Chain of Testimony: The Holocaust Researcher as Surrogate Witness

Karpf, Anne (2013) Chain of Testimony: The Holocaust Researcher as Surrogate Witness. In: Representing Auscwitz: At the Margins of Testimony. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, Hampshire, pp. 85-103. ISBN 978-1-137-29768-6


Despite extensive critical debate, a positivist view of historical research which aspires to a dispassionate engagement with sources is still rife. Yet certain types of traumatic material, such as survivors' testimony and the Scrolls of Auschwitz, evoke powerful emotions and can stimulate in the researcher various kinds of phantasy. Is there some way that we can address these issues without ‘psychologising’ the Holocaust and Holocaust research? Can we simultaneously respect the historical material, the memory of the victims and the often unruly feelings that Holocaust research can excite? Can rigorous analysis sit comfortably alongside a more psycho-dynamically reflexive stance, and might the process of research be enriched by it?

This paper discusses these issues through the concept of a ‘chain of testimony’ into which the researcher is inserted, thereby becoming in some sense a surrogate witness. It reflects upon the psycho-social dimensions of my own work and that of other children of Holocaust survivors, as well as other researchers in the field, including those examining the Scrolls of Auschwitz.

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