HONR 199: Telling the Holocaust

A Guide to Terms


Over the course of the Spring semester, this page will accrue a list of definitions for literary terms discussed in HONR 199: Telling the Holocaust. I will attempt to add new terms as they are brought up in class, so that by the end of this semester the guide will provide a useful resource for students preparing for final papers and exams.


B banality of evil        
C close-up shot        
D diegesis discourse and story      
E Einsatzgruppen        
F fetishism        
G Gestapo        
H Historikerstreit        


in medias res



K kitsch        





O objective shot        
P POV shot projection      
R Repetition Compulsion RSHA      
S SA SD simulacrum SS story and discourse
T tracking shot transference      


voice-over narration




Banality of Evil:

This term was coined by Hannah Arendt in her highly influential book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. In it, she suggests that Eichmann was not a monster but rather a banal bureaucrat, a fact that, she believes, becomes clear over the course of his trial. She therefore explores whether the horrors of the Holocaust might be a product not of some unspeakable desire but of the same bureaucratic efficiency that drives our own government and society. Max Weber in your readings during the trial explored the effect of this modern organizational structure on the make-up of society and I discuss this issue in my March 27th lecture. INDEX

Close-up Shot:

This term is self-explanatory. It refers to the technique whereby the camera zooms in on a particular character or object. Lanzmann's Shoah tends to eschew cinematic tricks, giving us narrators in straightforward objective shots. And yet, Lanzmann's movie is not without discursive technique. The camera will, for example, offer close-ups of characters when they are experiencing emotion or it will sometimes offer a close-up of a particular character in a group as commentary on what others are saying. (An example is the scene in which Simon Srebnik, back at Chelmno, is listening to the local villagers discussing their acquiescence to Nazi rules even while they state how much they loved and rememembered Srebnik as the boy-prisoner who sang so beautifully; during this scene, the camera offers a close-up of Srebnik who betrays his conflicted emotions about what the villagers are saying.) INDEX


The best way to remember diegesis is to borrow a term from Star Trek. The diegesis of a narrative is its entire created world, or its time-space continuum. Of course, when we are dealing with actual historical events, the diegesis of a tale is reality itself. INDEX

Einsatzgruppen (Task Forces):

The Einsatzgruppen were special mobile formations charged with carrying out liquidations in occupied countries. Together with other elements of the Security Police, they were responsible for the deaths of 2 million of the estimated 6 million Jews killed during the Nazi period. Einsatzkommandos or "killer units" were individual detachments of the Einsatzgruppen. These fomrations were highly mobile killer units charged with destroying Communists, partisans, saboteurs, and Jews on the eastern front. INDEX


For Eric Santner's definition of "narrative fetishism," see page 144 of his article or the synopsis for the class when we discussed this issue. The classic Freudian definition of fetishism is as follows. According to Freud, fetishism functions in a way that falls between neurosis and psychosis. Freud originally distinguished between neurosis and psychosis in the following way: "in neurosis the ego suppresses part of the id out of allegiance to reality, whereas in psychosis it lets itself be carried away by the id and detached from a part of reality" (5.202). In analyzing a case, in fact, of mourning, Freud is forced to rethink this distinction in his essay on fetishism: "In the analysis of two young men I learnt that each of them... had refused to acknowledge the death of his father... and yet neither of them had developed a psychosis. A very important piece of reality had thus been denied by the ego, in the same way as the fetishist denies the unwelcome fact of the woman's castrated condition" (5.202). To resolve the apparent contradiction, Freud turns to the formula "je sais bien mais quand mÉme" or "I know, but nonetheless": "It was only one current of their mental processes that had not acknowledged the father's death; there was another which was fully aware of the fact; the one which was consistent with reality stood alongside the one which accorded with a wish" (5.202). Similarly, the fetish is able to "become the vehicle both of denying and of asseverating the fact of castration" (5.203). In the study of the Holocaust, the fetish allows you at once to believe you know the truth of the Holocaust and to deny the true fact of the Holocaust. The fetish thus opens up another way to have answered the essay question on the mid-term:

B) Andreas Huyssen makes the argument that "the impulse to memorialize events like the Holocaust may actually spring from an opposite and equal desire to forget them." Is there a way that cultural representations of the Holocaust subscribe to what we have termed in class the "amnesia of representation." INDEX

The Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei or Secret State Police):

The Gestapo was a secret police force dedicated to the task of maintaining the National Socialist regime. The Gestapo organization developed into the most important security organ of the state. In April 1933 Hermann Goering incorporated the political police of Prussia into the Gestapo as Office IV of the Central Security Office of the Third Reich or RSHA. A struggle for power in the party took place between Goering and Himmler. Each wanted to be head of a unified political police force. Himmler eventually won this struggle and appointed Heinrich Müller to head the Gestapo. The Gestapo soon became autonomous and set up its own legal system, with power far exceeding that of any law court in the Third Reich, and began to exercise its right to assume control over the lives, freedom, and property of all Germans. The average citizen was in dread of the Gestapo because of rumors about those who disappeared into its headquarters and suffered its tortures in its cellars. As Robert Gellately has shown, however, in his book, The Gestapo and German Society, in fact the Gestapo relied to a large extent on aunonymous denunciations from the German public to function. The Gestapo also followed the German armed forces into occupied countries and used its own tested methods to destroy all elements hostile to Nazi rule. INDEX


This terms literally means "the battle over history" and refers to the debates about historical representation that followed Jürgen Habermas' critique of revisionist German-language histories from the 1980s, particularly Andreas Hillgruber's Two Sorts of Destruction and other work by Klaus Hildebrand, Ernst Nolte, and Michael Stürmer. He denounced such work as dangerously revisionist and thus began a debate about the ethical duty of historiographers, a debate which continues today. At issue are such notions as "national identity," "memory," and "justice." INDEX

in medias res:

This is the technical term for the epic convention of beginning "in the middle of things," rather than at the very start of the story. The "in medias res" convention is also a good example of the discursive manipulation of story. In other words, the chronological order of events in a given narrative is reworked, leading to a movement back in time in order to make sense of the events we are given first in the actual presentation of the story. INDEX


We defined kitsch on January 23 by way of Spielberg's film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: 1) kitsch tends to simplify and trivialize complex ideas by reducing them to black-and-white stereotypes, as Dale Fresch explained (for example, Sean Connery's speech about the "armies of darkness"); 2) it is oriented to the masses and thus tends towards a lowest common denominator so that anyone can relate; 3) it tends to be tied to mass consumption and thus to profit-making entertainment; 4) it often includes a certain insouciant humor, Sarah Geddling pointed out (for example, Hitler's signing of Indiana Jones' book in Spielberg's film). INDEX


Here is a strong definition of "narration" from The Harper Handbook to Literature, edited by Northrop Frye, Sheridan Baker, and George Perkins:

[Narrations] take their names from the grammatical stance employed by the narrator: first-person narration for a narrative perspective inside the story, third-person narration for one outside. The first-person narrator speaks as an "I" and may be identified in one of three roles; first person as protagonist, the hero or heroine of the story; first person as participant, a character in a subsidiary role; first person as observer, a character without essential function except to observe and record, sometimes developed fully as an individual with a name, history, and personality, sometimes almost nonexistent except for the "I" that appears occasionally as a reminder of the individual's personal relation to the story.... [A] third-person narrator... stands outside the story, speaking of those within it in the grammatical third person (he, she, they).... [One kind of third-person narration] is called THIRD-PERSON OMNISCIENCE, because the [third-person] narrator assumes the privileges of omniscience, moving about in time and space, entering freely into the unverbalized thoughts and motives of the characters.... All-knowing should not, however, be confused with all-revealing, in either traditional or modern tales.... [T]he third-person omniscient narrator will seldom reveal the mysteries and secret motives of the story before the moment of greatest effect. Knowing all, the story teller teases the reader with bits and pieces until all comes together at the end. [In other words, the story teller discursively re-orders the chronological events of the story.]

In THIRD-PERSON LIMITED OMNISCIENCE, the narrator frequently limits the revelation of thoughts to those of one character, presenting the other characters only externally. As a result, the reader's experience is conditioned by the mental state, the qualities of perception, ignorance, or bias of the filtering or reflecting mind.


