Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Christianstadt, Dachau. The names of Nazi concentration camps evoke images of radical destitution. The atrocities we call the Holocaust defy comprehension, while thinkers continue to ponder the possibility of "poetry after Auschwitz." And yet a number of people composed poems while imprisoned in the camps. Unlike most documents about the camps, these poems are self-representations that convey the perspective of the inmates who wrote them. Traumatic Verses provides psychoanalytically informed close readings of a range of poems and discusses their significance for aesthetic theory and for research on the camps. It also tells the stories behind the composition and preservation of these poems and the history of their publication since 1945. Most of the poems appear here for the first time in English translation along with the original texts. This book fills a gap left by literary historians, who have mostly ignored writings from the camps and avoided careful scrutiny of literature produced under the Nazi regime. Studies of trauma have concentrated on post-traumatic experiences; discussions of aesthetics after the Holocaust have neglected the issue of the artistic impulse in the camps. On both counts this book constitutes a unique contribution to scholarship, showing that, when read attentively, the poems written in the camps are invaluable sites for confronting the Nazi past.
Andrés J. Nader is Project Manager at the Amadeu Antonio Foundation in Berlin, and lectures at the Humboldt University.
Winner, 2008 Modern Language Association Book Prize for Independent Scholars; from the statement of the Selection Committee:
Leading a new generation of students of the Holocaust, Nader persuasively analyzes the psychological needs and motivations behind ... poetry composed in the concentration camps. Displaying a strong command of trauma and pain theory, as well as the prior history of Holocaust studies, [Nader] illuminates the role of poetry in the camp inmates' reclamation of the German language and cultural heritage. Offering many poems in English for the first time, in elegant translation, Nader's anthology and commentary add a significant new dimension to Holocaust studies.
Fills an important gap.... [Aims to] illuminate ... poems written by authors imprisoned in the camps ... and enable [them] to reverberate and do cultural work.... [V]ital questions are asked and answered.... Should be required reading for English-language Shoah courses. GERMAN QUARTERLY
[C]ourageous inmates of Nazi concentration camps secretly wrote and hid a remarkable corpus of poems in German.... What made them take such a risk? ... Nader argues that their basic motive was to thwart the Nazis' attempt to erase their identities as individual human beings.... [He] notes that ... the poems have been seen as 'aesthetically second-rate [and] of questionable documentary value' -- a judgement which his study persuasively contradicts. JOURNAL OF EUROPEAN STUDIES
[A]rgues convincingly for ... concentration camp poetry [as] ... integral to German literary history. GEGENWARTSLITERATUR
Effective both due to the continued immediacy of the poetry and the persuasiveness of the analysis. The significance ... is encapsulated in [Nader's] exhortation that "any overgeneralizing account of the Holocaust does a disservice to the memory of the victims." H-NET GERMAN
[A] bold contribution to Holocaust studies.. [N]ot a study of poetry by survivors, nor . a study of survivor testimony. Rather . a study of poems written in the camps.... The texts emerge not only as evidentiary material, but as aesthetic objects to be illuminated through literary analysis. HOLOCAUST AND GENOCIDE STUDIES
[W]ell-researched and lucidly reasoned ... a valuable contribution not only to the scholarship of Holocaust Studies, but also to our collective labor of mourning and remembrance. MONATSHEFTE