Bystanders Speaking.The Language Identity of the People of Chełmno in Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah

Joanna Sobesto,

Magdalena Heydel


The main problem discussed in the paper is the authenticity of speech of the inhabitants of Chełmno in the sequence filmed outside the parish church in Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah. The authors analyze a number of characteristic features of the bystanders’ language vis a vis the French translation provided by the interpreter  Barbara Janicka, and the English subtitles. It is argued that the language of the bystanders carries important information on the speakers’ individual and collective identity, and gives clues on the construction of memory, not just on the level of meanings, but also in its materiality. The analysis focuses on four planes which were identified as important for the construction of the implicit messages: the semantic ambiguity of the utterances; the narrative techniques used by the speakers; verb forms, especially the impersonal use of verbs; and syntax. The specific linguistic traits testify to the fact that the speakers lack adequate tools to verbalize their traumatic memories and to reflect the reality that they were part of. The analysis of the linguistic landscape of the scene also leads to conclusions about the instrumentalization of speakers on the part of the film director. The French and English translation in and of the sequence – a summary rather than a rendition – clearly, albeit perhaps not intentionally, contributes to this effect. Through linguistic analysis and wide contextual interpretation, unpacking the way the bystanders speak creates a new, hitherto unacknowledged, source of knowledge on witnessing and trauma.

Słowa kluczowe: Lanzmann, Shoah, Chełmno on Ner, Holocaust, bystanders, translation

Bielik-Robson A. 2004. “Słowo i trauma: czas, narracja, tożsamość”, Teksty Drugie 5, pp. 23–34.

Bojarska K. 2010. “Człowiek imieniem Lanzmann”, Tygodnik Powszechny 44, supplement: Conrad 04, p. 10.

Caruth C. (ed). 1995. Trauma: Explorations in Memory. London, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, (access: 1.12.2019).

Federici F. (ed). 2011. Translating Dialects and Languages of Minorities: Challenges and Solutions, Berlin: Peter Lang.

Felman S. 1992. “The Return of the Voice: Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah” [in:] Testimony. Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis and History, ed. S. Felman, D. Laub, New York–London: Routledge, pp. 204–283.

Głowacka D. 2016. “Współ-pamięć, pamięć ‘negatywna’ i dylematy przekładu w ‘wycinkach’ z Shoah Claude’a Lanzmanna”, Teksty Drugie 6, pp. 297–311.

Hartman G.H. 1995. “On Traumatic Knowledge and Literary Studies”, New Literary History 3, pp. 537–563.

Heydel M. 2018. “Wszystkich przesłuchano, tylko nas nie. Tłumacz ustny jako świadek”, Teksty Drugie 3, pp. 267–280.

Kuhiwczak P. 2007. “The Grammar of Survival. How Do We Read Holocaust Testimonies?” [in:] Translating and Interpreting Conflict, ed. M. Salama-Carr, Amsterdam–New York: John Benjamis, pp. 61–73.

Majewski T. 2007. “Świadectwo – pomiędzy wnętrzem a zewnętrzem języka”, Teksty Drugie 5, pp. 74–84.

Montague P. 2012. Chełmno and the Holocaust. The History of Hitler’s First Death Camp, Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.

Pawlicka-Nowak Ł. (ed). 2004. Ośrodek zagłady Żydów w Chełmnie and Nerem w świetle najnowszych badań, Konin: Oficyna Bibliofilów.

Szczur S. 2002. Historia Polski. Średniowiecze, Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie.

Tipton R. 2008. “Interpreters and the Social Construction of Identity”, The Translator 14 (1), pp. 1–19.

Czasopismo ukazuje się w sposób ciągły on-line.
Pierwotną formą czasopisma jest wersja elektroniczna.