Research Seminar Series - Filip Müller's Silences

Join us for the latest in our spring research seminar series when we welcome speaker Dr Dominic Williams, Montague Burton Fellow in Jewish Studies in the School.

Filip Müller, a rare survivor of the Auschwitz Sonderkommando or ‘Special Squad,’ is one of the key witnesses in Claude Lanzmann’s film Shoah. Lanzmann identifies him as one of the film’s heroes whose ‘voice of bronze’ guides viewers round the gas chambers of Birkenau. Kent Jones describes him as sounding like someone ‘reciting to a child from a book of wonders’. But his silences are also significant.

In this talk, Dominic Williams will consider ways in which they can be read as indices of the Shoah. It will consider the most famous of these silences – his momentary inability to go on talking about the liquidation of part of the Czech family camp in March 1944 – alongside the outtakes and editing process of the film. In one outtake in particular, Müller reads someone else’s story aloud. ‘The 600 Boys,’ attributed by the Auschwitz Museum to Zalman Lewental, another member of the ‘Special Squad,’ was written probably within Crematorium III, buried in its grounds, and only discovered in 1962.

Mueller’s reading at times comes close to breaking down, but these latter points cannot be described as breakthroughs into ‘incarnation.’ The stumbles are indexes of Mueller’s own emotional difficulties in reading this story, but also traces of the materiality of the original, partially damaged, text, inscribed in the editorial marks of the German translation over which Mueller hesitates. This paper traces the route of this story through various languages and media, from Yiddish manuscript, to Polish and German translations, to Lanzmann’s recording of Müller’s performance.

This talk also attends to the technological production of Müller’s voice, the matching of image and sound that was achieved by the editor Ziva Postec in part by splicing in silences that slow down his words and rhyme with the emptiness of the landscapes of the sites of death. Rather than speaking to a simple state of unspeakability or unrepresentability, therefore, the silences are shown to have been produced, through a process of material transformation, transmission and editing

The venue is Room 2.09 in the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, University Road, University of Leeds. See here for a campus map.
It is free to attend and all are welcome.

This event is organised by the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies as part of the spring research seminar series.