Images of the Holocaust. Meaning, Memory, Incrimination

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)


This thesis examines the representation in visual culture of the Holocaust, the Nazi genocide of European Jewry. It is divided into three main parts, each one focusing on a particular aspect of Holocaust representation. Part 1, "Meaning" (chapter 1-3), begins by considering the important role played by documentary photographs from the concentration camps for the public knowledge and conception of the Holocaust. The thesis then proceeds to study the work and reception of five artists, between 1945 and 1998, who have used these atrocity photos as a basis for their art: Corrado Cagli, Gerhart Frankl, Rico Lebrun, Boris Lurie and Robert Morris. In some of them, the motive of the mass grave is found to take on new cultural meanings through the passage from documentary- to artistic image. In others, the atrocity imagery instead undermines the conventions of meaning in art. The author proposes the theory of abject and abjection, by the French-Rumanian psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva, as an interpretational model of these negotiations between the motif of the mass grave and visual culture.

Part 2,"Memory" (chapter 4-5), first considers the visualisation of Holocaust memory in the forms of video interviews with Holocaust survivors, Holocaust monuments (Buchenwald and Berlin), and photographs of Jewish life before and during the Holocaust. These are analysed with regard to different understandings of Holocaust memory as either "traumatic" or "constructed", borrowed from historiography. The thesis then proceeds to examine Holocaust memory in digital media, such as the Internet and CD-rom, in which the technology seems to foster ideas about memory as programmable and re-programmable. The author detects a shift from "historical" to "virtual" Holocaust memory, when the interactive features of digital media are combined with a pedagogy that stresses empathetic insight and identification. Clashes between competing collective memories over official Holocaust monuments are contrasted to the simultaneous individualisation and universalisation of Holocaust memory in the new media.

Part 3, "Incrimination" (chapter 6-8), examines the visual representation of Nazism and forms an antipole to the focus on processes of meaning and identification in the previous parts of the book. "Incrimination" is here understood as a kind of cultural, negative signification of a secondary order, a "counter-meaning" always consisting of the destruction of a pre-existing positive meaning or identity. From this perspective, the author discusses various forms of the visualisation of Nazism, including some adopted by the Nazi regime itself as well as today’s post-modern appropriations of the aesthetics and iconography of Nazism. From the conflict within Nazism over German Expressionism to the censoring of contemporary artists like Melvin Charney, Zbigniew Libera and Ronald Jones from international exhibitions, this study points to the problems involved in visually defining Nazism and its ties to both European cultural traditions and to modernity.
Translated title of the contributionImages of the Holocaust. Meaning, Memory, Incrimination
Original languageSwedish
Awarding Institution
  • Division of Art History and Visual Studies
  • [unknown], [unknown], Supervisor, External person
Award date2002 May 24
Print ISBNs91-89638-00X
Publication statusPublished - 2002

Bibliographical note

Defence details

Date: 2002-05-24
Time: 10:00
Place: Dept. of Art History, Biskopsgatan 5, room 314 (the gray building, 3:d floor)

External reviewer(s)

Name: Fausing, Bent
Title: [unknown]
Affiliation: [unknown]


Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Art History


  • Visual Studies
  • Visual Culture
  • Holocaust Representation
  • Holocaust Art
  • Holocaust Studies
  • Documentary Photography
  • Abject Art
  • NO!art
  • Monuments
  • Psychoanalytic Theory
  • Julia Kristeva
  • Jacques Lacan
  • Abjection
  • Sublimation
  • Sacrifice
  • Katharsis
  • Apocaly
  • Art history
  • Konsthistoria
  • Contemporary history (since 1914)
  • Nutidshistoria (från 1914)


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