EAJS Conference Grant Programme 2018/19
Remembering across the Iron Curtain: The Emergence of Holocaust Memory in the Cold War Era
Cold War thinking has survived its end. The Western understanding of the West as the democratic “Free World” and the East as totalitarian and repressive has continued to impact how scholars have evaluated efforts to commemorate the Holocaust in East and West after the collapse of the Soviet Bloc.
In recent years historians have begun to reconsider how people in East and West remembered the Holocaust, though these attempts rarely transcend national borders and hardly ever the former bloc division. The conference “Suppressed Historiography, Erased Memory? The Perception of the Shoah in East Central Europe during Socialist Rule” organized by Stephan Stach at the Aleksander Brückner Center tried to overcome the national perspective at least for the Soviet Bloc. However, the workshop’s final discussion clarified that Holocaust Memory needs to be examined from a transnational perspective across the Iron Curtain.
Rarely can we see discussions of Holocaust memory that look at both East and West. By bringing together scholars whose research focuses on different parts of the world, from the Soviet Union to the US, from Hungary to France, we will provide opportunities to re-evaluate the commonalities, differences and entanglements between Eastern and Western memory of the Holocaust. Exchange between participants from a variety of backgrounds and with distinct disciplinary expertise will also allow for debates of different methodological approaches.
Foregrounding the essential role of the Cold War, this workshop examines in what ways the confrontation between the two blocks affected research, legal proceedings and collective and individual memories. The first panel asks how political ideologies shaped narratives and understandings of the Holocaust in East and West providing examples of Jewish communities in the USA, the Soviet Union and France.
Recently, scholars have challenged the assumption that research on the Holocaust begun only in 1961, either counting the Eichmann trial or the publication of Raul Hilberg’s book The destruction of European Jewry as the initial event. Newer studies have highlighted the role mostly Jewish scholars and lay people played in documenting and researching the murder of European Jews beginning immediately after the liberation or even before. This new perspective has led historians to reconsider also Eastern European Holocaust Memory, showing how people acting outside the state’s framework succeeded in making room for at least limited discussions of the Holocaust.
Collaboration across national borders and across the Iron Curtain existed at times, and Jewish and non-Jewish actors from different countries cooperated in order to promote research and memory of the genocide against Europe’s Jewish population.
From the 1950s onwards, and especially in the years during and following the Eichmann trial, Holocaust memory frequently became an object or terrain of political fights within the bipolar confrontation. This workshop will take a close look at how Holocaust memory was manipulated and used as a tool in the confrontation between the two blocks.
This conference aimed to provide a platform for academic research that has been done in Holocaust Memory in recent years as well as offer opportunities to exchange ideas and push research further.
Both evening events, the performance “Art is my Weapon. The Radical Musical Life of Lin Jaldati” and the round table discussion “How did Cold War Shape our Understanding of the Holocaust?” were accessible also for non-specialists and attracted a wider audience.
The conference papers spoke directly to the questions raised in our event rationale and stood in close dialogue with one another. Each panel ended with fruitful discussions about the relationship between papers and the relationship of Holocaust Memory to the Cold War. A number of participants begun their talks stating that previous papers had caused them to re-think and develop some of their own premises.
The sections and papers
The conference begun with a well-attended opening event; a performance by David Shneer (University of Colorado Boulder) titled ‘Art is My Weapon: The Radical Musical Life of Lin Jaldati.’ In this inspiring approach to his scholarship Shneer makes the life of Lin Jaldati a Holocaust survivor who became a prominent singer of Yiddish songs in the German Democratic Republic palpable to a wider audience. Part lecture, part video and photographs, part songs this performance piece made for a wonderful beginning of the conference.
