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Saturday, 30 November 2013

The best type of historical resources



We don’t have very much information about Clara at all, even though there is a wealth of material about the Holocaust generally. So, I’ve had to dig deep into what’s available. All of it is fascinating. Only some of it is useful.
Eyewitness accounts
These are numerous. But many of them were written several years after the event and are indeed still being written today. Debate about the event then becomes part of the reporting of the event and distorts the connection with reality.
Current accounts are better
Of incredible value are those resources that show a gut reaction at the time: letters, diaries, photos, film. Also print realia: ration books, divorces papers, and poignantly for us, the certificate for Clara’s final transport to Treblinka; they had named her correctly – here she was Clara Lehrs and not Klara Sarah Lehrs as on all other papers. All of these items give a real essence of the time.
Why amateur is better than professional  
A polished performance or piece of journalistic prose, a deftly composed photograph or some carefully assembled film footage is all actually heavily stylised. Yes, indeed they offer the emotional truth that the creator had in mind. Certainly I want Clara’s Story eventually to be highly polished and it will show what I believe to be an emotional truth – alongside some hard factual ones. But as I research I look for authentic evidence. Thank goodness for the Yad Vashem archives and the StevenSpielberg collection. These include such treasures as amateur film taken inside Auschwitz and in the Warsaw Ghetto. Grim, certainly, and you also have to ignore the fascination that those filmed have with the camera. But scrutiny of the background details leads to a remarkably clear picture of what it was really like in those places.
Representing the Holocaust
I’ll actually be teaching on a course of that name next semester at the University of Salford. There is a difference between presenting the Holocaust – the eye-witness reports do that – and representing the Holocaust. The former includes a forgetting when completed 70 years on and the later can by stylised and may even sanitize. Rigorous research, both qualitative and quantative, may produce some accuracy but may exclude a genuine emotional response. Representation based on authentic evidence may come nearer to the truth. That’s what I’m hoping at least with Clara’s Story.      

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