Feb. 2: The Witness and the Historian

The Columbia University Seminar on Cultural Memory, the Maison Française and the Columbia Center for Oral History Research present:

The Witness and the Historian

Bach in Auschwitz

A Film by Michel Daeron (1990, French with English subtitles)

WHAT: Screening and discussion with the film’s historical advisor Sonia Combe, CNRS

WHEN: February 2, 2015, 6 – 9 pm

WHERE: Faculty House

Bach in Auschwitz reconstructs the famous history of the women’s orchestra in Auschwitz by way of the testimonies of twelve survivor witnesses. Their profound disagreement about whether the orchestra played during the selections not only provokes us to reevaluate the function of music in the process of extermination and survival, but also places the filmmakers and historical advisors in an especially awkward position. How can filmmakers and historians negotiate between conflicting witness accounts? How should they factor into their account the workings of time, the adaptive mechanisms of survival, and the very different ways that survivors live with past trauma in the present?

Sonia Combe is a Senior Researcher at the Institut des Sciences Sociales du Politique (ISP-CNRS), Université de Paris-Ouest and an Associate Researcher at the Centre Marc Bloch, Berlin. The author of numerous books and articles, she focuses on the history and memory of contemporary Eastern European countries under communist and post- communist regimes. She has also written extensively on archives. Combe was Chief Curator of the department of Archives at the Bibliothèque de Documentation Internationale Contemporaine (BDIC-University of Paris- Ouest) and Chief Curator of The Museum of Contemporary History (Hôtel des Invalides, Paris). Recently she has been a Visiting Professor at the Freie Universität, Berlin, where she taught about memories of communism in the GDR. Her most recent book, One Life for Another, explores the unknown practice of “exchange of victims” in the Nazis camps. It is the starting point of a reflection about the process of rewriting the past in the post-communist period. It is based on about a hundred of interviews of survivors collected by the Shoah Foundation and other oral history archives.