In their introduction Anna Koch and Stephan Stach underlined that today as in the past the Holocaust is frequently used in order to promote a particular political agenda. During the Cold War Holocaust research as well as public memory became battlefields of the Bloc confrontation. They underscored that most research provides merely a national analysis of Cold War’s impact on the emergence of Holocaust memory while a broader, transnational approach is lacking. Moreover, there is a tendency to recognize political manipulations when examining Eastern memory culture, while turning a blind eye to similar processes in the West. While exploitation in the East is often overestimated the opposite seems to be the case in the West. The conference, as both organizers explained aimed to reassess this question but also wanted to stimulate a more general debate on commonalities and differences of Holocaust Memory on both sides of the Iron Curtain as well as on transnational cooperation in the polarized Cold War era.
Jewish efforts to remember the Shoah in East and West
Arkadi Zeltser (Director of the Moshe Mirilashvili Center for Research on the Holocaust in the Soviet Union of The International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem) spoke about the extensive spontaneous grass roots Jewish memorializing of victims of the Holocaust in the Soviet Union. Moving West Eli Lederhendler (Vice-Dean for Research in the Faculty of Humanities, Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Stephen S. Wise Professor of American Jewish History) spoke about Holocaust Memory among American Jews and showed how also here the Cold War shaped Memory Politics. Like the following paper Lederhendler discussed the frictions and conflict in the Jewish community when it came to Holocaust Memory. Simon Perego (University Paris-I Panthéon-Sorbonne) spoke about how the gatherings organized by Jewish-Communist, Bundist and Zionist associations in Paris served as a transnational ideological battlefield, notwithstanding the willingness of certain actors (such as the Memorial of the Unknown Jewish Martyr) to organize united Holocaust commemorations.
Remembering Perpetrators and Rescuers across the Iron Curtain
Kai Struve (Institute of History of Martin Luther University) analyzed the campaign against Theodor Oberländer and “Nachtigall” as a history of East-West entanglements in the Cold War era that was closely related to increasing public attention to the mass murder of Jews during World War II. Siobhan Hyland (University of Northampton) discussed Searchlight, an anti-fascist group who use investigative methods and infiltration tactics to combat the extreme and far-right in Britain. One of their campaigns, supported by documentation from the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles, was to investigate whether Nazi war criminals were living in the U.K and had been since World War Two. Part of the support in enabling Searchlight to produce in depth investigative articles, was by material given to them by the Department of Justice, in the Soviet Union. Manja Herrmann (Selma Stern Center for Jewish Studies & Technical University of Berlin) presented on early initiative of the West Berlin federal state government that was honoring and supporting activists who helped and rescued Jews during the Holocaust, Unbesungene Helden (Unsung Heroes) Her presentation traced the development of the program and critically examine its transnational and cold war contexts.
Memory staged in the Courtroom
Mathew Turner’s (Deakin University, Australia and postdoctoral fellow at the Zentrum für HolocaustStudien in Munich) paper investigates how the Cold War acted to shape the historical picture of the Holocaust that was conveyed in the Frankfurt Auschwitz trial. Turner showed that representatives from the German Democratic Republic used the trial as stage to “unmask” capitalism as the driving force behind Nazism and the Holocaust, while the defense lawyers bluntly questioned all testimonies of East European witnesses, insinuating a communist plot against their defendants. Vanessa Voisin (CERCEC, Paris) focused on a 40-min documentary produced in 1963-1964 by Rostov-on-the-Don studio, in Soviet Russia. In the Name of the Living, directed by Leon Mazrukho, is based on a scenario written by the Moscow writer Lev Ginzburg. It covers a war crimes trial held in Krasnodar in October 1963. Analyzing the film in comparison with press reports on the event and Ginzburg’s book “The Abyss”, which also covered the trial, Voisin presented a large discrepancy on how the Holocaust could be addressed in different media.
