“I am Just Like You”: Perpetrators and Bystanders in Holocaust Literature and Film
Papers are invited for a proposed panel at the 2013 ALA Conference in Boston (May 23-26, 2013).
In the years immediately following the Second World War, the international media were almost instantly fascinated by those responsible for the unprecedented crimes against humanity – think, for example, of the news reports on the Nuremberg trials and, especially, the media storm following in the wake of Hannah Arendt’s controversial "Eichmann in Jerusalem" (1963), a book that shed a radically different light on the minds of the perpetrators. Historians such as Raul Hilberg ("The Destruction of the European Jews," 1961), Christopher Browning ("Ordinary Men," 1992), and Daniel Goldhagen ("Hitler’s Willing Executioners," 1996) remained interested in the figures of the perpetrator and the bystander. Novelists and filmmakers, by contrast, were remarkably slow in embracing the theme of the Holocaust, and even when novels and movies became part of what is derogatorily called the "Shoah business" in the 1980s, they addressed mostly the plight of the Jewish victims, focalized through the victims’ minds. Much of this ethical reticence – a refusal or inability to enter the perpetrator’s mind – may have been inspired by Claude Lanzmann’s famous strictures against “the obscenity of understanding” the Shoah. Since the early 1990s, however, novelists and filmmakers boldly dare to approach the Holocaust from the other side. Some of the most notable examples of representations of perpetrators, bystanders, and those who were forced into what Primo Levi called “the gray zone” – representations that invite an empathic response from the reader or viewer – are Martin Amis’ "Time’s Arrow: or The Nature of the Offence" (1991), Bernhardt Schlink’s "Der Vorleser" (1995; "The Reader"), Rachel Seiffert’s "The Dark Room" (2001), Tim Blake Nelson’s "The Grey Zone" (2001), Jonathan Safran Foer’s "Everything is Illuminated" (2002), and Jonathan Littell’s "Les Bienviellantes" (2006; "The Kindly Ones," 2009). This panel seeks to investigate the ideological and ethical ramifications of the specific ways in which authors and filmmakers represent Holocaust perpetrators, bystanders, and victim-perpetrators.
Please send an abstract of 250 to 300 words, together with a brief CV, to Philippe.Codde@ugent.be by January 14, 2013. Make sure to mention all necessary contact information, as well as any need for audio-visual equipment. Papers should be approximately 20 minutes.
Philippe Codde, PhD
Literature Dpt. - English Studies
B - 9000 Ghent
Belgium Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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