It is a mainstay of thoughtful historical thinking to maintain that the investigator should place herself in the time of the historical subject and imagine her time, place, circumstance, motivations, and experience. There is no historical understanding without the notion of empathy (distinguished from sympathy—feeling sorry or compassion for someone). But this idea only opens a whole set of questions: what actually stands behind this assumption—in terms of method, theory, and ethics? Can we empathize with all historical actors, including genocide perpetrators? Should we empathize at all? In conceiving of the notion of empathy, what are the disciplinary relations between history, psychoanalysis, trauma studies, and literary criticism? These questions have been debated among scholars for a long time and have received of late renewed interest. (One recent noteworthy publication is the collection of essays edited by Aleida Assmann and Ines Detmers, Empathy and its Limits [London, 2016]). To make sense of these considerations, our point of departure is psychoanalyst and philosopher Roger Frie's 2017 Canadian Jewish Literary Award-winning book, Not in my Family: German Memory and Responsibility After the Holocaust (Oxford UP, 2017), in which he confronts the unspoken Nazi past in his German family and lays bare some of the crucial promises and problems in thinking with empathy.
Dr. Roger Frie is a psychologist and an interdisciplinary scholar in the fields of history, philosophy and psychoanalysis. He is Professor of Education at Simon Fraser University, Affiliate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, and faculty member and supervisor at the William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis and Psychology in New York. Frie explores what it means to live in the shadow of historical trauma, and draws on his own German family history and experience of living across German and Jewish contexts. He is the author of the award winning book, Not In My Family: German Memory and Responsibility After the Holocaust, (Oxford) which received the 2017 Canadian Jewish Literary Award, and is editor, most recently, of History Flows Through Us: Germany, the Holocaust and the Importance of Empathy, (Routledge) which creates a dialogue between Holocaust historians and psychoanalysts and is a tribute to the work of Thomas Kohut.
Dr. Irene Kacandes is currently The Dartmouth Professor of German Studies and Comparative Literature at Dartmouth College. Dr. Kacandes is a prolific writer who has published several monographs including the most recent Let’s Talk About Death: Asking the Questions that Profoundly Change How We Live and Die [with Steve Gordon] (Prometheus Press, 2015). Her most recent edited volume is Eastern Europe Unmapped: Beyond Borders and Peripheries [with Yuliya Komska] (Berghahn Books, 2017). Specializing in narrative theory, cultural studies, and life writing, she has written articles concerning orality and literacy, feminist linguistics, trauma and memory studies, the Holocaust and Holocaust memoir, and experimental memoirs.
Dr. Thomas Kohut is currently Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III Professor of History at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Kohut is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts and of the Council of Scholars at the Erik Erikson Institute at Austen Riggs. From 2000 to 2006, Kohut served as Dean of the Faculty at Williams College. Kohut has written two books: A German Generation: An Experiential History of the Twentieth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press; 2012); Wilhelm II and the Germans: A Study in Leadership (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).
Moderated by Dr. Alon Confino, Director of the Institute of Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies, is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Pen Tishkach Chair of Holocaust Studies at University of Massachusetts Amherst.