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Conference at the German Historical Institute in Warsaw, 5-7 December 2011 "To stay or to go? Jews in Europe after the Holocaust"

German Historical Institute in Warsaw holds a conference "To stay or to go? Jews in Europe after the Holocaust". The conference will be held in Warsaw on December 5-7, 2011.

  • German Historical Institute Warsaw (Dr. Katrin Stoll)
  • Nordost-Institut Lüneburg at the University of Hamburg (Dr. Katrin Steffen)
Subject and Aim:

The German racial extermination policy during World War II resulted in the almost complete destruction of the Jewish population of Europe in the areas controlled by Nazi Germany. Poland in particular is a case in point. Out of the 3.5 million Polish Jews only about ten percent escaped mass murder, the majority of them surviving in the Soviet Union. According to estimates, between 50,000 to 60,000 Jews managed to survive in the areas of German-occupied Poland, among them survivors of ghettos and camps, partisans and those who had been hidden on the socalled Aryan side.

The remnants of Polish Jewry had not only lost their families, relatives and friends, but also their homes, communities and homeland.

In view of the scale of the Holocaust, post-war political turmoil, a pervading sense of emptiness after the death of the nation, the persistence of anti-Semitism in general as well as repeating incidents of brutal anti-Semitic violence following the liberation, many people were faced with the following question: should they return to their places of origin and start anew or should they emigrate from Europe? However, this general dilemma – to stay or go – did not only present itself to the Jews of Poland, but also to many other Jews in other Eastern and Western countries, as they too were confronted with indifference or hostility and anti-Semitism.

Did the Jews find their place in post-war European societies? Was the attempt to rebuild Jewish life, institutions and culture successful and if so, to what extend? Who decided not to participate in this endeavour and why? These are the main questions of the conference. Its aim is to examine the situation in individual countries. However, the ultimate goal is to establish clearly similarities and dissimilarities of the situation of Jews after the war in Western and Eastern Europe. One may assume that historical differences before the war as well as the different circumstances during the war and the divergent political systems after the war determined the fate of the Jews in those two parts of Europe.

Thematic fields:
The conference is divided into five thematic sections:

Section I deals with the post-war displacement of Jews after liberation from German occupation by tracing different migration movements (where to go?) and by examining different forms of emigration – illegal and legal. International attitudes towards Jewish emigration will be examined. What characterized the emigration policy of individual states as well as organisations supporting emigration? How substantial a phenomenon was the Jewish emigration from Western countries? What characterized the situation of Jews in the camps for displaced persons?

Section II focuses on the Jewish communities and the immediate impact of the Holocaust on both the organization of Jews as well as their various identities, using the example of Poland as a starting point for further analysis. Psychological, economic, demographic and social aspects including processes of assimilation and identity shaping as well as the pattern of Jewish post-war settlement will be examined. It is necessary to take a look at fundamental societal and political dilemmas that Jews were confronted with. What factors influenced the decision of Jews to remain in their countries of origin? What did Jewish organizations established after the Holocaust look like? Were they “old” or “new”? What forms of Jewish culture were created after the war? What role did American relief organizations and other international organizations play in the reestablishment of Jewish life?

Section III is devoted to the attitudes of the political establishment and civil society towards the Jews, presenting case studies from communist as well as non-communist states. Were Jews wanted as citizens? The restoration of political and civil rights for Jews in the countries whose governments had deprived them of these rights during the war will be examined. The return of Jewish property shortly after the war is another issue under consideration. Was there a specific government policy for the Jewish communities? If so, what were its characteristic features? Were there fundamental differences between East and West regarding their respective state policies? What were the general societal attitudes towards the Jews? How and in what forms were they manifested? What was the prevailing feeling? How can one determine the level of anti-Semitism in the countries concerned?

Section IV deals with early forms of Holocaust documentation, research and commemoration as well as the subject of witness testimony and its legacy. It focuses on the work and aims of the various Jewish Historical Commissions that operated in Europe, presenting case studies of early Holocaust historiography and early controversies. The most important issue in this context is the early collection of witness testimony. Who testified and why? For whom were the testimonies written and how were they received? In this section we would like to go beyond the immediate post-war period and address the following questions: Is the early Holocaust historiography outdated? What characterized subsequent attitudes, up to and including the present day, towards
victim testimonies that had been collected immediately after the liberation? Have these sources been marginalized, discounted or misused?

Section V: International panel discussion: key aspects of recent discussions concerning Jews in Europe in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust.

Organizational aspects:
The organizers invite scholars to submit papers relating to the topics and questions mentioned above. For each contribution 40 minutes are allotted, from which a maximum of 20 minutes is reserved for the presentation. Commentary on the papers delivered will be provided by an experienced scholar. An abstract of no more than 300 words outlining the proposed presentation is requested along with a short biographical note indicating research interests. Abstracts should relate to the thematic areas and questions set down in this CFP and must be composed in one of the two conference languages, English or Polish. These should be sent to the following email

The closing date for submission of abstracts is: 18 May 2011.

Successful candidates will be informed by email by 30 June 2011.

Accommodation and travel costs will be reimbursed.

Concept and organization:
Dr. Helena Datner (Jewish Historical Institute Warsaw), Dr. Katrin Steffen (Nordost-Institut Lüneburg at the University of Hamburg), Dr. Katrin Stoll (German Historical Institute Warsaw).

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