Term of Award

Spring 2020

Degree Name

Master of Arts in English (M.A.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Copyright Statement / License for Reuse

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Department of Literature and Philosophy

Committee Chair

Daniel Pioske

Committee Member 1

Dustin Anderson

Committee Member 2

Lindsey Chappell


Representing large-scale historical traumatic events can be problematic as accounts are often subjective and biased. It is difficult to determine if the subjective historical account is factually accurate or not. When discussing the Holocaust, representation is an important factor. How is the Holocaust represented? This paper shows how literature can fill in the gaps of historical representation. I focus on psychoanalyst Dori Laub’s three levels of the witness and their role in testimony in relation to Holocaust literature. For Laub, the first level witness is the primary account from the person who experienced the trauma. The second level witness is who the first level witness shares his/her story with. The third level witness observes the process of witnessing between the first and second witnesses. Laub’s ideas on witnessing and testifying are heightened when paired with Paul Ricoeur’s notion of attestation, which is the act of believing in the speech of the testifier. For many Holocaust survivors, speaking about the traumas endured was extremely difficult. Often the only evidence survivors had of their experiences was their testimony. As a survivor goes through the process of attestation, he/she asks listeners to believe in his/her testimony. I trace Laub’s three levels of the witness in Primo Levi’s memoir If This Is a Man, Elie Wiesel’s fictional Day, and W.G. Sebald’s journey novel Austerlitz. Tracing the three levels of the witness in each text, demonstrates Ricoeur’s notion of attestation, which provides new insight into the representation of large-scale historical traumatic events.

OCLC Number


Research Data and Supplementary Material