Survivors Fictionalizing the Child: A Canon Within the Canon of Holocaust Literature

Lia Deromedi

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis argues that there is a subgenre within Holocaust literature of survivors writing from the child's perspective. Both the survivor’s novel and children occupy multiple spaces, which provides a unique vantage point from which to represent the Holocaust. There are three key attributes of the primary texts within my subgenre: they are all considered novels, their authors are classified as Holocaust survivors, and they have child protagonists. I have identified unifying themes across the texts that show how the child’s viewpoint offers a distinct perspective on the historical event, depicts an underrepresented experience, and provides the potential for new understandings on the Holocaust.
Each chapter focuses on one theme, examining how each author uses the child's perspective across disparate genders, ages, geographical locations, and traumatic experiences, which implies that this subgenre is making critical assertions about the Holocaust and the Jewish child’s experience. Chapter One focuses on the dichotomy between children and adults, examining the interactions between and actions of their child protagonists with adult characters. In this way, authors underscore the end of childhood in extremity, a loss for both children prematurely killed or who must prematurely develop, as well as the loss of traditional functions of adults by inverting concepts of dependents and guardians. The second chapter briefly explores the way the novels use child’s play to highlight the aforementioned changed nature of childhood. Despite often assuming adult responsibilities and attitudes as described in the first chapter, traditional childhood activities can serve to contrast the brutality and hardship with their inherent innocence. Chapter Three explores the novel’s representations of a three-fold identity, which signifies how the protagonists' sense of themselves during the experience is shaped by their positions as an outsider, Jewishness, and gender. The fourth chapter examines how these narratives reconstruct the concept of place, give it meaning, and represent it by creating a Holocaust ‘child-space’ for its youngest experiencers. The child-space is represented by several qualities, including: liminal and paradoxical spaces such as rural and urban settings; specific sites of meaning and concepts of home; belonging to nation states and cities; and the narrative spaces that the authors create.
Analyzing these novels through the patterns that develop between different characters and narratives may impact debates about the portrayal of the childhood self in all writing, as well as contribute to discussions of the Holocaust beyond the child’s experience. The fictional child’s viewpoint could address some of the questions that are raised by the ethical concerns about imaginative Holocaust representation and the limits of language, suggesting that it is a form to be considered for thinking about the endurance of Holocaust narratives.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Eaglestone, Robert, Supervisor
Award date1 Mar 2015
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015

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