The first day ended with an engaging roundtable discussion among Jeffrey Herf (Distinguished University Professor in the Department of History at the University of Maryland, College Park), Nadège Ragaru (Sciences Po Paris), David Shneer (Louis P. Singer Chair of Jewish History, the head of the Department of Religious Studies, and professor of history, Religious studies, and Jewish Studies) Isabel Wollaston (Senior Lecturer in Jewish and Holocaust Studies, University of Birmingham). Herf vigorously argued that Holocaust memory in the West was fundamentally different from that in the East, as the Politburo in Moscow controlled boundaries of public discourse. In his view, the profound de-Nazification in West Germany, prevented a return of Antisemitism and enabled a confrontation with the Holocaust, while the anti-Israeli politics of the Eastern Bloc spurred Antisemitism and blocked Holocaust memory. The other panelists disagreed with Herf in a quite lively debate. Nadège Ragaru responded to Herf with a call for a more complex and nuanced approach to both Cold War and Holocaust memory, which leaves room for ambiguities. David Shneer underlined the need to study other agents of memory beyond the “state” or “party” and to get rid of the Cold War paradigm when it comes to Holocaust memory under communism. Isabel Wollaston in turn used the Polish case to emphasize the enormous change of Holocaust memory over the 40 years of communist rule.
Scholarship and Holocaust Memory
The second day of the conference started with Olof Bortz’s (Stockholm University) presentation Raul Hilberg, the Cold War and the history of the Holocaust. As Bortz pointed out the Cold War politics which aimed at an integration of West Germany into the Western Alliance, were an obstacle to Hilberg’s work. Among other things, a relevant parts of his source material remained under lock in allied archives. While Hilberg himself interpreted it as a part of the world’s ignorance to the Jewish fate, Bortz reads it as a sign that in the 1950’s the understanding of the Holocaust as an unprecedented event in history had not yet gained enough hold in non-Jewish environments. Daniela R. P. Weiner’s (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) presentation Educational Entanglements: East and West German History Textbooks’ Narratives about the Holocaust and the Second World War reassessed the view that the fate of Jews during Nazi rule and World War II had been upstaged to emphasize antifascist resistance fighters instead. Using text analysis software she could show that both, quality and quantity of the parts dedicated to the Holocaust changed through the time. Unfortunately the third paper of this section on Bulgarian Holocaust Memory had to be cancelled as the speaker, Stefan Troebst (University of Leipzig), could not attend the conference.
Artists and intellectuals’ efforts to shape Memory
The next panel started with Jenny Watson’s (University of Sheffield) presentation ‘No gas chambers. No crematoria. Romanian-German authors of the 1970s-80s and the insufficiency of international memory discourse. Watson showed how young Romanian-German writers distanced themselves from the often Nazi-apologetic generation of their parents. This behavior was, as she underscored, partly induced by their reception of West German literature and literary debates. Irina Tcherneva (CERCEC, Paris) analyzed social and political usages of the painting The Last Way by Yosef Kuzkovski. It shows Jewish civilians on the way to the mass execution in Baby Jar and had originally been painted in 1944-1948. In the 1960 it was exposed in various places in Soviet Latvia in the context of trials against local Nazi collaborators. For Holocaust survivors and Jews living in these areas these exhibitions became important events to commemorate the destruction of local communities during German occupation. Anna Pollmann (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) presented how German-Jewish philosopher and activist Günther Anders assessed the Holocaust originally together with the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki as two examples for industrial killings in his critique of technology. Later, however, he reformulated his approach in confrontation with Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem.
