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This article is taken from PN Review 173, Volume 33 Number 3, January - February 2007.

Finding a Language for Memory Judith Woolf

In 1995, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Liberation of Italy, the children of the Jewish community of Venice embarked on an oral history project, collecting and recording their grandparents' individual stories of persecution and survival, which in many cases they were hearing for the first time. The resulting book, Mi racconti Nonno? Mi racconti Nonna? [Will you tell me Grandfather? Will you tell me Grandmother?],1 recounts the escape from deportation and death of members of eighteen families. This is memorial literature at its simplest and most artless. Oblivious both to the theoretical concerns - historiographical, psychoanalytical, even narratological - which have turned Holocaust studies into an academic industry and to the austerity of the opposing view, which holds that only raw and unmediated survivor accounts constitute authentic testimony, the young interviewers have trustingly followed the injunction from Deuteronomy printed in Hebrew and Italian on the book's back cover:

Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will show thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee.2

The project, by its very nature, puts the emphasis on rescue and eventual homecoming, but while the elders relate their experiences gently, their stories include memories of relatives and friends who failed to go into hiding or to make it over the border into Switzerland and the grudging safety of a refugee camp, and the historical preface quietly makes the point that out of ...

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