chapter  1
24 Pages

1The Power of Witnessing


Witnessing is a powerful force that allows massively traumatic experiences to become known and communicated. In this chapter, I describe how witnessing of the Holocaust takes place to give deƒnition to the way a witnessing process develops and evolves. Contact is made with the Holocaust and with the remarkable ways Holocaust survivors, and all who witness, have been able to represent the horror to others. In particular, survivors’ afƒrmations of their humanity are so moving and impressive that they create in us a determination to know more about how witnessing takes place even though there will be pain endured in doing so. When concentration camps were liberated, the world learned about genocide and unimaginable inhumanities. It is the power of witnessing that is able to break through the barriers erected in the mind when facing fear and terror and then is able to engender ways to convey what took place to others. Over and over again, the essence of witnessing is found to rest in a connection between people. Many survivors have recorded how they “lived to speak.” They kept alive a sense that someone would be able to listen. Without witnessing, the most terrible of events can remain untold, leaving a place of negation and ‘nothing’ in the mind and in the historic record. When the psyche is overwhelmed with helplessness, the story may remain unsymbolized and fragmented until a witness is present who says, “I want to know.” Then, the power of witnessing helps give birth to the narrative.