“The autobiography of a Shoah survivor: the case of Elie Wiesel”
After finishing my Ph. D. studies, I began looking for a possibility to continue my research in (German) Literature science. But, I soon realized that it is not easy to start a postdoctoral project directly after doing Ph.D. work. I needed some time for a break after the Ph. D. Studies and, of course, for brainstorming a new subject. For this reason, GF (Gateway Fellowship) was a good bridge which could connect the Ph.D. and postdoctoral research. My supervisor Prof. Dr. Benedikt Jeßing (Institute of German Studies, RUB) and Dr. Kristin Platt (Institute for Diaspora research and Genocide Studies, RUB) supported my project during the preparation for the application.
My project will focus on the Shoah survivor’s autobiography as a literary form. Survivors are delivering their personal Shoah experience by way of storytelling in the autobiography. But this act reveals memories, which occurred without normal temporality and local cognition. As a literature scientist, I became interested in how Shoah survivors can tell a story from their experience without those basic narrative elements. Using the autobiographies of Elie Wiesel (1928-2016), a Shoah survivor, I will focus on the episodic memories he mentioned, the kinds of narrative elements he used, and the purpose he conveyed.
Furthermore, my work will consider the autobiographies of a Shoah survivor as a process. Testimony by a Shoah survivor is a witness-account, which goes a long way toward remembering, reflecting upon, overcoming and healing memories. As time passes, the survivor’s point of view and the interpretation of his Shoah experience, as well as the narrative itself, can change. Thus, it is necessary to consider all of Wiesel's autobiographies and the complementary witness accounts elucidated within these different time-periods.
My project will be carried out at the ENS (École Normale Supérieure) de Lyon, in France, in collaboration with three specialists. Prof. Dr. Anne Lagny, the lead collaborator, is a professor at the department of German literature at ENS de Lyon. She is an autobiographical literature specialist who focuses on German and French autobiographical research traditions. Dr. Laurent Cassagnau, a researcher at ENS de Lyon specializes in German literature with a focus on the poetic discourse after the Shoah and German Jewish literature. The collaboration with these two academics from ENS de Lyon influenced my host-institutional choice. The third collaborator, Prof. Dr. Annette Wieviorka (emeritus director, Centre national de la recherche scientifique in Paris, France) is a renowned French historian. She is a distinguished specialist on Shoah and Jewish history of the 20th century.
I am confident to successfully carry out this important project with the support of the Gateway fellowship.
The brain is the principle organ of all mental capacities, but despite the apparent unity of our mind, our cortex is split in two. Some cognitive processes such as language, face recognition and mental rotation are dominantly processed in either of the two hemispheres. From an evolutionary perspective, this functional asymmetry is an adaptive trait that increases brain capacity because both hemispheres can specialize in different cognitive abilities. Concordantly, language as the most uniquely human feature is also the most lateralized higher cognitive function. Several brain structures in white matter and grey matter are implicated in functional laterality. However, it is still unclear what adaptations in the human brain lead to the differences in the cognitive abilities between human and non-human primates.
Most studies that addressed this issue focused on single brain structures and/or used histological methods on post-mortem brains. Although these techniques provide a good spatial resolution, they don’t allow investigating the relationship between different brain structures due to their invasive nature. Moreover, individual differences within a species cannot be investigated because histological techniques are labour intensive, thus typically only small samples are assessed.
My Gateway project aims at shedding light onto the question in how far the rules of human brain architecture differ from other non-human primates by investigating brain architecture across different primate species. Contrary to previous studies, this project will use existing magnet resonance imaging data that will be gained from databases of the Human Connectome Project and from the National Chimpanzee Brain Resource - the largest MRI database of chimpanzee brains to date.
The Fellowship takes place at the ICM Institute for Brain and Spinal Cord in Paris, France, from where I have access to the imaging data. I will closely work with Prof. Michel Thiebaut de Schotten who is a leading expert in functional brain anatomy and comparative neuroimaging. This allows me to extend my collaborative network and enhance my methodological repertoire. Therefore, my deepest gratitude goes to the RUB Research School for enabling me to realize my research idea under ideal conditions!