“Acts of translation”: travelling postmemory of the holocaust in Ukraine



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Tartu Ülikool


This dissertation utilises the concepts of travelling memory and postmemory to analyse three 21st century narratives of the Holocaust in Ukraine by members of the Ukrainian Jewish diaspora: Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel Everything is Illuminated (2002), Katja Petrowskaja’s literary memoir Vielleicht Esther: Geschichten (Maybe Esther: Histories) and Dash Art’s performance piece Songs for Babyn Yar (2020-2022). Literature and fictional media have been seen as important containers of historical memory by scholars such as Marianne Hirsch, whose concept of ‘postmemory’ emphasises the role of imaginative investment in processing the traumatic memories of previous generations. This dissertation links postmemory with Astrid Erll’s ‘travelling memory’, unpacking how the chosen works use physical and metaphorical travel to process family histories of the Holocaust in Ukraine. Across three vectors of analysis, Travels through Space, Travels through Time and Travels across Traumatic Borders, I examine the complex process of accessing cross-border and multi-lingual histories, showing how travel forms part of a wider process of ‘working through’ and opens up possibilities for imaginative time travel or the creative remixing of difficult histories. With the ‘Holocaust by Bullets’ still relatively marginalised within both Ukrainian memory and global Holocaust narratives, I also argue that these creative works provide models for subverting paradigms of competitive memory and incorporating the Holocaust in Ukraine within European and trans-Atlantic Holocaust narratives.