Dr Helen Finch, University of Leeds


This project is the first to work out a systematic account of how Holocaust survivors bore witness to their experience in literature written in the German language. It asks the following questions: How was a canon of German-language Holocaust testimony formed throughout the 1940s and 1950s? What impact has this hitherto unrecognised canon has had on subsequent German-language literature about the Holocaust? How and why have German-speaking literary witnesses to the Holocaust challenged this canon?

This study proposes that in the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s, an unacknowledged canon of Holocaust literature was formed in Germany. This project aims to create an innovative methodology, drawing on sociology as well as on close literary analysis, to account for the mechanisms that ‘canonised’ some writers of German-language testimonial literature about the Holocaust and, more importantly, ‘excluded’ others. The project looks at a series of nine case studies, selected for their exemplary status as excluded writers from the canon of Holocaust literature over the course of the period 1945-2012, and argues that the nine writers were excluded due variously to their their exile status, aesthetic practice, political affiliation and gender. It addresses the following research questions:

  1. How was a canon of German-language Holocaust literature first formed in the 1950s, subsequently challenged in the 1960s and rediscovered and/or remediated in the decades that followed? What rules governed the process by which certain German-language authors had their Holocaust literature or literary testimony canonized, whereas other authors were excluded?
  2. What influence has this canon had on later Holocaust literature in German, and how has it been remediated in other, German-or English-language literatures? How has this canon of German Holocaust testimony been remediated as a way to ‘read’ and ‘come to terms with’ other traumas in different, often transnational contexts?

This project is intended to benefit scholars working in German studies as well as the wider community of scholars working on Holocaust literature, trauma, testimony and cultural memory. The outcomes include a monograph, an edited volume, and two conference papers. In addition, the project will establish a network of scholars concerned with canon-formation in Holocaust literature and its remediation. The project will also establish a Holocaust Memorial Day project based both in the University of Leeds and the wider Leeds community. It will establish links with the University of the Free State in South Africa also, sharing insights into the role of literature and the literary canon in mediating testimony and trauma in post-Apartheid South Africa. It is planned to establish contact both with the Institute for Studies in Race, Reconciliation and Social Justice at the University of the Free State, and with the Holocaust and Genocide Foundation in South Africa, to establish an ongoing dialogue between UK and South African Holocaust researchers and educators.


Dr Helen Finch

Project blog


University of Leeds project page

RCUK Gateway to Research