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Matters of Testimony: Interpreting the Scrolls of Auschwitz

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Matters of Testimony

Interpreting the Scrolls of Auschwitz

Nicholas Chare and Dominic Williams

264 pages, 12 illus., bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-78238-998-9 $135.00/£99.00 / Hb / Published (December 2015)

ISBN  978-1-78533-352-1 $29.95/£23.95 / Pb / Published (November 2016)

eISBN 978-1-78238-999-6 eBook

View CartYour country: - edit  Buy the eBook! $34.95info on epub formatRequest a Review or Examination Copy (in Digital Format)Recommend to your LibraryAvailable in GOBI®

Check out Nicholas Chare and Dominic Williams’s piece on Slate’s The Vault and also Searching for Feelings: The Scrolls of Auschwitz and Son of Saul on the Berghahn Blog.


“Chare and Williams have applied a multidisciplinary approach using methods drawn from history, literature, art, psychology, photography, and the study of material culture to analyze these documents, which are often referred to as the Scrolls of Auschwitz, an allusion to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Like the Dead Sea Scrolls, the damaged documents are often very difficult to read and interpret. A valuable contribution to Holocaust scholarship, the field of eyewitness testimony, and the documentation of traumatic events… Highly Recommended.” · Choice

In Matters of Testimony, Nicholas Chare and Dominic Williams use the tools of literary criticism to analyse these formidable texts and offer new reflections on the scrolls. What sets the book apart is the way in which the authors consider how to read the Auschwitz scrolls, assessing their value as testimony… In that sense—and this is not the least significant element of this important book—they endeavour to reintegrate the Auschwitz scrolls into the general scholarship of Holocaust writing. This is incredibly interesting in the sense that the authors of the scrolls themselves asked the seminal questions that now structure this subfield of Holocaust studies… Matters of Testimony is an important work of scholarship.” · Jewish Quarterly

"Matters of Testimony is bold and fascinating, and provides a fresh and insightful analysis that contributes to scholarship about the Sonderkommando (SK), Holocaust testimony, Holocaust writing, the material culture of Auschwitz, resistance, and the Auschwitz camp complex itself." · Shofar

“This is a profoundly moving book. It is more than just the most complete analysis of the Sonderkommando writings in the English language, it is a study that challenges readers to ask fundamental questions about how we access the past. In doing so, Matters of Testimony is a manifesto for the importance of historical and literary analysis even when scholars are confronted with this most difficult and traumatic material.” · Tom Lawson, Northumbria University

“This is a major book that changes the field. It is a brilliant and original work of superb historical research and profoundly affecting cultural analysis.” · Griselda Pollock, University of Leeds

“The authors’ analyses are meticulous and fascinating, and are invariably based on equally impressive research. It is unusual to be able to say that an academic monograph on Holocaust literature serves as not just an analysis of but also a memorial for its subject, but that is the case here.” · Sue Vice, University of Sheffield


In 1944, members of the Sonderkommando—the “special squads,” composed almost exclusively of Jewish prisoners, who ensured the smooth operation of the gas chambers and had firsthand knowledge of the extermination process—buried on the grounds of Auschwitz-Birkenau a series of remarkable eyewitness accounts of Nazi genocide. This careful and penetrating study examines anew these “Scrolls of Auschwitz,” which were gradually recovered, in damaged and fragmentary form, in the years following the camp’s liberation. It painstakingly reconstructs their historical context and textual content, revealing complex literary works that resist narrow moral judgment and engage difficult questions about the limits of testimony.

Nicholas Chare is Associate Professor of Art History at the Université de Montréal. He is the author of Auschwitz and Afterimages: Abjection, Witnessing and Representation and After Francis Bacon: Synaesthesia and Sex in Paint, and the co-editor, with Dominic Williams, of Representing Auschwitz: At the Margins of Testimony.

Dominic Williams is a Montague Burton Fellow in Jewish Studies at the University of Leeds. He has published articles on modernism, the First World War, contemporary poetry and the Holocaust. In addition to co-editing Representing Auschwitz, he has co-edited, with Fabio A. Durão, Modernist Group Dynamics: The Politics and Poetics of Friendship.

Listen to an Interview with the Editors on New Books Network

Subject: Genocide HistoryJewish Studies
Area: Central/Eastern Europe


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