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  • 11

    The Thrusts of Ghost-Writing Eastern European Survivors’ Memories of the Holocaust in Post-Cold War Western Societies. On Sara Tuvel Bernstein’s "The Seamstress" and Leah Kaufman’s "Live! Remember! Tell the World!"

    Advanced seminar arranged by the Centre for Baltic and East European Studies (CBEES), Södertörn University.

    Speaker: Dana Mihăilescu, University of Bucharest (Romania).

    Discussant: Liz Kella, Södertörn University.

    Chair: Tora Lane, Södertörn University.

    Memory studies scholars have lately underscored the need to disentangle the study of cultural memory practices from a Western paradigm dominating the field until the 2010s, especially broadening the scope of their theoretical and practical analyses to (post)colonial, African or South American perspectives and contexts. The last decade has also been characterized by an increased scholarly interest vested in the specifics of Eastern European memory practices of World War II (and beyond) that had previously been lumped together under the category of Western approaches usually drawing inspiration from U.S. perspectives.

    My paper continues in the direction of the most recent studies considering Eastern European texts alongside the entanglements with practices from other locations with which they have criss-crossed over time, especially following Susannah Radstone’s emphasis on the importance of “the location of the researcher and the locatedness of instances of transmission” and of the fact that “even when (and if) memory travels, it is only ever instantiated locally, in a specific place and at a particular time,” elements which need to be incorporated in memory studies scholarship (Radstone 2011, 117, italics in the original).

    I will analyze two narratives of Romanian Jewish Holocaust survivors that were ghost-written by Western professional authors: Sara Tuvel Bernstein, whose memoir about surviving the war at the age of 20 after being taken to Ravensbruck camp, The Seamstress (1997), was written by Louise Loots Thornton, and Leah Kaufman, whose memoir about surviving the Holocaust as a 9-year-old taken to Transnistria who became an orphan, Live! Remember! Tell the World! (2005) was written by Sheina Medwed. I propose a comparative assessment which engages Holocaust life writing from one Eastern European country (Romania) with Western paradigms of Holocaust autobiographies that have opened up the contested, controversial and conflicted past of Eastern Europe within a larger, global framework (survivors, rescue and redemption plot in the West / victimhood and continuing suffering mode in Eastern Europe).

    My paper will explore what happens to the above-delineated different narrative structures of Holocaust memoirs from Romania and the U.S. in the case of collaborative projects represented by narratives of Holocaust survivors from Romania ghost-written by a professional Western author and published in English, in the United States, primarily for a Western audience. Do they simply follow the Western model of Holocaust memoir construction, given the marketing and cultural framework in which they are created / disseminated, or does the act of ghost-writing introduce further dimensions of narrative structures of Holocaust memory from Eastern Europe via negotiation and compromise, and if so,to what effect?

    Dana Mihăilescu is Associate Professor of English/American Studies, at the University of Bucharest, where she earned her doctorate in 2010 for the thesis Ethical Dilemmas and Reconfigurations of Identity in Early Twentieth Century Eastern European Jewish American Narratives. Her main research interests include Jewish American Studies, Holocaust survivor testimonies, trauma and witnessing, ethics and memory. She has published articles on these topics in international journals of specialty such as Journal of Modern Jewish Studies, French Cultural Studies, American Imago, European Review of History, East European Jewish Affairs, etc.

    Her most recent book-length publication is the monograph Eastern European Jewish American Narratives, 1890-1930: Struggles for Recognition (Lexington, 2018). She is currently the leader of the research project Transcultural Networks in Narratives about the Holocaust in Eastern Europe, funded by UEFISCDI (the Romanian National Council for Scientific Research). One of her major goals in this project is to identify the specific patterns of transcultural networks in narratives about the Holocaust in Eastern Europe which involve the dynamics of control and subjugation. Her research means to nuance current prevalent categories of Holocaust memory analysis by bringing together narratives coupling Eastern European and Western perspectives, and conceiving of memory in its multiplicity and discrepancy.

    Time and place

    When: 11/02/19 at 13:00-14:30

    What: Higher seminar

    Where: Room MA 796, CBEES, Södertörn University.

    Organiser: The Centre for Baltic and East European Studies (CBEES), Södertörn University

    Event language: English