Monash University

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From victim to survivor : the emergence and development of the Holocaust witness 1941-1949

posted on 2017-01-16, 23:05 authored by Taft, Margaret Sarah
From Victim to Survivor: The Emergence and Development of the Holocaust Witness 1941-1949 This thesis explores the process whereby victims and survivors of the Holocaust sought to make sense of their experiences over an eight year period between 1941 and 1949. In doing so they contributed to a shared understanding of what it meant to be a victim during the onslaught of the Final Solution and what it meant to be a survivor in the immediate post war period. This thesis argues that the act of bearing witness by victims and survivors both during and immediately after the Holocaust was part of a developing discourse that initially sought to impart meaning to an experience not yet part of a collective public consciousness. Through a close reading of diaries, memoirs, reports and chronicles from this period, this thesis establishes that the witness underwent three distinct transitional stages. The first stage saw the victims struggle to know and comprehend the full implications of the Final Solution. The second stage concerned the way in which they dealt with the full realization of what had befallen them at a time when Europe was being liberated. The third stage saw victims reshape their identity into that of survivors in the immediate post war period. This thesis also argues that throughout this eight year period the Holocaust witness struggled against forces that deliberately sought to subvert his or her attempts to bear witness. Initially, the witness confronted both an unprecedented existential threat that they struggled to comprehend and a deliberate attempt by the Nazis to conceal it. Following liberation the witness encountered a climate of continued anti-Semitism, hostility and indifference both from the Allies and the world they had liberated. This thesis establishes that by holding firm to their belief in a moral and just world, victims and survivors made a meaningful and enduring contribution to their own communities at a time when few others showed interest in or an understanding of the Jewish experience of the Holocaust.


Principal supervisor

Andrew Markus

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Historical Studies. Australian Centre for Jewish Civilization


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type


Campus location



Faculty of Arts

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