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Updated Up To 18/01/2017
Volume 7, Number 2 (June 2009) : 279--97
Once Tortured, Forever Tortured
Testimony and Autobiography in Jacob Rosenberg’s East of Time and Sunrise West
Richard Freadman
Rubric A: Eyewitness Narratives



It is often assumed that Testimony and Autobiography are clearly distinct genres. On this view Testimony conveys eye-witness reports of particular tragic events, whether momentary or of longer duration (e.g. years in a concentration camp), while Autobiography is seen as more chronologically extended and more introspective. However, since many Holocaust narratives incorporate “testimony” into a larger life-narrative which, among other things, traces the psychological effects of trauma in later years, it seems reasonable to see Testimony, at least in some instances, as an aspect of Autobiography. As always, such generic markers should be seen as heuristic indicators, not as inflexible taxonomic categories. Most serious writers agentially deploy, develop and combine generic possibilities. One such writer is Jacob G. Rosenberg, Australia’s finest Jewish autobiographer and a world class figure in Holocaust writing. Born into a Bundist family in Lodz in 1922, Rosenberg is the author of two award-winning autobiographical volumes, East of Time (2005) and Sunrise West (2007), that narrate his life in the Lodz Ghetto, Auschwitz and Ebensee, and Australia. His is a hybrid art fusing scriptural and folk materials with influences from Yiddish literature and Western modernity. His signature technique -- the imaginatively charged vignette -- is equally attuned to the description of horror and of redemptive, sometimes visionary, enchantment. Though the psychological dimension of his writing owes more to Yiddish sources than to Freudian modernity, his tracing of trauma’s aftermath down the years constitutes full-blown autobiographical writing which powerfully incorporates and extends the act of testimony. Rosenberg writes: “Once you have been tortured, you are forever tortured.”

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