Semantics of the self. Preservation and construction of identity in concentration camp diaries


  • Dominique Schröder



Dominique Schröder examines the phenomenon of diary writing at Ger­man concentration and transit camps. She focuses on the question of how Jewish and so called political prisoners used language to express their experiences and to cope with their daily surroundings in the camps. Taking the diaries of Hanna Lévy-Hass and Emile Delaunois as ex­amples, the article first describes the writing environment of these two diarists: Bergen-Belsen on the one hand and Ellrich, a sub-camp of Dora-Mittelbau, on the other. Schröder then discusses the role of diary writing regarding the construction of the writer’s self, highlighting the specific characteristics of diary writing in an extreme situation like the concentration camp. This part is followed by a description of the bio­graphical backgrounds of Emile Delaunois and Hanna Lévy-Hass and of the material appearance of their texts. This leads to a deeper analysis of the two diaries concerning what is called the political self. It is shown how this concept was designed, constructed and preserved through lan­guage within the medium of the diary.