Today, hundreds of thousands of recorded interviews with contemporary witnesses are extant. The narratives differ from each other even though they are often similar. The testimonies are colored by the speakers’ experiences and observe no chronology. They are, in fact, remembered fragments strung together by association, which as a story keep defying any logic since they sometimes follow a storyline only to be suddenly pierced by unexpected emotional moments or augmented by new secondary knowledge.
The exhibition takes a look into the video collection of contemporary testimonies held by the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp Memorial. By way of example, it demonstrates how the events, the memory of National Socialism, its crimes as well as the history leading up to it and its aftermath have found their diverse narrative expressions.
In their accounts, the survivors talk not only about the times of persecution but also about their life after 1945. Oftentimes, they speak about positive experiences such as professional success or their children and grandchildren. Here, the triumph of having survived despite the National Socialists’ will to annihilate is expressed, in particular, by Jewish survivors. Yet, crises, setbacks, and other events perceived as momentous are included in the narratives as well.
Ruth Kogut's survival of the Litzmannstadt ghetto and various concentration camps is aided by her mother’s mantra “tomorrow will be better.” After the war, too, she looks ahead and talks only decades later of her experiences at length. With personal crises, she copes by hoping for a better future.
The narrative of experienced memories is often built from memory snippets, fragments marked by emotions and traumatic experiences. The speakers search for words and sentences to make themselves understood. Frequently, the narrative thread is not readily accessible to the listener, is formed by associations, and follows the witness’s own subjective logic. There is no routine in the narrative structure.
Simon Ryger depicts the situation how he and a friend were selected for transport from Auschwitz-Birkenau to Flossenbürg. Remembering details of this situation proves to be challenging for him. Through her inquiries, the interviewer tries to add clarity. It remains unclear whether these questions unsettle him or else stimulate him to bolster his accounts.
Oftentimes, the description of events, especially after seventy years, remains fragmentary and vague. Yet, for the interviewees credibility is essential. With their accounts and interviews, they want to convince. To be able to repeatedly tell of their own experiences, a net of additional narratives and historical knowledge is put together. They see themselves not only as contemporary witnesses but also as historical experts.
Max Glauben keeps enriching his childhood experiences in the Warsaw ghetto with informative passages. They are based on knowledge about persecution and annihilation he has acquired only much later. As contemporary witness, he tirelessly participates in conversations with groups and school classes. To him, it is of utter importance to reach many people and convey his stories as part of the history of the Holocaust.