NSDAP (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or National Socialist German Woker's Party):

The NSDAP was the offical name of the Nazi party created by Hitler to succeed the German Workers' party. INDEX

Objective Shot:

An objective shot is the most common camera shot. We are simply presented with what is before the camera in the diegesis of the narrative. We are not seeing the scene through the perspective of any specific character, as we do in POV shots or subjective shots. The objective shot corresponds to "third-person narration" in literature. INDEX

POV Shot:

A POV shot is a sequence that is shot as if the viewer were looking through the eyes of a specific character. The shot is a common trick of the horror film: that is, we are placed in the position of the killer who is slowly sneaking up on a victim. (Note that horror directors sometimes "cheat" with this device; that is, after a building of suspense, it can also turn out that we weren't in the position of the killer after all.) Lanzmann's Shoah tends to offer us only objective shots when he shoots individuals giving their testimonies; however, he could also be said to play with POV shots through his long sequences of the camps today. He thus invites us to imagine what survivors are remembering by having us see through their eyes at the scenes in the present. We are invited, that is, to imagine what the individuals are saying occuring in the landscapes that the film offers us on screen. INDEX


The cutting off of "bad" aspects of oneself (e.g. weakness or homosexual desire) and their projection onto someone else "over there" where they can be condemned, punished, etc..; in other words, scapegoating. One reason why anti-semitism functioned so well in Nazi Germany is that the populace was able to project all their anxieties following Germany's defeat in WWI onto this new scapegoat, the Jew, who was then made to take the blame for all the problems in German society. INDEX

Repetition Compulsion:

The human need to relive traumatic events—through dreams or storytelling or even in everyday life—as a way of coming to terms with that trauma. INDEX

RSHA (Reichssicherheitshauptamt):

Reichssicherheitshauptamt means Reich Central Security Office. This was the main security department of the Nazi government. It was set up in 1939 to combine all the existing police forces, including the Gestapo, the criminal police, and the SD/SS. Its chief was Reinhard Heydrich, who served until his death on June 4, 1942. The RSHA was responsible for taking into custody all enemies of the state and turning them over to Oswald Pohl, administrator of the concentration camps. INDEX

SA (Sturmabteilung):

Sturmabteilung means "storm detachment" or, as it has more commonly been translated, "storm troopers." The SA was the early private army of the Nazi party. It was designed originally to protect National Socialist mass meetings and oppose rival political parties. Hitler started the SA by organizing squads of young roughnecks brought in largely from the Freikorps, the post-Worlds War I nationalistic freebooters who had lost their military jobs because of the Treaty of Versailles. Ernst Röhm took over the organization in Jan. 1931, brought in large numbers of veterans and outfitted them in brown uniforms (hence their nickname Brownshirts). The SA was assigned the task of winning the battle of the streets against the Communists on the assumption that "possession of the streets is the key to the power of the state." By 1931 it numbered 100,000 men and by 1932 its ranks had risen to 400,000. In the presidential election campaign of 1932, President Paul von Hindenburg banned the SA. Hitler was annoyed by this action, but, determined to win power legally, he obeyed and ordered the SA to respect the ban. The SA ceased to be an active part of the Nazi police state after the Bood Purge or "Night of the Long Knives" of 1934. For this reason, the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg did not find the SA guilty of crimes against humanity. INDEX

SD (Sicherheitsdienst):

Sicherheitsdienst means "security service." The SD was the intelligence branch of the SS. In theory the SD was supposed to be under Wilhelm Frick, Minister of the Interior, but actually it was under the control of Reinhard Heydrich and Heinrich Himmler. Composed of what was said to be the elite of the elite, the SD was responsible for the security of Hitler, the Nazi hierarchy, the National Socialist party, and the Third Reich. It was formed in March 1934, when Himmler, motivated by the huge growth of the black-uniformed SS (from 30,000 to 100,000), decided to create his own security service. It was not subservient to the Gestapo, but was rather a new instrument of Nazi thought and culture directed against "enemies of the state." Responsible for the entire security of the Third Reich, the SD comprosed of several active police forces, including the SIPO (Security Police), the KRIPO (Kriminalpolizei), the RSHA (Reich Central Security Office), and even the Schupos, the urban constabulary. Those who worked in the field seldom knew the identity of other SD men. Few could escape this monolithic organ of the Hitler terror. With the SD behind him, Heydrich could order immediate arrests and preventative detention, and he could send any persons to concentration camps at any time. The Nuremburg Trials deemed it a cime to have been a member of the SD. INDEX


