The Historical UncannyDisability, Ethnicity, and the Politics of Holocaust Memory

The Historical UncannyDisability, Ethnicity, and the Politics of Holocaust Memory

Susanne C. Knittel

Print publication date: 2015

ISBN: 9780823262786

Publisher: Fordham University Press

Abstract

The Historical Uncanny explores the ways in which cultural memories that pose uncomfortable challenges to the self-understanding of the remembering public are often systematically disregarded. The “historical uncanny” is that which resists reification precisely because it is uncomfortable or unassimilable to the dominant discourses of commemoration. The book focuses on two marginalized aspects of the memory of the Holocaust: the Nazi “euthanasia” program directed against the mentally ill and disabled, and the Fascist persecution of Slovenes, Croats, and Jews in and around Trieste. The two memorials under consideration, Grafeneck, a former Nazi euthanasia killing center in Germany, and the Risiera di San Sabba concentration camp memorial in Trieste, bookend the Holocaust, revealing a trajectory from the eugenicist elimination of socially undesirable people, such as the mentally ill and disabled, to the full-scale racial purification of the Final Solution. The analysis of these memorials is coupled with an examination of the literary and artistic representations of the traumatic events in question. This approach leads to an expanded definition of “site of memory” as an assemblage of cultural artifacts and discourses that accumulate over time; a physical and a cultural space that is continuously redefined, rewritten, and re-presented. This comparative and interdisciplinary study brings together perspectives from literary studies, memory studies, disability studies, and postcolonial studies that contribute to a broader and more differentiated understanding of the Holocaust and its place in contemporary European memory culture.