CMSI Lecture - The Shoah in Postcolonial Perspective: Etty Hillesum and her Moroccan Secret Sharer



Speaker: Dr Rebekah Vince (Queen Mary, University of London) 
Title: The Shoah in Postcolonial Perspective: Etty Hillesum and her Moroccan Secret Sharer

Event date and time: Tuesday 21 May 2024, 4.30 p.m. – 6.00 p.m.
Location: Camelot meeting room (3.30), Faculty of Arts and Philosophy, Blandijnberg 2, 9000 Gent

Abstract: In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the interconnectedness of Jewish studies and postcolonial studies, particularly when it comes to questions of diaspora, memory, and trauma. Inherent to Edward Said’s conceptualisation of Orientalism is the ‘secret sharer’ of Western antisemitism. Such secret sharing was brought to the fore recently in the Netherlands when Dutch-Jewish author Arnon Grunberg declared in his Remembrance Day speech on 4 May 2020 that ‘if you’re speaking about Moroccans, then you’re speaking about me’. In a similar act of solidarity, in her novel Les Attentives [The Attentive Ones] (2014), French-Algerian Muslim author Karima Berger enters into sisterly dialogue with Russian-Dutch Jewish confessional writer Etty Hillesum through her wartime diaries, and more specifically the figure of a Moroccan girl who features within them. The dialogic novel reveals how Jews and Muslims are ‘secret sharers’, in their differentiated though intersecting experiences of colonisation, Orientalism, secularisation, antisemitism, and Islamophobia. In this way, it embodies memory studies scholar Michael Rothberg’s notion of ‘differentiated solidarity’ (2011), while also revealing how Etty Hillesum inspired the monks ofTibhirine in Algeria, near to Karima Berger’s birthplace. Such sisterly solidarity is exemplified by contemporary peace activists Dina Awwad-Srour and Emma Sham-Ba Ayalon, a Palestinian and an Israeli, who created the ‘Etty Hillesum Cards’ in 2019 to promote a humanist response of global healing in the face of trauma. (You can watch the film here.)

Bio: Rebekah Vince is a Lecturer in French at Queen Mary, University of London. She is a memory studies scholar specialising in French postmemory narratives, francophone postcolonial studies, and the Mediterranean francosphère. In 2018, she received a Wolfson-funded PhD from the University of Warwick, focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as depicted in literary texts by francophone North African authors. Her research moves at the intersection between postcolonial studies, Jewish studies, and transnational French studies, engaging with dialogic approaches to memory. Her monograph, tentatively entitled Unsettled Memories: Franco-Maghrebi Literature on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, is under contract with Liverpool University Press.


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