Biography of Thing and Thing in a Biography

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 09:30
Location: Seminarraum Geschichte 1 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Lukasz POSLUSZNY, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poland
According to Igor Kopytoff, things also have biographies. By looking at them, one tries to find answers to the questions concerning production of them, their careers, and recognizable “ages” of their lives. That scope enables to see social values and interactions of groups mirrored in materialized dimension of things, considered as equally important actants in creating, and sustaining social life. In the presentation, therefore, I would like to look into highly materially deprived life of Nazi concentration camp prisoners, and their everyday struggle differently than we used to, that is through more materially oriented perspective, and one particular object: bread. This approach will enable me to connect the importance of bread in life of survivors after incarceration with variety of usage the object was involved in the concentration camps.

The decision to follow the bread in accounts of survivors is based on two factors. Firstly, its importance in testimonies, both in qualitative and quantitative aspects. Secondly, its recognizable presence in private and public narratives raises the question of its role in commemoration processes.

In the presentation, the attention will be paid to different biographies of bread, which mark wide range of different cultural activities it was involved in. At first, its career evolves from an nutritive object, through currency to functional thing. Then, after the war, memory of the camp is conveyed through everyday practices related to bread: showing the great respect in which it is held, and recording the rituals and habits of camp provenance. But bread is also present as a narrative element that illustrates deeply symbolic events, both momentous and traumatic in survivors' biographies.

Research is based on the accounts which come from written texts and memoirs, Majdanek State Museum and Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum’s archives, and narrative inquires conducted by the author with survivors.