records and even material remains, we ask: How can we understand, represent, and analyze the crimes of Nazi persecution in these regions? How do we make sense of Eastern monumentalization and memorial practices or their absence? How do contemporary local political attitudes in the East and globally influence the narrative and cultural production surrounding the past? And how might literature and passed down ancestral narratives help re-imagine this traumatic past haunting archives and history books?

Many thanks to our wonderful co-sponsors at Penn: GAPSA, The Jewish Studies Program, SASgov, Penn Humanities Forum, The Annenberg School of Communications’ Center for Advanced Research in Global Communications, History, Cinema Studies, Art History, South Asian Studies, East Asia Studies, Slavic, German, French, English, Perry World House, Slought Foundation, and The Program in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory for their generous support. This conference would not have been possible without your generous support!



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