Feb 15 Reading Response

Posted: February 13, 2012 by aresjoseph in Feb 15

In this week’s article, Marianne Hirsch and Leo Spitzer focus on testimonial objects from Terezin and Vapniarka concentration camps. The authors state that testimonial objects are “points of memory, points of interaction between the past and the present, memory and postmemory, personal and cultural recollections” (Hirsch and Spitzer 353). The article’s main objective is to reconstruct discourses on gender in holocaust pedagogies. They examine two testimonial objects from different European concentration camps. Hirsch and Spitzer believe that testimonial objects have historical and cultural codes that are marked by gender (359). The first object was created by Mina Pachter and her female neighbors in Terezin concentration camp. Twenty five years later, Pachter’s daughter in the United States, obtains a collection of German recipes from her mother. The second object was prepared by Arthur Kessler in Vapniarka concentration camp. His son David Kessler obtains the memorabilia upon his father’s death.

Hirsch and Spitzer reference Roland Barthes’s discourse which illustrates that images, memorabilia, and other objects from the past have “points of memories” that traverse time and space (358). The authors articulate their argumentation in a very logical way by using personal ethnographies from the Jewish diaspora. Hirsch and Spitzer state that there is a lot of anxiety in diasporic communities concerning the role of gender as an analytic category when discussing the holocaust. However, the transmission of memory from an object as it moves from mother to daughter, or father to son is marked by gender and other factors (Hirsch and Spitzer 359). Last week in class we discussed an object’s agency. Can a testimonial object from the holocaust “speak for itself” without human interpreters?

Daphne Berdahl’s article differs from Hirsch’s and Spitzer’s discourse. Berdahl aims to distinguish the differences between “mere nostalgia and the social sanctioned commemoration practices” in Germany (Berdahl 193). She is very critical of “western German hegemony” and the way it produces artificial nostalgia when manufacturing and merchandising East German things (Berdahl 193). I think that her argumentation is very ambitious. She compressed information that was collected in her ethnographic fieldwork about East German identity and cultural values. The only connection I found between Berdahl’s, Hirsch’s and Spitzer’s article is the way they explore an object’s value in diaspora by examining the cultural/historical codes that are attached to the object from past to present. I wish Berdahl explored the social life of East German things by distinguishing their connect to “mere nostalgia” and “ostalgic practices” (207). How does “ostalgic practices” differ from “mere nostalgia” in modern German societies and holocaust studies?”

  1. tupakkat says:

    Hey Areselle,

    I loved the way Berdahl explained the experience of the German re-unification from the point of view of the East Germans. Considering that the usual discourse is dominated by the West, this article gave a deep insight into a different, equally -or even more- valid view.

    Berdahl makes the very important point of how dismissing the described practices as “mere” nostalgia have to be seen in the wider context of power relations between East and West Germans (p.204) and “struggles over the control and appropriation of historical knowledge” (p.205). The East has been submerged by the Tsunami of re-unification without a chance of contributing their own part. Everything was taken away, replaced, renamed, restructured. Against this background, I agree with the author’s note that belittling of Ostalgie can be seen as part of larger hegemonic project (p. 205). Particularly the killer argument of “neglecting mastering of the past” epitomizes the moralizing and know-it-all attitude of West towards East Germans. Maintaining their own power over definitions and meanings is therefore crucial for maintaining some part of “self”.

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