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Beyond the Question of Authenticity: Witness and Testimony in the Fragments Controversy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020


The publication of Binjamin Wilkomirski's Fragments in 1995 and the subsequent controversy over its authenticity can be seen as an object lesson in the vexed relation of history and memory. The book's status as an authentic memoir of the Holocaust has been impeached, yet Fragments may nonetheless be a useful vehicle for memory Cathy Caruth's and Shoshana Felman's work on trauma and on its relation to testimony indicates that testimony bears at best a tenuous relation to the events that form its core, particularly when the events are traumatic. An examination of Wilkomirski's language, read alongside (other) survivor testimony, suggests that Fragments may testify to a disaster other than the Holocaust. This conclusion, however, has controversial implications: that we need to reevaluate seriously how we treat testimony as historical evidence, including testimony of the Holocaust, and that the injunctions attached to Holocaust memory—never forget, never again—may be difficult if not impossible to heed.

Research Article
Copyright © Modern Language Association of America, 2001

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