Ecologies of Witnessing


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Language, Place, and Holocaust Testimony

Hannah Pollin-Galay

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An innovative reassessment of Holocaust testimony, revealing the dramatic ways in which the languages and places of postwar life inform survivor memory

This groundbreaking work rethinks conventional wisdom about Holocaust testimony, focusing on the power of language and place to shape personal narrative. Oral histories of Lithuanian Jews serve as the textual base for this exploration. Comparing the remembrances of Holocaust victims who remained in Lithuania with those who resettled in Israel and North America after World War II, Pollin-Galay reveals meaningful differences based on where survivors chose to live out their postwar lives and whether their language of testimony was Yiddish, English, or Hebrew. The differences between their testimonies relate to notions of love, justice, community—and how the Holocaust did violence to these aspects of the self. More than an original presentation of yet-unheard stories, this book challenges the assumption of a universal vocabulary for describing and healing human pain.

Hannah Pollin-Galay is senior lecturer in the Department of Literature at Tel Aviv University, where she teaches on Yiddish, oral narrative, and memory.

“Hannah Pollin-Galay’s Ecologies of Witnessing is revelatory. In its humane, crystal-clear prose, this profound study of Holocaust testimony throws into sharp relief the fundamental, interlacing “ecology” of survivors’ testimony, taking into account the ways it is shaped by its physical, geographic places, its various languages, and even the haptic experiences of witnesses and their listeners—and how all are shaped in light of each other. Brilliantly conceived and luminously executed, it is destined to be a landmark study, the standard work of Pollin-Galay’s generation.”—James Young, author of The Texture of Memory

“This is one of the most self-assured and accomplished pieces of research by a younger scholar that I have ever read. Hannah Pollin-Galay has framed a study that is exemplary in its methods and rich in its interpretive insights. This is a path-breaking work of crucial scholarship.”—Alan Mintz, Jewish Theological Seminary

“Ecologies of Witnessing shows Pollin-Galay to be a first-rate scholar, startling thinker, and muscular writer. Her study stretches across three continents, analyzing the oral histories of Lithuanian Holocaust survivors living in North America, Israel, and Lithuania. She draws upon relevant secondary scholarship in many disciplines: history, anthropology, sociology, literary studies, women’s studies, philosophy, and geography. Pollin-Galay stretches her arms around all of that and, with remarkable deftness, presents an utterly innovative, tightly argued, persuasive analysis.”—Debórah Dwork, Clark University

“Landmark status.”—R. Shapiro, Choice
ISBN: 9780300226041
Publication Date: July 31, 2018
352 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
7 b/w illus.