The Ethics of Metawitnessing in Yannick Haenel’s Jan Karski. / Duffy, Helena.

In: Dapim: Studies on the Holocaust , Vol. 32, No. 1, 22.03.2018, p. 1-21.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

E-pub ahead of print



The article addresses the concept of metawitnessing, as thematized by Yannick Haenel’s novel, Jan Karski (2009). The hybrid text, which breaches the border between biography and fiction, narrates the story of the eponymous Polish resister whose diplomatic missions have earned him the title of the “man who tried to stop the Holocaust”. Taking as the starting point the heated debate provoked by the book’s troubled generic status and problematic relationship with the historical record, I read Jan Karski as a self–conscious meditation upon the ethics and mechanics of (meta)witnessing. I also consider it as both an inquiry into the future of Holocaust memory in the post–witness era and an apology of testimony, which, unlike History, has the power to voice the victim’s feelings and trauma. Finally, by testifying to a wrong — or rather a series of wrongs —, Haenel’s text may be viewed as an attempt to bear witness to Karski’s and, less directly, the Jews’ differend, which consists not only in the victim’s being wronged but also in her/his inability to voice the injustice s/he has experienced. Framed with the work of, on the one hand, French philosophers such as Lyotard and Derrida, and, on the other, Holocaust historians such as Dan Stone and Annette Wieviorka, my discussion raises the question of the ethics of Haenel’s tribute to Karski and extension of the responsibility for the Shoah to witnesses and bystanders. In the conclusions I therefore reflect on the possibility that Haenel’s project may be amplifying the wrongs already suffered by the victims or, alternatively, is a quest for new means of expressing the violence inflicted on the Polish hero and those whose cause Karski tirelessly championed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalDapim: Studies on the Holocaust
Issue number1
Early online date22 Mar 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 Mar 2018
This open access research output is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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