Beyond Camps and Forced Labour: Current International Research on Survivors of Nazi Persecution. Imperial War Museum, 7 – 9 January 2015
The second day of the conference promised, and gave, a very full programme of 32 papers across nine panels. Papers touched on repatriation and resettlement, children, compensation, early testimonies, remembrance, displaced persons and forced labour.
A morning panel explored themes of identity and belonging for children from various backgrounds and with diverse experiences of the Holocaust. This was particularly evident in Michaela Raggam-Blesch's paper on ‘half-Jewish’ children in Vienna. One boy described his family as secular – they didn’t have any connection in either direction – but were suddenly defined and categorised. The testimonies of child survivors raised questions about the negotiations and confusions of identity, presented in the context of survival strategies (Rita Horvath) and as a psychological experience (Maryann McLoughlin): being a child or an adult in the camps, relationships to non-Jews in surviving the Holocaust, as well as loss and death. The panel was particularly commended for encouraging research in this area and its potential for the future.
The afternoon featured an excellent panel on early testimonies of Nazi persecution, including the mediation of testimony, witnessing and memory. Sharon Deane-Cox considered the role of the translator asz a secondary witness in the translation of the testimonies of women survivors. She drew attention to how translators can sometimes hear too little and feel too much, and how that penetrates the published texts. Beate Müller gave a similarly highly analytical exploration of the difference between Polish emissary Jan Karski’s wartime reports – in particular his book Story of a Secret State - and what he said in later interviews for Lanzmann’s Shoah and other films about his wartime role. This panel also heard Michael Fleming talk about the failure to properly dissemination of news of killings in the East, by both government agencies and the press.
A final panel on Jewish Displaced Persons looked at statelessness, post-war violence and efforts to re-establish normal life and find a home. The papers covered the reactions of DPs in German camps to post-war pogroms in Poland (Katarzyna Person), the process of return and recovery after the war (Lukasz Kryzanowski), and Israeli ‘remigrants’ in Foehrenwald (Ori Yehudai). How did displaced persons navigate their journey home and what did ‘home’ become?
Looking forward to the third of this important international conference, the final six panels will consider visual testimonies, repatriation and resettlement, survival strategies, trials and justice, legacies of the euthanasia programmes and medical experiments, and the International Tracing Service. The day will conclude with closing remarks from one of the four conference organisers, David Cesarani.
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