A specialist in the history of the Shoah, Annette Wieviorka has just published “Tombaux”. On Tuesday, December 6, she will be invited by the Ombres Blanches bookstore to the departmental council for a debate on “History and memory”.
Why this title so strong: “Tombs” for your book, Femina essay prize?
It imposed itself on me, in relation to the literature and the story that I was telling. The “poetic tomb” is moreover a literary term of the Renaissance and, I learned it recently, a musical genre: Ravel thus composed a “Tombeau de Couperin”. I was also thinking of Michelet and Michel de Certeau: history is a work of burial. It allows the dead to return less sad to their tomb.
Is the subtitle, “Autobiography of my family” an oxymoron? Or are you speaking on behalf of your family?
I liked the oxymoron – Ruth Zylberman wrote an “autobiography of an apartment building” – and I wanted to write a text that was both literary and historical. This subtitle has two meanings: I introduce myself into the story, to which I bring a part of subjectivity. If my brother or my sister had written this book, it would have been different. The other meaning is that I am talking about my family, but also about all the families who were thus deported to Auschwitz. Many people who have read my book have said this to me:
You write about your family, but you talk about mine. » I was careful to tell the particularities of my family, by integrating them into a group. You are a historian: it is also the Holocaust that you tell…
It was not my ambition to tell the Holocaust – in fact, it only takes up a small part of the book. I especially wanted to talk about the 1920s, about Poland, and about those people who were then caught up in the persecutions. I devote a whole section to the return of those who were spared and how they integrated afterwards.
What works have you relied on to tell the story of your family?
In the 70s and 80s, I had long discussions with my father Aby who translated for me the texts of his father, Wolf, who was a Yiddish writer. He left writings and family archives in why I immersed myself, as in the national, police, departmental archives etc. .
The book, superbly written, is a literary work as much as a history book.
Yes and no. There is always in my books this desire for storytelling, I take care to deliver an embodied story. Then, it is true that writing this book requires respect and accuracy in relation to the characters we are talking about. You have to find the right distance. No one is an extraordinary hero, and my constant concern is to keep pathos at bay. You have to be acutely aware of being at the interface with your story.
You will talk on Tuesday about history and democracy…
History is not possible without democracy. Look at Putin: he had the Memorial demolished before attacking Ukraine… One of the characteristics of the time is what François Hartog calls the “presentism” of information, the tweet. The present is what prevents the past from illuminating the present.