The Sonderkommando photographs: a possibility for reconciled commemoration of a sublime historical event


  • Paula Ramos Mollá Universiteit van Amsterdam



historical sublime, Elco Runia, Didi-Huberman, aesthetic experience, commemoration, identity, sublime historical experience


In this paper I consider the four images from Auschwitz analyzed by Didi- Huberman in Images in Spite of All —the so-called Sonderkommando photographs— through the lens of the “historical sublime” as proposed by historian Eelco Runia. These photographs are taken as an example of a possible reconciled aesthetic experience with an “unimaginable” past that horrifies us. Moreover, I argue that aesthetic depictions are able to champion a model of historical commemoration which makes these events imaginable again. In order to show this, I will first employ the concept of the “sublime historical event” which Runia proposes to interpret the Holocaust’s historical catastrophe. Runia’s “historical sublime” provides a framework to understand the process of becoming what “we are no longer” through the invention of new identities that defy our former ones and explain historical discontinuities. Secondly, I will examine the Sonderkommando photographs by applying Runia’s notion of commemoration to the viewer’s aesthetic experience of these images. I will finally suggest the possibility of a reconciliation with our former identities, those who committed sublime historical acts with which we no longer identify, thanks to this aestheticized experience of commemoration.

= 1347 veces | PDF
= 253 veces| | HTML (ESPAÑOL (ESPAÑA))
= 16 veces|


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

Paula Ramos Mollá, Universiteit van Amsterdam

is a researcher, writer and curator based in Amsterdam. Having graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Humanities and Journalism from the Carlos III University and a Minor in Political Sciences, she has recently finished the ReMA in Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam. Paula’s main research field is aesthetics, specifically visual studies. Her current research is focused on an interdisciplinary analysis of the digital image and its impact in our contemporary experiences of the artwork. Paula has previous research experience, having collaborated with research institutes such as ICON in Utrecht or DELab in Warsaw.


Ankersmit, F. R. (2005). Sublime historical experience. Stanford University Press.

Barthes, R. & Howard, R. (1982). Camera lucida: reflections on photography. Hill & Wang,

Benjamin, W., Tiedemann, R. & Schweppenha, H. (1989). Gesammelte Schriften, 7 vols. 7, 350–84. Suhrkamp Verlag.

Bratu Hansen, M. (2008). Benjamin’s Aura. Critical inquiry, 34(2), 336-375. https://doi. org/10.1086/529060

Burke, E. (1792). A philosophical inquiry into the origin of our ideas of the sublime and beautiful. J. J. Tourneisen.

Didi-Huberman, G. (2008). Images in spite of all. Four photographs from Auschwitz. Chicago University Press. Images in spite of all. Four photographs from Auschwitz

Jay, M. (2018). Sublime historical experience, real presence and photography. Journal of the Philosophy of History, 12(3), 432-449.

Rancière, J. (1999). Disagreement: politics and philosophy. University of Minnesota Press. Rancière, J. & Elliott, G. (2009). The emancipated spectator. Verso.

Rancière, J. & Rockhill, G. (2004). The politics of aesthetics: the distribution of the sensible. Continuum.

Robertson, F. (2010). The work of art in the age of its technological reproducibility, and other writings on media. Vol. 51. Johns Hopkins University Press. tech.0.0415

Runia, E. (2014). Moved by the past: discontinuity and historical mutation. Columbia University Press.

Sanbonmatsu, J. (2009). The holocaust sublime: singularity, representation, and the violence of everyday life. American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 68(1), 101-126. https://



How to Cite

Ramos Mollá, P. (2022). The Sonderkommando photographs: a possibility for reconciled commemoration of a sublime historical event. Estudios De Filosofía, (65), 192–204.



Reflection article