During all periods in postwar Czechoslovakia when the World War II Jewish ghetto at Terezín (in German, Theresienstadt) could be discussed in the public sphere, Czech-Jewish Holocaust survivors created and circulated narratives about the cultural life of the ghetto and their own experience of agency and pleasure while engaged in theatrical performances. Focusing on two periods, the immediate postwar years (1945-47) and an early point in the political thaw leading to the Prague Spring (1963), I examine testimony that survivors addressed to their fellow Czechs in the public sphere as a rhetorical performance in its own right. The constative and the performative aspects of testimony have shifted over time; in each period, survivors needed or wanted their testimony to achieve different effects, and they provided different information about theatrical performance in the ghetto.
The survivors clearly adjusted their narratives in response to period-specific pressures as they tried to reinforce both their subjectivity and their subject position in postwar Czechoslovakia. Nevertheless, the testimony of both periods shares a consistent core of themes, suggesting that theatrical performance in the ghetto functioned as a social practice that increased the prisoners' resilience and ability to cope with the traumatic events occurring in the ghetto on a day-to-day basis. Their postwar testimony reveals a related function: they resisted objectification within the sometimes hostile environment of postwar Czechoslovakia by establishing and conveying the meaning they ascribed to their own experience, thus remaining speaking subjects.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. October 2009. Major: Theatre Arts. Advisor: Dr. Margaret Werry. 1 computer file (PDF); ix, 284 pages.
Peschel, Lisa A..
The prosthetic life: theatrical performance, survivor testimony and the Terezín Ghetto, 1941-1963..
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