Histoire numérique et l’historiographie

Mapping wartime Jewish diaries and their postwar trajectories

If Auschwitz has become the key symbol of the Holocaust, then the fate of Anne Frank and her family has become symbolic of Jewish wartime experiences in Nazi-occupied Europe, and Anne’s diaries of Jewish diary writing. As such they are constitutive of people’s ideas about the Holocaust and the Jewish experience during World War II. Indeed, the Anne Frank diaries are intrinsic to the development of postwar Holocaust memory. Yet we know that the case of Anne Frank was far from representative, and insofar as scholars strive to recover the full range of Jewish wartime experiences, as filtered through autobiographical texts, this situation is obviously problematic. In contrast to Anne Frank and her diary, the ‘context of textual production’ (Garbarini 2014) for any Jew writing in Eastern Europe, in the very centre of the killings, could not be more different. As a result diary writing here diferred starkly in terms of both content and intent. This is particularly true for Yiddish diaries, which reflect the experiences of the poorest Jews in Eastern Europe.

This paper focuses on wartime Jewish diaries from Poland. It is based mostly upon the collection of diaries from the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, 75% of which are written in Polish and around 20% in Yiddish. Importantly, the collection’s inventory indicates both the locations were the writer is known to have been, as well as those locations which are mentioned in the diary, which of course do not necessarily overlap. As a result the collection’s metadata allow us to map several things: the spatio-linguistic distribution of wartime diaries and the areas covered by them; and the spread of news, as reflected by the locations covered by the diaries’ contents.

Moreover, in addition to enabling the analysis of a wealth of contextual information, the inventory also lists known translation and/or publication data for each diary. As a result, we can get a glimpse in their postwar trajectories and analyse which diaries were published, where and at what time, and in which translations. This, in turn, can tell us much about the relation between translation and Holocaust memory since, as Naomi Seidman has argued (2006), “the canon of Holocaust literature should be read as the rewriting of this historical event for new audiences”. A final step would be to embed information from the diaries’ themselves, and the actual experiences that are conveyed, into the maps, thus creating a deep map which combines more factual information about the diaries with the subjective lived experiences contained within them.

The project seeks to contribute to a more balanced understanding of wartime Jewish diaries and writing during WWII in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe, though the prism of a specific collection. The broader aim of the paper is to provide an example of the type of new spatio-temporal insights that can be gleaned from collections’ metadata, in addition to ‘traditional’ textual content analysis. The project uses Nodegoat (nodegoat.net) as a way to manage, explore and visualise the data.

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