Barbara Mann gave a Brown Bag Lunch presentation on Thursday, March 29, at 12:15 pm. Her talk was entitled “Between Bukh and Sefer: Holocaust Memorial Books in Material Context.”

Yizkor books [memorial books] mark a major material revolution in twentieth-century Jewish life: the destruction of Eastern European Jewry, including the death or displacement of most of its population, and the erasure of its spatial existence. Memorial books include personal narrative, historical chronicle, folkloric anecdote, maps, drawings, and lists. Mann’s reading of these books shifts the critical focus from their value as historical narratives to their meaning as material objects: understood as “things,” they expand the repertoire of artifacts whose analysis shapes our sense of the past. Written at an enormous geographic remove from their substantive locale, they often referenced physical remains such as dirt from a site where residents were known to have perished, bits of parchment, even crematoria ashes. The memorial book’s desire to substantiate the claims of memory resembles that of other commemorative forms such as the monument; indeed, some memorial books are large and unwieldy, as if to approximate the commanding physical presence of a tombstone. Examining their material qualities in relation to other Holocaust objects illuminates how memorial books collapse distinctions between object and text, between performance and book, and between religious and secular forms.

Barbara Mann is professor of Jewish Literature and Simon H. Fabian Chair in Hebrew Literature at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Her areas of expertise include Israeli and Jewish literatures, cultural studies, modern poetry, urban studies, literary modernism and the fine arts. Mann is the author of Space and Place in Jewish Studies (Rutgers University Press, 2012) and A Place in History: Modernism, Tel Aviv and the Creation of Jewish Urban Space (Stanford University Press, 2005), in addition to numerous scholarly articles. From 1997 to 2004, she was a member of the faculty at Princeton University, where she also served as a faculty fellow in the Center for the Study of Religion. From 2007 to 2008, Dr. Mann was a scholar-in-residence at the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan. In 2011–2012, she was a Lady Davis Visiting Fellow in the Humanities at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. Mann received an NEH Fellowship in 2015–2016 for her work-in-progress, “The Object of Jewish Literature: A Material History,” which is under contract with Yale University Press.

This event is part of the Leon Levy Foundation Lectures in Jewish Material Culture. Additional support provided by The David Berg Foundation.