"The Bond of Complicity: Reading Miklós Nyiszli's Memoirs"

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Marius Turda (Oxford Brookes University)

"The Bond of Complicity: Reading Miklós Nyiszli's Memoirs"

(Introduced by: Sari Siegel, University of Southern California)

[39min40; 15 slides]


This paper was presented to the international symposium:

"Reassessing Nazi Human Experiments and Coerced Research, 1933-1945: New Findings, Interpretations and Problems"

4 - 7 July 2013, Wadham College, Oxford


Convened by Paul Weindling (Oxford Brookes University), Marius Turda (Oxford Brookes University), and Volker Roelcke (University of Giessen).

Kindly funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, and the University of Giessen


Abstract: In this paper I focus on the importance of 1) reading problematic texts such as memoirs of inmate doctors in Nazi concentration camps; and 2) relating these memoirs to their corresponding “epistemology of testimony.” (Verónica Tozzi). Memoirs are at once narratives — a text that narrates the author’s experience — and testimonies — in the sense of serving as witness to that experience. There is an additional difficulty with some of these memoirs, namely their authors’ implicit complicity in unethical medical research. To address this issue, I consider the memoirs of a Jewish inmate doctor, who worked for Joseph Mengele in Auschwitz: Miklós Nyiszli’s Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account (first published in 1946). I want to unpack Nyiszli’s memoirs and thus establish their multiple textual components, their “performative” quality (Quentin Skinner, Visions of Politics, vol. 1) as a historical document. This is an attempt to reveal the complexities, structures and problems characterising Nyiszli’s experience as Jewish physician in Auschwitz. I argue, in conclusion, that Nyiszli did gain a “deeper meaning” from his experience as a forensic pathologist working for Mengele at Auschwitz. In addition to providing invaluable sources about Nazi medical experiments, Nyiszli's memoirs can help us understand wider truths about the “bond of complicity” that, according to Primo Levi, existed between perpetrators and victims in a concentration camp.


Bio: Marius Turda was educated at the Universities of Bucharest, Budapest (CEU) and Oxford. He has been teaching at Oxford Brookes since 2005. His work has been supported by grants and fellowships from the Wellcome Trust, AHRC, ESF and the Berendel Foundation. He is the founder of the Working Group on the History of Race and Eugenics, based at Oxford Brookes, and is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society.



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