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The Sonic in Jewish War-Time Diaries

Author Nikita HOCK
Director of thesis Prof. Dr. Christian Gerlach
Co-director of thesis
Summary of thesis

My project engages a new layer of information concerning the experience of Jews under persecution during World War II. Taking as my source diaries written in this period, I present a re-reading focusing on the dimension of the sonic.


This approach is lead by two key questions: In which ways do sounds convey the brutal, emotional, and unmediated character of violence and its spectre, with its concentrations, displacements and wanderings, as well as its changing threat sources ranging from different occupiers to neighbors? Which insights into strategies of resilience and survival, as well as the subjectivity and emotions involved, can we gain by focussing on voices, noises, and soundscapes?


The history of sounds is a relatively young field, and with few exceptions (music in particular) this approach has not been applied to research about Jewish persecution and extermination. My research is based on conclusions from Sound Studies stating that sounds reflect social conditions and shifting interpersonal relations, serve for community-building and that, for the individual, hearing is of an existential, often traumatic character as sound waves permeate the body.


To leverage these insights, I concentrate on both published and yet unaccessed texts written by diarists in hiding, under false identities and in ghettos during World War II. For these diarists, the sonic is imbued with strategic significance: Assessing dangerous unseen situations such as searches and controlling one’s own sound production such as cries becomes existentially relevant. As relating to sounds engages prior expectations and imagination, it also provides insights into attitudes and strategies towards occupiers, individual and social relationships to persecutors, other Jews, neighbors and communities. Finally, the diarist’s choices in representing sounds and their placement into the narrative frame of a diary reveals patterns of coping. How do the authors relate these existential sensations to other experiences - including those that are too painful for the cognitive and linguistic apparatus or the strength of emotions under siege?

Status beginning
Administrative delay for the defence 2020
URL http://soundscapesoftheshoah.org