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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1998, Vol. 1 No. 2 .


Fresh Wounds
Donald L Niewyk ed.

(Chapel Hill NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1998)
414pp. Index. bibl. Hb.: 0-8078-2393-7, 26.50.


Historical literature of the Holocaust is already substantial - so what would justify another volume on Holocaust survival? The difference, claims the editor, is that this volume contains the first oral history of its kind and the only one done before Yad Vashem began its work in Israel a decade later(P3). The interviews were gathered in 1946 by the American psychologist David P Boder, an Eastern European Jew who was born in Liepaja, Russia in 1886 and fled the Russian war in 1919. Of the 109 interviews, thirty-six is presented in this volume. These interviews were conducted in camps set up for displaced persons in France, Italy, Switzerland and Germany and were captured on an early version of the model 50 wire recorder(p4). The editor provides background and context to these narratives in the Introduction to this book, in a general introduction to each narrative, through clarifying footnotes and two glossaries - one of Terms and the other of Ghettos and Camps. Besides being allowed to use Boder's own transcripts of the interviews, the editor also heard the original recorded interviews.

As the title suggests, these narratives are 'fresh' and the acute trauma, pain and anger of the survivors, palpable. It is a book that starkly presents the horrors of war at a micro- and individual level and paints a horrific picture of the human capacity for evil. Conversely, this is also an account, albeit small in number, of heroic deeds performed under threat of harm or death. Both themes warrant further analysis. The Editor does not offer any analyses, but rather risks 'coherence' for 'texture and historicity' in order that the reader may " ... grasp the complexity of the process and approach an understanding of what happened to the victims"(P1).

Evidence of individual survivor's understanding of 'causes' for the genocide do not readily jump out at the reader, but are hinted at more strongly in a few narratives, notably interviews 28 and 30. Researchers adept at analysing discourse, will find this book a rich resource with several salient themes worth pursuing. One such recurrent theme, is the alleged complicity by some Jewish Councils, Jewish Ghetto police and other Jewish individuals in camps, from the standpoint of the majority of interviewees. The conflict researcher could mine the data from this volume to explore themes related to the dynamics of ethnic conflict. In sum, this volume is a rich resource for multi-disciplinary research into the dynamics of conflict; the complex relationship between ethnic conflict, identity, internalised oppression, the effects of trauma on the psyche, physiology and spirit of victims of ethnic conflict rendering them vulnerable to becoming 'turncoats'; and countless related themes.


Sarah Henkeman, University of Kent



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