“We Didn’t Know There Was a Women’s Camp”: The Haunting Qualities of Ravensbrück

Title“We Didn’t Know There Was a Women’s Camp”: The Haunting Qualities of Ravensbrück
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsBormann, Natalie
Book TitleThe Ethics of Teaching at Sites of Violence and Trauma: Student Encounters with the Holocaust
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
CityNew York City, USA

The question of absence and loss is central to invoking and representing the atrocities of the Holocaust. One only needs to think of the piles of shoes and other belongings at Holocaust memorial sites that powerfully evoke the absence of the people to whom these items once belonged. Illustrations of absence also register the destruction that those who once wore the shoes and owned the belongings had to endure and suffer through. To learn about, and experience, the Holocaust through this lens of absence can often be traumatic, if not frightening, for students. In this chapter I borrow from scholars who use the vocabulary of “ghostly” and “haunted” qualities in relation to our intricate encounter with Holocaust sites that evoke feelings of absence. The concept of haunting offers a valuable framework to make intelligible the affective responses that I register with my students at the women’s camp Ravensbrück. What is distinctive about our encounter here is that the particular structure of the camp does not only gesture toward an intricate feeling of loss of lives, it also probes students to contemplate the fact that the narratives of female victims and perpetrators are also absent in the larger context of Holocaust teaching and learning.

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