“Symbolizing Processes of the Holocaust Memory: Cultural History of Dr. Mengele’s Character as the Icon of Nazism”
Tamás Kisantal is currently Associate Professor in the Department of Modern Literature and Literary Theory, University of Pécs, Hungary. He received his MA in History and Hungarian Language and Literature at the University of Pécs and held his PhD in Hungarology at the University of Jyvaskyla, Finland.
His main fields of research are narrative problems of historiography, contemporary theory of history, and artistic representation of the Holocaust. He has published three books in Hungarian (Túlélő történetek [Surviving Stories], 2009; Az élet tanítómesterei. Írások a történelem ábrázolásáról [Teachers of Life. Essays on the Representation of History], 2017; and Az emlékezet és a felejtés helyei [Places of Memory and Forgetting], 2020), and edited some volumes on the contemporary philosophy of history, and the literature of the holocaust. He has written several papers in English as well, most recently about the postwar reception of the literature of the Holocaust in Hungary.
The main aim of Dr. Kisantal's project, “Symbolizing Processes of the Holocaust Memory: Cultural History of Dr. Mengele’s Character as the Icon of Nazism,” is to study the figure of Dr. Josef Mengele as a cultural icon and to map the representational strategies and attributes connected to his character. Thus the research does not concentrate on the life, personality, or career of Mengele; it does not want to focus on his biography or draw psychological characteristics of the real, historical Mengele, but rather examines the interpreting patterns and representational attitudes by which the figure of Mengele, as an icon or a symbol of some aspects of Holocaust, was constituted. According to the basic premise of the research, after the war, some cultural codes and representational patterns were associated with the character of Mengele by which the real, historical figure could become a symbol of the evil scientist (and of the wicked, destructive negative side of pseudo-science).
During the fellowship, Kisantal approaches the representation of Mengele from two interconnected aspects. At first, he examines the process and the historical stages of this earlier mentioned symbolization analyzing the roles and the consequences of cultural topoi connected with his figure in historical and fictional works. Secondly, Kisantal studies the patterns and strategies of depicting Mengele in the testimonies of Holocaust survivors focusing on the methods of remembering Mengele and the rhetorical and narrative strategies by which his figure is presented. The aim is to provide a comparative analysis, namely comparing the Mengele scenes of memoirs and reports that had been published or recorded immediately after the war with oral history interviews recorded later, mostly from the 1990s. Furthermore, the investigation would like to point out some connections between the personal and the cultural levels of memory, by examining the possible ways through which the globalization of Holocaust remembrance can influence individual memories.