Bożena Shallcross, a renowned author and expert on 20th century Polish literature and visual arts, will present a talk on Holocaust Objects on January 27 at UBC Okanagan.
In her talk, Shallcross explores the profound significance behind the millions of objects that bear witness to the Holocaust, and how these objects provide not only symbols and documents of the steps leading to the murder of the people that owned them, but, equally as important, a glimpse into their lives. Shallcross also discusses the role these objects play in our representations, and memory, of the Holocaust.
“For obvious reasons we associate the Holocaust with human tragedy, while mounds of objects, looted from their murdered owners, seem comparably much less important, their tales ignored,” says Shallcross.
Over the course of time, however, the physical remains of human victims — their jewelry, shoes, clothes and even their hair, housed in museums or memorial sites and arranged by professional curators — now stand out as the Holocaust’s most persuasive and tangible reality, Shallcross notes.
“These surviving objects attest to the fact of genocide — especially if one respects their authenticity, although their serial amassing may make that authenticity doubtful,” she says. “It is time we recognize that these ordinary and humble objects are endowed with unique representational power: pillaged or exchanged for the victim’s life, they trigger numerous Holocaust narratives.”
Claude Desmarais, Reichwald Professor in Germanic Studies, says it is a privilege to have Shallcross share her thoughts and work with UBC Okanagan. He encourages the greater community, many of whom have ties to the wider European culture that was either implicated or experienced the Shoah (Hebrew for “catastrophe,” denoting the catastrophic destruction of European Jewry during World War II), to attend the free lecture.
“Jewish studies is a discipline unto itself, but also an important part of German Studies, essential to developing an understanding of modern-day German and European history and identity,” says Desmarais. “It ties into the awareness of how the Holocaust shapes our modern discourses and how we can learn from the past to prevent genocide in the future.”
Shallcross works as an associate professor in the department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Chicago. Among her teaching interests are theories of vision, pictorial and literary representation of objects, the Holocaust in literature, and subjects and objects related to post-modernist culture. Her most recent book project, The Holocaust Object: Proximity and Vestiges, deals with the manifold yet overlooked role of objects in that period of history.
Sponsored by the Reichwald Professorship, the Department of Critical Studies, and the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies, Shallcross’s lecture will be held on January 27, 4 p.m., in FIP 204 (Fipke Building). Her lecture at UBC Okanagan also takes place thanks to the cooperation of the Department of Central, Eastern and Northern European Studies at UBC Vancouver, and its Ziegler Visiting Speaker Series.
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