• 'The Other Side of a Slap in the Face': Judgement and the Ambiguities of Violence in Holocaust Testimony

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    'The Other Side of a Slap in the Face': Judgement and the Ambiguities of Violence in Holocaust Testimony

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Abstract

The Holocaust and the Nazi regime that perpetrated it have long been characterised as paradigmatic frameworks through which to view the subject of (genocidal) violence. Such violence took various forms, from systematic physical harm against the body (individual and en masse) to emotional and psychological trauma through an intentional policy of dehumanisation. However, the fraught issue of the violence of victims toward other victims – which often took place as a result of the racialised hierarchies created by the perpetrators and the various positions of ‘privilege’ allocated to certain prisoners – has attracted minimal critical attention. Drawing on Primo Levi’s concept of the ‘grey zone’, we examine the situations of Jewish prisoners who held such positions, invariably under extreme coercion from Nazi overseers, which raise questions of moral ambiguity, ‘compromise’, and agency in their violence. We take as case studies the testimonies of two Jewish victims who held positions of ‘privilege’ in the Otwock Ghetto and Auschwitz respectively: Calel Perechodnik and Paul Steinberg. Examining their strategies for representing (their own and others’) violence, and the implicit and explicit judgements passed on this behaviour, we argue that engaging with the fundamental problems of judgement and representation in an ethical manner allows for a deeper understanding of violence in the Holocaust. This introduces another potential kind of violence: the violence of representation.

How to Cite: Brown, A & Waterhouse-Watson, D . (2014) “'The Other Side of a Slap in the Face': Judgement and the Ambiguities of Violence in Holocaust Testimony”, Dandelion: Postgraduate Arts Journal and Research Network. 5(1). doi: 10.16995/ddl.312

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Published on
30 May 2014
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