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Number 12: Summer 2016

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

Anne-Lise Stern

This barrack still exists. Jean-François Forges took a picture of it on my behalf. Next to the window, on the outside, on the wall, blown up to its life size, is a photo from the series I just mentioned. When I instructed him on the phone: ‘Here, to the left’, he rectified: ‘To the right’. That’s because I could re-visualise the topological situation of the time, from inside the barrack. Whereas he was describing what you can see today, at the camp of Birkenau, on the blown-up photo on the wall of the barrack.

I told this story – and the story of Lili’s Album – to Alain Jaubert, a TV director, later the creator of the TV series entitled Pallettes. We were actually neighbours and we found out that our fields of interest were also contiguous. We were more than neighours, we shared a party wall. We used to borrow books and documents from each other all the time. When I mentioned the Album to him, he said: ‘But this is a film, this is already a film’. And we made that film, he directed it. We: i.e. four fellow deportees, with sufficiently distinct voices.1 In this film, Auschwitz, l’Album, la Mémoire (Auschwitz, Album, Memory), we are not seen, only our numbers are, handwritten on cards, added on later. But—and this is a serious omission—the triangles labelling us as Jewish—i.e. as gassable—are missing under the numbers. For a film made before Shoah, it really wasn’t bad. After Shoah, I don’t think I would have found it necessary. The section I just mentioned, the one about the photo, went missing during the recording: the technician was so absorbed by the story that he stopped functioning. The section had to be added later. The sound quality is very low, we were hardly granted any financial aid. It was aired on Antenne 2, in February 1985.

An ‘old-timer’ who wished me well had recommended me for a job in this barrack, the Schriebstube, the accounts office, because I spoke German. This is where the lists of newcomers were being kept, the organisation of the blocks and the Kommandos were handled. I was plopped in front of a typewriter, so that I would practice. I was no good at it. Not used to that German keyboard. My desk was located on the right side of the window. Above it, on the wall, a small mirror was hanging, a slightly tilted toiletry mirror. Behind me, there was a large table and a few stools. A convoy had just been sorted out and, through the window, a few yards away from the geraniums, I could see a line of people moving to the left. Rather, they would pause, for long periods of time. The people framed by the window remained the same for a long time. It sent chills down my spine. It was very hot, I had a high fever and things were not working with the typewriter. There was some sense of restlessness about the room. An ‘old-timer’ popped in repeatedly and quickly hid a bucket—jam or fat?—behind the curtain of a broom closet, on the left side of the room. The door was behind me, in the wall to the right. Through this door, an SS came in; he was holding a handkerchief by its four corners and he spread it on the table. ‘Take a look at that, you must know a thing or two about that’. It was jewelry. I was, precisely, meant to copy a list of jewels, watches, etc. I mumbled that I didn’t, my head tucked in between my shoulders, trying not to look back too much.


  1. One of them, Violette, can be seen in Claudine Drame’s film, Témoignages pour mémoire (1992). Louise is no longer with us. And Jeanine, hard-hitting and modest, donated her unique testimony to the French collection (led by Annette Wieviorka) of the Fortunoff Video Archives held at Yale University.