After Such Knowledge: Memory, History, and the Legacy of the Holocaust

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9781586480462: After Such Knowledge: Memory, History, and the Legacy of the Holocaust

Sixty years after the Holocaust, the author of Lost in Translation explores the difficult process of preserving an authentic version of its tragic events. As the Holocaust recedes in time, the guardianship of its legacy is being passed on from its survivors and witnesses to the next generation. How should they, in turn, convey its knowledge to others? What are the effects of a traumatic past on its inheritors? And what are the second generation's responsibilities to its received memories?In this meditation on the long aftermath of atrocity, Eva Hoffman -a child of Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust with the help of neighbors, but whose entire families perished -probes these questions through personal reflections, and through broader explorations of the historical, psychological, and moral implications of the second-generation experience. She examines the subterranean processes through which private memories of suffering are transmitted, and the more willful stratagems of collective memory. She traces the "second generation's " trajectory from childhood intimations of horror, through its struggles between allegiance and autonomy, and its complex transactions with children of perpetrators. As she guides us through the poignant juncture at which living memory must be relinquished, she asks what insights can be carried from the past to the newly problematic present, and urges us to transform potent family stories into a fully informed understanding of a forbidding history.

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About the Author:

Eva Hoffman was born in Cracow, Poland, and emigrated to Canada at the age of thirteen. She is the author of three highly acclaimed works of nonfiction, Lost in Translation, Exit into History, and Shtetl, and one novel, The Secret. She divides her time between London and Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she is a visiting professor at MIT.

From Publishers Weekly:

"Sixty years after the Holocaust took place... [and] this immense catastrophe recedes from us in time, our preoccupation with it seems only to increase," writes Hoffman in this beautifully wrought, deftly argued examination of how we might attempt to understand the Holocaust. In seven short essays, Hoffman (Lost in Translation, etc.) focuses on the consciousness and experience of the Holocaust's second generation-the children of survivors-as theirs is a "strong case-study in the deep and long-lasting impact of atrocity." Synthesizing personal history (born in Cracow, Poland, in 1945, Hoffman left at the age of 13 with her parents) with astute gleanings from the fields of psychoanalysis, sociology and literary criticism, the book considers such diverse concepts as how the "trauma" of the Holocaust is constructed, the role of emigration and national identity in shaping the second generation's narratives of their lives and how works as diverse as Marguerite Duras's The War: A Memoir and Bernhard Schlink's The Reader helped shape a series of conflicting ideas about victimhood and responsibility. But the power of Hoffman's vision comes in her posing vital questions: "what happens when we focus on `memory' itself rather than its object"; how do we sort through the question of personal and collective responsibility, "distinguish shadows from realities and fable from history" in order to understand what can be done to redress the past? Hoffman writes with a subdued but vibrant passion. In the end, she suggests that Holocaust studies now take on the difficult question of "the range of Jewish behavior during the Holocaust," particularly the missed opportunities for resistance. Such a daring, controversial challenge is emblematic of Hoffman's brave and forthright thinking and places this volume in the vanguard of Holocaust studies.
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