Joan Miriam Ringelheim asks, “Did anyone really survive the Holocaust?” It is aquestion more difficult to answer than it might at first appear. The Holocaustbreaks down the definitions of words such as “survival.” Memoirist CharlotteDelbo wrote after the war’s end, “I died in Auschwitz, but no one knows it.” Andas idealistic as it may sound, there is some truth to the notion that Anne Frankand Charlotte Salomon manage, despite their brutal and meaningless murders, tolive on after death. They wrote, after all, with that possibility in mind.
If tosurvive means to come through unscathed, the answer to Ringelheim’s question mustbe no. But if to survive means to live through an experience of such horror stillbe able to desire connection with the world–to create, narrate, innovate, toinvoke the voices of the dead and of the living–then the answer is yes. Tosurvive: “sur”–over, “vive”–live; the verb implies both to surmount an event, tolive through it, and to relive it, live it over. Perhaps the simplest andsomewhat tragic truth is that the one necessarily involves the other.
I find somesense of closure in Felstiner’s loving exploration of Charlotte Salomon becauseit is one which treats both the creator and the creation with equal care. Whatdistinguishes Lucille E. from Anne Frank and Charlotte Salomon, of course, isthat only the first survived the Holocaust. Yet all three have created voiceswhich seek to bear witness to the Shoah, if only the world will let them. Theskill which it would benefit the world to develop is that of simultaneouslyrecognizing the fundamental point that memoirs of female Holocaust witnesses areauthored by women, and that they each nevertheless are not utterly circumscribedby that fact. To neglect the first point contributes to an artificialuniversalization of men’s experience and a silencing of painful but importantquestions. To neglect the second points to essentialism and dogmatic discourse.These women have taken a great step in creating a stand-in, a memorialprotagonist, which can continue to tell their story after their own ends. Theyhave invested the memoir with a certain autonomy; that autonomy needs to beacknowledged by the rest of us.