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Number 12: Summer 2016

Be Deported…and Bear Witness! Psychoanalysing, Bearing Witness: A Double Bind?

Anne-Lise Stern

Be Deported…and Bear Witness!1

Anne-Lise Stern, Le Savoir-Déporté: Camps, histoire, Psychanalyse (Deported-Knowledge: Camps, History, Psychoanalysis), Précédé par Une vie à l’oeuvre par Nadine Fresco et Martine Leibovici, Paris: Editions du Seuil, 2004 (105-113).

The pedagogy of memory: its necessity, its perverse effects. Some survivors have expressed a growing wish to part with their history, to release, unburden their immediate family from it, to universalise it. Interviewers – whether trained or not in the practice of ‘listening’ – historians, sociologists, filmmakers, philosophers and other thinkers have given themselves to this wish, or have seized hold of it, out of an often lofty need or desire. But they all accuse one another of claiming a copyright on Auschwitz. Yet, one and all, including psychoanalysts among them, are in effect robbing the survivors and the dead. Be Deported… and Bear Witness! This is a rough title, rather targeted at my fellow psychoanalysts – at what they do and don’t do with that History. I will try to explain myself on this. But rough it remains, and I must voice my admiration for the often exceptionally great serenity of some, of some fellow deportees. I’m not there yet and am probably mostly mad at myself: a deportee and a psychoanalyst, hard to hold these two terms together.

In 1986, a conference was held at the Sorbonne. Simone Veil2 gave a talk, bearing witness to her absolute need to speak, upon [her] return [from the camps], to speak uninterruptedly as she might have wished. But the trouble was, she was constantly interrupted. Claude Lanzmann was there too. He spoke, barely. It was the year following the release of his film Shoah. In a smaller group, a bit later, I allowed myself to say: What if, instead of all those erudite speeches, we had shown this film, we might have learned a lot more.— ‘That would be the end of the Sorbonne as we know it!’, someone protested. But later on, Simone embraced me very intensely. At this point, I think somewhat differently, even though, without knowing it, I then raised a fundamental question. Since then, many things have gone by. Others have gone on. For example, a professor got away with stating, in an insufficiently exposed slip of the tongue: ‘‘The Shoah’, that endless turkey!’3 . Let me translate: the Shoah, the interminable history of the extermination of Jews (there are a few Jews left, mind you), as represented in a very long (interminable) film, Shoah, bland (like turkey meat), not exciting, not sexy like Night Porter ((On this film by Liliana Cavani (1973), see Le Savoir-Déporté: Camps, Histoire, Psychanalyse, p. 186- 187. )) or some other concentration camp porn. To that insistent slip, Claude Lanzmann ended up retorting: ‘The Shoah, that was Hitler, in my case, it’s Shoah’.


  1. This presentation was given in November 1996, in the context of a colloquium on the Shoah organised by Annette Wieviorka, Claude Mouchard and Hélène Mouchard-Zay. Hélène Mouchard-Zay is the daughter of Jean Zay, the Minister of National Education who was murdered in 1944 by members of the Vichy Milice. She heads the Cercil (Research and Documentation Centre on Internment Camps and the Deportation of Jews in the Loiret Region). In Pithiviers and Beaune-la-Rolande, French policemen separated children from their mothers. One of the policemen’s grand-daughters might have been present among the audience. 

  2. Translator’s note: Simone Veil is a well-known French politician and an Auschwitz-Birkenau survivor. She was the French Minister of Health in the 1970s and is responsible for the legalisation of abortion in 1975. 

  3. Translator’s note: The idiomatic term used in French to refer to a bad or third-rate film and translated here as ‘turkey’ is ‘navet’ which means ‘turnip’ literally, hence the mention of blandness a little further. A dud is an alternative translation but it misses the reference to food