(Re)negotiating boundaries in German concentration camp poetry
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date29/11/2021
Robinson-Self, Elizabeth Louise Goodwin
German-language concentration camp poetry has been repeatedly undervalued and misrepresented. When not overlooked entirely, these texts have primarily been conceptualised as historical documents, testimony, or cultural artefacts, and their identity as poems has been of secondary (or no) importance. Concerns over both the historiographical and aesthetic merit of this poetry have also contributed to critical neglect. Whilst a small number of more in-depth studies – those by Moll (1988), Jaiser (2001) and Nader (2007) – have helpfully asserted the value of these poems, my thesis contributes to filling the significant research gap that remains. It is, crucially, a gap which is not only quantitative but also qualitative. Building upon the work done by Nader in particular, my thesis sets out from the assumption that these texts deserve to be considered as poems, as well as testimonial and historical documents, and therefore uses detailed textual analysis to provide a more nuanced picture of the corpus. Crucially, the poems are considered to be valid and valuable forms of witnessing and subsequently allowed to speak for themselves. Close readings of these texts reveal that inmates used poetry to regain agency and make sense of their circumstances in a diverse range of ways. The creation and removal of boundaries was often central to these attempts. Whilst boundary negotiation is occasionally mentioned in the three previous in-depth studies, it has never been examined systematically, despite its prevalence and ability to further our understanding of these texts. Analysing the poems under this rubric provides a deeper insight into daily reality in the camps and some of the diverse and creative ways in which inmates sought to survive and resist this. The focus is no longer on what these poems are and whether they can be successful in such a role; instead, I concentrate on the rather more enlightening question of what these poems do and how and why they do it.