24 October 2020


'The Age of the Witness and the Age of Surveillance: Romani Holocaust Testimony and the Perils of Digital Scholarship' by Ari Joskowicz in (2020) 125(4) The American Historical Review 1205–1231 comments 

For over half a century, historians have made ample use of witness testimonies. Efforts to preserve the accounts of marginalized people in particular have broadened the range of voices available to us and significantly expanded the field. Yet we have paid too little attention to the potentially disturbing consequences of the creation and distribution of such testimonies. Focusing on the experiences of Romani Holocaust survivors, this essay argues that new practices of surveillance and victim-witnessing developed in tandem, from the mid-twentieth century to the present. Beginning in the 1960s, prosecutors asked Romani survivors to testify about the crimes committed against them under Nazism even as state authorities continued to criminalize and surveil Romanies across Europe. These and related experiences have meant that different Romani witnesses—or potential witnesses—have often had to balance the desire to have their stories heard against the fear of being listened in on. As surveillance becomes increasingly pervasive and as personal information is increasingly monetized, the lessons that European Romanies learned as early victims of targeted policing remain salient for historians today. Despite its potential to empower, victim-witnessing also creates new vulnerabilities—both those we can currently anticipate and those we can’t yet fully imagine.