Jean Baudrillard in "The Precession of Simulacra" defines this term as follows: "Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being, or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal.... It is no longer a question of imitation, nor duplication, nor even parody. It is a question of substituting the signs of the real for the real" (1-2). His primary examples are psychosomatic illness, Disneyland, and Watergate. Fredric Jameson provides a similar definition: the simulacrum's "peculiar function lies in what Sartre would have called the derealization of the whole surrounding world of everyday reality" (34). The simulacrum is a symptom of contemporary society's perceived loss of connection to reality and history. According to this argument, our currect fascination with reality television and, arguably, with testimony (Shoshana Felman called our current time the "age of testimony") is a symptom of our loss of connection to the real. There are also a number of contemporary films that explore the breakdown of the separation between fiction and reality or between the artificial and the genuine (for example, Mad City, Wag the Dog, Strange Days, Johnny Neumonic, Lawnmower Man, The Truman Show, Ed T.V., Pleasantville, Dark City, The Matrix, etc., etc.). Do these movies constitute popular culture's effort to deal with a fundamental change in our experience of the world? Could it be that we are seeking "reality" in shows like MTV's Real World or Fox t.v.'s many "reality shows" precisely because we have lost a sense of reality in our everyday lives? If this is the case, what effect does the simulacrum have on our representation of the Holocaust? INDEX

Story and Discourse:

These terms refer to the basic structure of all narrative form. Story refers to the chronological sequence of events as they actually occurred in the time-space (or diegetic) universe of the narrative being read. Discourse refers to all the manipulations of the story that normally occur in a narrative. So, for example, in films, we often do not begin at the chronological start of the story but in medias res. Discourse also refers to all the material an author adds to a story: similes, metaphors, invocations, verse form, etc.. In film, discourse is taken over by such strategies as music, camera angles, lighting, cutting and editing, camera movement, voice-over narration, etc.. INDEX

SS (Schutzstaffel):

Schutzstaffel literally means "defense echelon." The name was universally abbreviated to "SS, not in Roman or Gothic letters but written as a lightning flash in imitation of ancient runic characters. The SS was also known as the Black Order. Originally the black-shirted personal guard of Hitler, the SS was later transformed by its leader, Heinrich Himmler, into a mass army on which was to rest the ultimate exercise of Nazi power. The SS served as a political police and was later assigned the duty of administering concentration camps and extermination camps. After the Blood Purge of 1934, when Hitler liquidated Ernst Röhm and his coterie of the SA High Command, the SS emerged as the chief police arm of the Nazi party. In 1929, the SS numbered only 280 men but by 1939 it grew into a corps of 240,000 men organized in divisions and regiments. In 1943 this force played a major role in suppressing the Warsaw ghetto uprising, when some 60,000 Jews were killed in what was called a military action. The SS lost 16 men in the process. At the Nuremberg trial, all members of the SS were declared to be war criminals who had perticipated in the planning of war crimes and crimes against humanity connected with the war. INDEX

Tracking Shot:

In such a shot, the camera is literally running on a track and thus smoothly following the action being represented or perhaps thus giving the viewer a survey of a particular setting. There are many examples of tracking shots in Lanzmann's Shoah, in which the film obsessively tracks the present-day locations of Nazi concentration camps. INDEX


"Transference reactions occur in all patients undergoing psychotherapy.... The main characteristic (of transference) is the experience of feelings to a person which do not befit that person and which actually apply to another. Essentially, a person in the present is reacted to as though he were a person in the past. Transference is a repetition, a new edition of an old object relationship.... The person reacting with transference feelings is in the main unaware of the distortion" (Ralph R. Greenson, The Technique and Practice of Psychoanalysis Volume I [Connecticut: International Universities Press, 1967], 151-152). INDEX

Voice-Over Narration:

In voice-over narration, one hears a voice (sometimes that of the main character) narrating the events that are being presented to you. A classic example is Deckard's narration in the Hollywood version of Ridley Scott's Bladerunner. This technique is one of the ways for film to represent "first-person narration," which is generally much easier to represent in fiction. There are many examples of voice-over narration in Lanzmann's Shoah. The narrator of Resnais' Night and Fog also switches to first-person narration at the very end of that film ("While I am telling you this..."). INDEX


I am especially indebted to Louis L. Snyder's
Encylopedia of the Third Reich, which provided
bits and pieces of some of the above definitions

Last Revised: January 15, 2001