Theses Doctoral

Uncanny Homelands: Disability, Race, and the Politics of Memory

Knittel, Susanne C.

This dissertation is an interdisciplinary and comparative study of German and Italian memory culture after 1945. It examines how the interaction between memorials, litera-ture, historiography, and popular culture shapes a society's memory and identity. I focus 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. I couple my analysis of memorials to these atrocities with an examination of the literary and artistic representations of the traumatic events in question.

My work thus expands the definition of site of memory to encompass not only the specific geographical location of a historical event but also the assemblage of cultural artefacts and discourses that accumulate around it over time. A "site" therefore denotes a physical and a cultural space that is continuously re-defined and rewritten. The two memorials I analyze, Grafeneck and the Risiera di San Sabba, bookend the Holocaust, revealing a trajectory from the systematic elimination of socially undesirable people, such as the mentally ill and disabled, to the full-scale racial purification of the "final solution."

The lack of survivor testimony about these sites has been a major factor in their continued marginalization within the discourse on Holocaust memory, which is why it is all the more important to consider the way these events figure in other genres and other media, such as novels, short stories, poems, biographies, TV-dramas, and theatre plays. This approach allows me to shed new light on canonical works such as Günter Grass's The Tin Drum or the TV-Series Holocaust and to bring into focus works that have so far not received the critical attention they deserve. Through my analysis I show how certain authors participate in a process of vicarious witnessing, lending their voice to those who were not able or permitted to speak for themselves. By bringing these underrepresented sites and memories into focus, I not only argue for a more inclusive memory culture but also reveal how the politics of commemoration continue to lead to the exclusion of persecuted minorities. Thus, my dissertation participates in the broader project within Holocaust studies of opening the discourse to de-particularized, transnational perspectives and other victim groups.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Huyssen, Andreas A.
Valesio, Paolo
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 11, 2011