Ashes to Ashes: Pinter’s Holocaust Play

Hanna Scolnicov

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Abstract :
Although the Holocaust and the Nazis are never mentioned in the play, the images evoked — the railway platform, the babies snatched from their crying mothers’ arms, the winter scenes and the strange factory — all point that way. The title of the play too reinforces these associations. Rebecca, the character who remembers seeing these atrocities, is said to be in her forties in 1996, so, in fact, too young to have witnessed them. In this paper I suggest viewing her memories as acquired, rather than experienced. Her memories resonate in our own consciousness, evoking our memory of what we have heard and read about the Holocaust.I also argue that, in the context of the play, Rebecca’s name suggests that she is Jewish, and this encloses her in an inner world from which her partner Devlin is excluded. The difference between their attitudes is primarily gendered, but beyond that, there is the cultural divide between Jew and Gentile, which determines their different perceptions of the Holocaust.Pinter’s well-known interest in the place of memory in consciousness intersects the contemporary preoccupation with the question of recording survivors’ testimonials. He may have come across Charlotte Delbo’s literary output about her years in Auschwitz, or he may have found the images and ideas in some other of his readings on the period. But I point to the images of the bundle and the walking into the sea as possibly derived from Delbo, as also the idea of the mémoire profonde, as distinguished from the mémoire ordinaire, which feeds his double exposure technique (of the then and the now) in the play.
Published : 2008-07-17


Hanna Scolnicov, « Ashes to Ashes: Pinter’s Holocaust Play », Cycnos, 2008-07-17. URL :