Bearing Witness. The importance of first-hand survival narrative as opposed to cinematic representation of the Holocaust

Essay, 2016

11 Pages, Grade: Undergrad


Bearing Witness

The importance of first-hand survival narrative as opposed to cinematic representation of the Holocaust Human beings have an inherent desire to tell their stories. Whether this be to family and friends, in print or film, on a small or large scale; sharing ones story means sharing a piece of ones self. Survivors of the Holocaust have been sharing their stories since the time of the camps liberation. They are tragic, unfathomable, yet at the same time, educational. Through memoir society is given the opportunity to learn from history and the horrific atrocities the victims of the Holocaust suffered. Unless someone has suffered through the Holocaust, they can never truly understand what it was like. These memoirs are what enable society to carry on the testimony of those who suffered and died at the hands of the Nazis, while also educating future generations. However, when the attempt to educate crosses the line from remembrance and information, to exploiting for fascination and entertainment, it puts a stain on the testimony of the victims of the Holocaust.

The Shoah Foundation holds an archive of dozens of full-length testimonial videos from survivors of the Holocaust. These testimonies are a raw memoir of the experiences these survivors lived through. Gut wrenching and real, they remind those watching that the after aspect of the Holocaust is eternal. Frances Flumenbaum, a Polish Jew, was a young girl when the war broke out. In her hour and a half long testimony, she speaks of her life before the war, her experiences during, and how she rebuilt her life afterward. She reminisces a lot on her father who instilled in her a strong Jewish faith, and to always be proud of her heritage. He made her learn Hebrew and even go to Hebrew school. She says, “my father told me, and I remember this always, ““Anything that you possess, you might lose in your life, but not what sticks to your brain.”” Her testimony shows viewers the true horrors of the Holocaust through a first hand experience. She was separated from almost all of her family. Only her and one of her sisters survived. The rest died in Auschwitz. She managed to be sent to a less severe camp, for that she considers herself lucky, and through being handy and working fast she was able to survive the war. When asked how she continued on, day after day in the camp, Frances said, “It’s easier to live than you believe.” After giving her testimony, Frances had a very clear message for the viewers. She urged them to remember, and to learn from their history. “People should not forget…to not to forget, to repeat from generation to generation. And by repeating and not to forget because history repeats itself. And this will be one step towards it not happening again. I hope the younger generation will do more than we could do to prevent.”1

A testimony like that of Frances is powerful. Hearing it directly from the person who experienced the Holocaust is more than one could ever learn just from reading a history book. As Frances said, there narratives are what remind future generations what the horrors of the Holocaust really were. It is vital society continues to pass these testimonies along, that these stories are never lost. Organizations like the Shoah Foundation play a critical role in passing down these testimonies. This is memoir in its purest, unexploited form, completely devoid of any possible exploitation. It is the survivor bearing witness in a truthful, unfiltered way.

Yet, even through this first hand testimony, it is hard to truly express the nature of the Holocaust to the ones who did not live through it. Lori Hope Lefkovitz, a child of a Holocaust survivor, explains her father telling his story in her article, “Inherited Holocaust Memory and the Ethics of Ventriloquism.” She speaks of how her father never felt he could tell the story right. “He doubts that he has ever told it well or told it all. He wishes we would listen, wonders why he has never been able to tell us that which he has told us a thousand times. He asks me to watch his video testimony. I do, and I praise his recall, and I tell him that there is nothing there that I have not heard before. He’s not convinced, and he is sure he has left out important details, and he is annoyed with himself because he does not remember everything.”2 Lefkovitz father expresses the complexities of Holocaust narrative; the frustrating impossibility of ever truly translating the experience to the listener. Even though it is difficult, it is necessary. These narratives are the best way future generations can learn from the Holocaust, and they make the best attempt at bringing forth the most un-fabricated story because they come directly from the ones who experienced it.

Art Spiegelman went to great lengths to avoid exploiting his father’s story. He felt overwhelmingly guilty of even turning his fathers story into a comic book. He felt he was profiting off the atrocities of the Holocaust and his parents horrendous experiences. In her article, “Happy, Happy Ever After”: Story and History in Art Spiegelman’s MAUS,” Arlene Fish Wilner discusses MAUS and what the book does.


1 "Full-Length Testimonies: Frances Flumenbaum." The Shoah Foundation. 2007. Accessed March 2, 2016.

2 Lefkovitz, Lori Hope. "Inherited Holocaust Memory and the Ethics of Ventriloquism."The Kenyon Review 19, no. 1 (1997): 34-43. Accessed March 3, 2016., 37.

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Bearing Witness. The importance of first-hand survival narrative as opposed to cinematic representation of the Holocaust
Writing After the Holocaust
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bearing, witness, holocaust
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Nicole Ryan (Author), 2016, Bearing Witness. The importance of first-hand survival narrative as opposed to cinematic representation of the Holocaust, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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