Holocaust Poetry and Testimony

in Critical Survey
Author: Sue Vice 1
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  • 1 University of Sheffield s.vice@sheffield.ac.uk
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Elie Wiesel has claimed that testimony is the generic legacy of the Holocaust. Other critics have pointed out that testimony, in the sense of first-person literary accounts of events to which the author was eye-witness, also characterized earlier historical calamities, in particular the First World War. That war produced testimony in the form of lyric poetry, in which the reader recognized the author as a witness and assumed a close fit to the poem’s speaking subject. Yet it is not poetic but prose testimony that is typical of Holocaust eyewitness, while Holocaust poetry is considered a separate and self-contained genre. In this essay, I will explore the reasons why this should be so, and whether there is a closer link than at first appears between the construction of the first-person narrator of a prose testimony, such as Wiesel’s Night (1958), and the lyric ‘I’ of some Holocaust poetry.