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Holocaust Education Week: 3500 Testimonies of Tragedy

Respected scholar Dr. Alain Goldschläger speaks about his vast multilingual Holocaust memoir collection - the third largest in the world - with '3500 Holocaust Memoirs: Voices of the Shoah'

By: Zak Edwards
Published: November 11th, 2013 in News » World
Dr. Alain Goldschläger Pic: Jewish Tribune

Dr. Alain Goldschläger is one of Canada’s most respected Holocaust scholars, serving as chairs on the Canada-Israel Foundation for Academic Exchange and The National Taskforce on Holocaust Education, and having written numerous books and papers on the subject.

Much of his work focuses on Holocaust testimonials and his foundation, the Holocaust Literature Research Institute, now has the second largest Holocaust testimonial collection outside of Israel. It was his findings in collecting these memoirs and artifacts that was the focus of his talk at the Miles Nadal JCC during this year’s Holocaust Education Week in Toronto, presented by the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre.

As a literature scholar, Dr. Goldschläger is very concerned with how these testimonies are written, for whom, and how they engage with the trauma of the Shoah for survivors, their families, and the entire world. As we honour Remembrance Day here in Canada, the term “Lest We Forget” is at the front of all of our minds and how we remember, and listen to those who can offer insight, is part of our duty to history, and our future.

Dr. Goldschläger's lecture, entitled 3500 Holocaust Memoirs: Voices of the Shoah, focuses on the how and why of Holocaust memoirs, emphasizing the different motives and strategies various Shoah writers have used throughout history and why they wrote in certain ways and languages.

The key to understanding much of what testimonies accomplish, according to Dr. Goldschläger , is in recognizing how they differ from autobiography. The testimony usually places the event as its priority, such as Elie Wiesel's 'Night' beginning and ending with the Holocaust and exploring little outside of it.

Autobiographies, by contrast, focus on the subject, the “I” in the story.

Dr. Goldschläger uses these variables to discuss what he recognizes as five different periods of Shoah testimonials as we move further away from the Second World War, and it is here that his extensive knowledge of how Holocaust memoirs are published becomes all the more fascinating.

Initially, he argues, testimonials were primarily diaries that took place during the event; the readers have very little knowledge of what is going on and very little understanding of why or what is happening. After the war, testimonials gradually became more like autobiographies because people’s lives changed and, with that, as did the objectives of these personal stories.

Most interestingly, during his lecture Dr. Goldschläger argued that now, as survivors are slowly dying from old age, the era of the testimonial is effectively over. Now, most survivor stories are told through their children, their grandchildren, or through people unrelated to the events and, in that, these stories are beginning to take cues from other mediums, particularly film.

Today, Dr. Goldschläger's focus remains on the words of those who witnessed the horrors of the Shoah directly and, with that as a priority, he remains one of the leading experts on looking at ways we can discuss the Shoah with the next generations.

With Remembrance Day being today, as we honour and remember those who served their countries for us, this is a pressing question for many of us looking to the future as we remember the past.

Related articles: Holocaust Education Week, Miles Nadal, Shoah, Holocaust, Memoirs, Dr. Alain Goldschlager, Canada-Israel Foundation, JCC, Remembrance Day
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