World War II Literature: Holocaust Survivor Stories Commentary

The 27th January 2015 marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, one of Hitler’s most infamous death camps. Survivors from all over the world joined to commemorate its liberation, with over 300 survivors returning to Auschwitz-Birkenau site for a memorial. Many of the survivors at the memorial spoke words of warning, as Roman Kent, born in 1929, told ‘we survivors do not want our past to be our children’s future’.[1] Others emphasised the importance of sharing their stories, because ‘if we don’t speak out, the world won’t know what happened’.[2] Halina Birenbaum, also an Auschwitz survivor born in 1929, believes ‘her greatest duty was to “tell others how much people [in the camps] had wanted to live”’.[3] Holocaust survivors felt an obligation to tell their story, to educate the world about the horrors they had endured in hope that they may never be repeated again. There are many people who try to deny the existence of the Holocaust, and soon, there will be no more living survivors of the Holocaust, so their stories bare even more importance in the world. They help to ensure that their legacy and story continues to be passed on.

This inspired me to create a digital archive, or a hub, to gather and present pieces of World War II Holocaust literature with additional supplementary material. Its lack of exposure results in many amazing stories being left untold, so I wanted to create a website which helped to aid greater exposure of the literature, and subsequently greater awareness of the survivors stories. Digital technologies have created greater opportunities for the wide spread sharing of content, and so I feel this adaptation is appropriate and beneficial to the content.

The website would provide a platform to present the curated selection of Holocaust survivor stories. The selection aims to provide a range of experiences from all major camps of the Holocaust, so that the whole breadth of the tragedy is conveyed. I originally aimed to include the full text of all gathered literature, however, due to copyright reasons I was limited to the amount of content I could present on the website. To overcome this limitation, I decided to include hyperlinks to all the pieces of literature chosen, so that users could use the website as a point of reference, and a way to be directed to suitable places where they could buy or download the literature.

I wanted the website to be educational, informative and interactive, so that the digital platform provided users with something extra that the novel cannot offer, like supplementary information, visual aesthetics and interactivity. One way to adapt literary texts into a new format is to ‘reduce the text to a few elements, and abstract them from the narrative flow, and construct a new, artificial object’,[4] like an interactive map. The website homepage would feature a large interactive map, which abstracted elements from the novels narratives, such as concentrations camps and location from the novels. These would then be plotted on the map to construct a new narrative flow and dimension to the content.

The map was created using Map Box, an online interactive map creator, which provided extensive customisable options to apply to your map. Each concentration camp was plotted and categorised into annihilation camps, forced labour camps and transit camps. The three categories were colour coded and could identified further by three different icons. Map Box also allowed you to code hyperlinks into the information tabs of the plotted camps, so that when each icon was clicked, the user had the option to follow the hyperlink to a page dedicated to the camp and the literature from survivors of the camp. The navigation bar (which was sectioned into countries determined by their location) also added another narrative element to the website. From there, users could access a drop down menu which categorised all of the camps that were built during the war into specific countries such as Germany, Poland, Ukraine, France, Austria and so on.

When creating any platform, format or publication, it’s important to remember that ‘aesthetics play an important role in communication’,[5] and for that reason, I wanted to appropriately customise my website through manipulating the code of an already existing theme, so that the aesthetics effectively lend themselves to the process of communication. This included being mindful of the type of content I was dealing with, so that the website was designed tastefully to respect the style of the literature.

Essentially, I aimed to build a platform which allowed ‘the coexistence of the new and the old, the digital and the analogue’.[6] By using digital techniques to enhance the story telling experience, I hope my platform aids the awareness of these wonderful pieces of literature, so that Holocaust survivor stories continue to live on much longer than the last remaining survivor.

To view the digital archive website, please follow the link: http://holocaustliterature.uphero.com/

[1] BBC News Auschwitz 70th Anniversary: Survivors Warn of New Crimes, 2015. [Online] Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-30996555 [Accessed 1 May 2015].

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Moretti, Franco Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History. New York: Verso, 2007, p. 53.

[5] Siemans Ray, Schreibman Susan and Unsworth John, A companion to Digital Humanities, 2004. [Online] Available from: http://www.digitalhumanities.org/companion/ [Accessed 1 May 2015].

[6] Hutcheon, Linda and Siobhan O’Flynn A Theory of Adaptation. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2013, p. XIX.

 

Bibliography:

BBC News Auschwitz 70th Anniversary: Survivors Warn of New Crimes, 2015. [Online] Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-30996555 [Accessed 1 May 2015].

Hutcheon, Linda and Siobhan O’Flynn A Theory of Adaptation. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2013.

Moretti, Franco Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History. New York: Verso, 2007.

Siemans Ray, Schreibman Susan and Unsworth John, A companion to Digital Humanities, 2004. [Online] Available from: http://www.digitalhumanities.org/companion/ [Accessed 1 May 2015].

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Holocaust Encyclopaedia, 2014. [Online] Available from: http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005143 [Accessed 1 May 2015].

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