The Holocaust and Problems of Historical Representation

History and Theory 33 (2):172-198 (1994)
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This essay examines different viewpoints taken by historians and theorists in three important debates about the Holocaust and the Nazi past in Germany. Analysis shows that the content and form of historical judgment, the limits of historical narratives, and the referential connections between "facts," "representation," and "truth" are more problematic than historians and social theorists taking part in these debates would like to believe. Examples show that attempts to represent past "reality" are closely related to the politically and socially significant interplay between individual and communal search for legitimation, and the legitimation of the past by the authority of the present. A hidden similarity--the fundamental belief in the ability of representation to capture past "reality" and thus its universal validity--appears amid the seemingly antithetical opinions and theoretical assumptions in these debates. Even in cases of historical phenomena as morally, politically, and intellectually challenging as the Holocaust, understanding historical representation in the framework of the self-referentiality of historical texts, and accepting the propositional nature of historical writing, is crucial



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