Seminar on the Concentration Camp Literature in the
Jewish Museum of Greece
"The fact that only I knew and still know the moral truth of the blows, still resounding inside my head, makes me much more competent as a judge, in comparison not only with the offender but also with the society, that only cares for its survival "
- Jan Amery-
Beyond guilt and atonement
The Jewish Museum of Greece was very honored to host at its Library the Seminar by historian Ms. Odette Varon- Vassard, during the period February - May 2011. For the Jewish Museum of Greece, the implementation of a thematic seminar on the literature "born" through the concentration camps, responsible for the murder of millions of our fellow human beings, has a dual significance and importance. First, the seminar manages an extremely difficult issue, that of "memory", which is directly connected with the JMG annual seminar for educators entitled "Teaching about the Holocaust in Greece" which takes place at the Museum. It also introduces into the Greek research field of study of World War II and the Holocaust, a - largely - unknown topic, that of the study of literary texts, dealing mainly with the experience of the camps, as a complementary tool of historiography.
The Con. Camp literature consists of texts relevant to the reality of the camps. Their peculiarity lies in the fact that their authors share a common experience: that of deportation to the camp. Based on this common experience, Ms. Varon - Vassard, discussed the works of authors who have been through deportation, either as Jews or as political prisoners in Buchenwald. The majority of these texts consist of the testimonies of men and women, who, usually after the fact, succeeded to write about this unimaginable experience. However, few works are considered a true part of the concentration camp literature. Their authors approach the conversion of the traumatic experience into writingin a different way. As expressed by Ms.Varon-Vassard: "The experience of deportation made them writers. Had they not been deported, we do not know if they would have written anything and what that would be. What we do know is that this essential inner demand to write about this experience was the core of a great work”.
In this category belong the works of the four authors,which were discussed in detail at the seminar, namely those of Primo Levi, Jean Amery, Jorge Sembrun and Robert Adelm. These are major works of con. camp literature, relevant to the Nazi camps of World War II and particularly with regard to the works of Levi and Amery, of the Jewish remembrance. As Ms. Varon - Vassard noted, the goal was to examine their works comparatively, in a connective way, finding similarities and differences not only in the texts but also among the writers, who have been the subject of discussion worldwide.
After a first approach to terminology and conceptual definitions of substantive content of the concentration camps’ literature, the presentation focused on the work of the four authors. In the first stage, the works of Levi and Amery were examined comparatively, while the issues of "trauma" and the memory of the deportation of Jews were supplemented by acompilation of literary quotations,related to the seminar’s subject.
In the second thematic unit of the seminar, the director introduced the participants to the work of Jorge Sembrun, making a stylistic, conceptual and particularly literary comparison with the works of PrimoLevi. The discussion was based on questions and queries about the memory process of the deportation to the camps,as a personal experience for the authors and the core of a large autobiographical and literary work.
The seminar meetings were enhanced by the presence of the director’s special guests, of various scientific fields, such as Mr. Gerasimos Stephanatos, Psychiatrist-Psychoanalyst, that elaborated on the work of Robert Adelm, Ms. Vicky Iakovou, who, prompted by Klemperer’s work, introduced us to the language of the Third Reich,but also the translators of the works of the writers Mr. John Kallifatidis (Jean Amery), Mrs. Hara Sarlikioti (Primo Levi) and Ms. Melina Panagiotidou (Jorge Semprun).
Finally the participants, a teamof 25 people from multi - disciplinary backgrounds (researchers, teachers, historians, doctoral candidates, postgraduate students) with their dynamic presence and structured contribution contributed to a fruitful and vivid scientific discourse.
The next seminar has been scheduled for January - May 2012.
Archaeologist PhD Cand. in Ancient Jewish History and Epigraphy
(Aristotle University of Thessaloniki),
Head of the digitization program Judaica Europeana for the JMG
Odette Varon-Vassard is a historian. She has published the book,“A GENERATION MATURES - Young men and women in the Occupation and the Resistance” (Estia publications, Athens 2009) and her next book “ The emergence of a difficult memory. Texts for the Genocide of the Jews, is a forthcoming publication. She is now working on a book on Concentration Camps Literature. She has been teaching History at the Greek Open University since 2001.