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A Totem and a Taboo

Germans and Jews Re-enacting Aspects of the Holocaust

Jeremy Schonfield

This article discusses two academic events devoted to Holocaust studies in which participants became unconsciously involved in re-enacting the behaviour respectively of Holocaust perpetrators, and of victims turning aggressively on each other in a manner reminiscent of ghetto life. In one conference an out-group was created and silenced, while in another an individual became the object of projected guilt and was victimized. These projections were mediated by implied competition between film, sculpture and literature as the medium best suited to Holocaust memorialization. A description of each event is followed by analyses of the dynamics involved, with the support of psychoanalytic literature. Factors which led to the author’s twenty-year delay in publishing the article, which was drafted in 1995, are also examined psychologically.

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