The Number of Victims as a Metaphor in a Public Holocaust Discourse Cover Image

Liczba ofiar jako metafora w dyskursie publicznym o Zagładzie
The Number of Victims as a Metaphor in a Public Holocaust Discourse

Author(s): Jacek Leociak
Subject(s): Cultural Essay, Political Essay, Societal Essay
Published by: Instytut Slawistyki Polskiej Akademii Nauk

Summary/Abstract: My aim is to specify the role of counting the victims of wars, mass murders and genocides in the public discourse. I consider both, the certain number of victims and, the process of counting itself as a rhetoric action. Disputes about the number of victims – i.e., exaggeration or reduction of the number, evaluations of the historical event based on large or small amount of the victims, manipulations with the numbers, etc. – belong to the realm of rhetoric pervasion rather than cognitive procedure. Their status is primarily axiological and emotional. There are some „events” one cannot comprehend and grasp within the strict frame of victims statistics. With no doubt, the Holocaust is such an event. In the Holocaust discourse one can point two main ways of referring to the number of victim formula. First – the usage of the topos of „huge number” (the classical example is the „six million victims of Shoah” formula). Secondly – various kinds of hyperboles, where the numbers of victims is evidently amplified (one can estimate it confronting the available historical sources and statistics). The „six million victims” formula evokes inconceivably great number of perished people, so great that practically uncountable. This topos of „great / huge number” was frequently used in ancient, biblical and medieval texts. The limit events (like the Holocaust) cannot be handed over, cannot be fully expressed emotionally and articulated rationally. The possibility of expression reaches the limits of repre¬sentation. That’s why we are condemned to painful ambiguity, to approximations and estimated counting of the victims. Striving after the perfect and exact number of victims resembles the pursuing for phantom.

  • Issue Year: 2008
  • Issue No: 8
  • Page Range: 277-293
  • Page Count: 17
  • Language: Polish