Accepted Paper:

The suspicious anthropologist: elaborating on my mother's Holocaust  


Esther Hertzog (Beit Berl Academic College)

Paper short abstract:

My presentation will focus on some dilemmas that the anthropologist faces when studying survivors' biographies in the context of the Holocaust. Using documented interviews with my mother, I will try to combine between the anthropologist's "instinctive" suspicions and her professional and ethical training, while exploring narratives of Holocaust survivors.

Paper long abstract:

My paper examines the anthropologist's role in studying wars as a "post-factum" ethnographer. It will focus on Holocaust survivors' narratives, using documented conversations with my mother. I shall discuss some of the dilemmas with which the anthropologist is concerned in the context of the Holocaust, as a "survivors memories' witness". It will be argued that both, these dilemmas and the use of Holocaust survivors' narratives may have implications for the anthropological study of wars at large.

Documenting and analyzing survivors' recollections, the anthropologist often wonders about the connection between "historical facts" and survivors' narratives. She might also feel reservation in relation to some "forgiving" attitudes that the survivors express toward their oppressors.

Talking and listening to my mother, while documenting her fading memories, made me a companion to her emotional and intellectual narrative of the Holocaust. My puzzled reaction, or rather my latent suspicion, regarding my mother's descriptions and views about people and events that were part of her past, are the focus of my paper.

I suggest that suspecting my mother's story and interpretations is a reaction to the fact that her account departs from conventional thinking about the Holocaust. When I go beyond this "natural" skepticism, and accept what she says as true, valid and sincere, while colored by the present, I know that I am on the track of significant insights.

Panel W050
Studying anthropologists in war and conflict zones: spies and freedom fighters, scholars and advocates