Reframing Holocaust Testimony. By Noah Shenker. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015. XV + 248pp.
Video testimonies of Holocaust survivors are often said to possess a valuable sense of immediacy and authenticity. Yet as many scholars have observed, video testimonies are nonetheless framed, not only by the borders of the video image and the technology of the camera, but also by underlying conditions of recording and reception. Of particular importance are the institutional practices of the archives that collect and disseminate testimonies, such as pre-interview and interviewing parameters and protocols, cataloging methods and access policies, and forms of exhibition. Reframing Holocaust Testimony provides the first comprehensive overview of the institutional histories, policies, and practices of the three major archives of Holocaust video testimony: the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale, the oral history collection ofthe United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), and the USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive (VHA), originally founded by Steven Spielberg after the filming of Schindlers List.
After a useful methodological and historical introduction, Shenker devotes one chapter each to these archives, drawing on internal working papers, interviews with staff, and other sources to supply cogent and well-researched characterizations of the explicit and implicit preferences, values, and mandates of each institution. Each of these chapters also includes illuminating discussions of "exemplary testimonies" that seek to demonstrate both how archival practices "shape the formation of testimony" and how individual witnesses may "counter or at least evade the approaches of archives and interviewers" (103, 15z). The book's fourth chapter analyzes an interesting group of five survivors who gave their testimonies to each of the three archives, thus allowing what is as close as possible to a direct comparison of the consequences of the archives' various methodologies. A brief epilogue reflects on the paradigmatic status that Holocaust testimony has achieved for efforts to document genocides after the Shoah.
Given recent arguments that we inhabit an era in which historical truth is thought to reside less in documents and material traces than in the voices of memory, Shenker's call for "testimonial literacy" assumes paramount importance. Rather than accept audiovisual testimony as "unvarnished" or "raw," Shenker's...