A Democratic German Feminist’s Response to the Catastrophe of National Socialism
Introduction: Fragments of History in the Raw
‘The contemporary witness is the enemy of the historian’, observed our sceptical visitor from Berlin, Professor Wolfgang Benz. We were discussing at Sussex the unreliability of reminiscences recorded many years after the event. ‘But personal testimonies with an authentic dateline are especially valuable’, was my reply. In my hands was the diary kept by a German-Jewish schoolboy named Ernst Stock in Paris during the spring of 1940, recording the panic as the Wehrmacht broke through French defences.1 Testimony of this kind helps historians to capture the immediacy of events, provided they follow the fundamental principle of diary research: back to the manuscript! By this means the authentic diary can be distinguished from various forms of ‘diary memoir’, composed at a later date on the basis of pre-existing notes. Diaristic narratives of indeterminate origin often make compelling reading, but – as Professor Benz noted in his introduction to the ‘Aufzeichnungen’ of another German-Jewish refugee, Hertha Nathorff – they contain reconstituted elements that are ‘not in the strict sense a diary’.2
Handwritten diaries are time capsules that register impressions of a specific moment from a clearly defined angle in a concise historical format. In the words of Myrtle Wright, a Quaker who chronicled her experiences in Norway under the German occupation, the authentic diary entry is ← 1 | 2 → ‘a fragment of history in the raw’.3 Of course we must beware of what Alexandra Zapruder (defining wartime diaries as a genre in her anthology Salvaged Pages) calls ‘the romantic illusion of...
You are not authenticated to view the full text of this chapter or article.
This site requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books or journals.
Do you have any questions? Contact us.Or login to access all content.