Auschwitz, ethics, and testimony: exposure to the disaster

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14 Citations (Scopus)


Witness testimonies provide a singular challenge to historians of Auschwitz. Survivor accounts offer a privileged perspective on the world of the camp, yet as recent conceptual work has shown the performative structure of these texts exceeds and eludes this representational duty. The challenge for historians is that, given their privileged, ‘insider’ status, any equivocality regarding the content of witness testimonies provides space for Holocaust denial. This paper offers a critical reading of one historical strategy for meeting this challenge: Exposing witness accounts to an uncompromising criteria of evidentiality and plausibility, designed to test their representational quality as a means of preempting negationist attempts to manipulate ‘faulty’ accounts. Drawing on Lyotard, I argue that, even as this strategy succeeds in refuting individual cases of denial, by refusing to enter into dialogue with the language game of testimony, and, more importantly, by invalidating any attempt to do so, this strategy actually reiterates the tactics of those deniers it is designed to oppose, thus undermining its own important work. Rather than rejecting this historical approach, I argue that it is compromised only by an historiographical insistence on imposing this ‘evidential’ language game as universal and representational; if we conversely recognise its performative, nonrepresentational status, it is more equipped to refute denial and without making of testimony a collateral damage.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)682-699
Number of pages18
JournalEnvironment and Planning D: Society and Space
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • human geography
  • Holocaust studies
  • spatial theory
  • testimony
  • non-representational theory
  • Ethics
  • poststructuralism
  • memory


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