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[en] “Nature, thank God, is far more merciful than people”. This memorable statement is taken from Alfred Oppenheimer’s testimony during the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem, in which he describes his ordeals during the war.
Alfred Oppenheimer (1901-1993), a Jewish business owner in Luxembourg and later “Eldest of the Jews” during the Occupation by Nazi Germany (1940-1944), has shared his story of perseverance and survival in Theresienstadt and Auschwitz-Birkenau both in the context of trials and in the media. As indicated before, he served as a witness in the Eichmann trial, where he recounted his deportation from Luxembourg and the severe conditions during his imprisonment. In addition to that, he participated in the first war crimes trial in Luxembourg in 1949/50.
In fact, as one of the few deported Jews from Luxembourg who survived and returned to the country after 1945, his experiences did not only serve as an essential source for historical and memorial works, but were also integrated into the Grand-Duchy’s national master narrative. They featured in various interviews, documentaries and printed media, especially in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
Our presentation aims at exploring the mediatization of Alfred Oppenheimer’s testimony and its significance for Luxembourgish society and its self-perception. We will analyze its use throughout the different stages of postwar public discourse. The immediate postwar period, for instance, was marked mainly by the memory of resistance against the Nazi occupant and by the perspective of Luxembourgish prisoners of war and the forcibly recruited. At that time, Oppenheimer’s account was featured in the Rappel, a journal edited by the LPPD (Ligue luxembourgeoise des prisonniers et déportés politiques) which represented a particular and limited perspective on Luxembourg’s history during the Nazi occupation.
Following a slow process of intensifying public debates in other European countries and a growing interest in historical research, public discourse in Luxembourg progressed from a dominantly resistance-driven view to a more differentiated perspective. In this context, Holocaust remembrance became more important and the Jewish victim group started to stand out.
The presentation will trace the journey of Alfred Oppenheimer’s testimony throughout Luxemburg’s contemporary history and demonstrate that it is connected to the notion of a new national consciousness after WWII. It will explore how his story moved from the court to the media and how it was told in different outlets throughout society’s path towards understanding its role in the larger context of Nazi occupation, Holocaust and their aftermath in history and memory.