One of the core questions of the humanities is how can we know what we know. In the field of Jewish studies, one of the sharpest formulations of this fundamental epistemological question arises in the study of the Holocaust. Is it the case, as Elie Wiesel famously declared, that only survivors can really know what took place in concentration and death camps? Some scholars have flipped this question and asked whether survivor testimony can be deemed sufficiently reliable for historical reconstruction, especially on its own.
Disaster not only alters the horizon of meaning for those who experience it but also leaves indelible traces on the lexicon. How can old words navigate the new and radically discordant? Language struggles to keep up. Words and expressions are coined or reused and the new collective argot in turn allows previously unimaginable things to become assimilable.
This blog post is part of a series focused on the research of current fellows. In this edition, Steven Weitzman sits down with Alma Heckman to explore her research project, "Radical Roads Not Taken: Moroccan Jewish Trajectories, 1925–1975." Heckman is the Neufeld-Levin Chair in Holocaust Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz and assistant professor in the Department of History. She received her PhD from UCLA.
Steven P. Weitzman (SPW): Can you tell us a bit about how you came to your scholarly interests?