Memory and Morality
On the last panel Jonathan Kaplan’s (Freie Universität Berlin) presentation Ambassadors of Memory: The Struggle of guilt and Responsibility in the GDR introduced a fresh perspective on exploitation of Holocaust Memory. On the example of GDR’s Foreign Office he showed, how East German diplomats disclosed material on the Nazi past of West German officials to Western Jewish activists hoping to raise the prestige of East German antifascism. However, as Kaplan argued relying on the case of the Chicago Rabbi S. Burr Yampol, these Jewish activists in turn used their position to intervene in East Germany to lobby for Israel or compensations for Holocaust survivors. Máté Zombory (Centre for Social Sciences, Hungarian Academy of Sciences) discussed how Zoltán Fábri’s film Late Season (1966) addressed moral questions like the responsibility of Hungarian perpetrators and bystanders in an artistically and discursively provoking way. The film, which was screened on international festivals on the one hand demonstrates that the Holocaust was present also in the Eastern Bloc. On the other hand, the scandal which emerged around the film, because its main actor own role under the Hungarian fascist regime, shed light on yet another aspect of the interrelation of Holocaust Memory and Cold War. Finally Marta Zawodna-Stephan (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań) touched on the handling of human remains of camp inmates in her presentation Let the dead serve the living. Dead body politics in the former Nazi camps on both sides of the Iron Curtain. As she points out, the social and political status of the group the victims belonged to had an impact on how their remains were treated after the war.
In their concluding remarks Anna Koch and Stephan Stac picked up on some of the themes and topics that ran through the conference as well as commented on omissions. Koch talked about the absence of gender from most talks and the conference discussion. She also highlighted the diversity of voices, and the myriad understandings of the Holocaust in the aftermath of the war. Numerous papers had shown how personal, or group memories went against or at least conflicted larger narratives. Papers discussed personal memory and mourning that entered public discourses, in forms of literary works, film, art, trials, education and scholarship. Papers made it clear how while east and west constantly accused one another of forgetting the past and stood in obvious conflict about commemoration, dialogue happened as well. Individuals on different sides collaborated in particular when it came to combat Nazism. People, ideas, art all passed the Iron Curtain at different times. The concluding discussion also picked up on the question of terminology and the problematics and suitability of the term “Memory” itself.
Summary and tasks ahead.
Conflict but also conversation and even collaboration across the Iron Boarder became visible in a number of papers. The need to go beyond the Cold War paradigm and re-evaluate how people commemorated the Holocaust on both sides, and in particular re-think how we have understood commemorative efforts in the East likewise played a crucial role in the discussions. Further research that looks at these comparative and transnational aspects would be desirable.
Planned outcomes and outputs
The conference enabled an international scholarly debate on a crucial yet so far neglected question which not only increased our understanding of Holocaust memory but also contributed to our knowledge of the ways in which societies across the globe situated themselves within the Cold War divide. Scholars with a variety of disciplinary backgrounds, from different countries and at different stages of their career allowed for exciting exchanges. We are currently discussing the publication of an edited volume as well as the possibility of a follow-up workshop which would get deeper into some of the issues raised during the conference.
The final programme:
Remembering Across the Iron Curtain
The Emergence of Holocaust Memory in the Cold War Era
A Joint Conference of the Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past, University of York and the Institute of Contemporary History, Czech Academy of Sciences, September 2-4, 2018.
Sunday, 2 September
19:00 Opening Event
Art is My Weapon: The Radical Musical Life of Lin Jaldati
Venue: Black Box Theatre, York University. Public event
Monday, 3 September
Venue: Berrick Saul Building, York University.
Geoff Cubitt (IPUP, University of York)
Stephan Stach (ÚSD, CAS Prague)
Paulina Gulińska-Jurgiel (Aleksander Brückner Center Halle)
9:45 – 10:15 Introduction
Anna Koch (FMS, University of York)/ Stephan Stach (ÚSD, CAS Prague)
10:15 – 10:45 Coffee Break
10:45-12:15 Jewish efforts to remember the Shoah in East and West
Arkadi Zeltser (The International Institute for Holocaust Research, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem): The Cold War and Memorialization of the Holocaust in the USSR
Eli Lederhendler (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem) The Politics of Memory and the Shadow of the Holocaust in America in the Cold War Era
Simon Perego (University Paris-Sorbonne) “The Communist Schism in Jewish Life.” Transnational Politics and Holocaust Commemorations among Parisian Jews during the Cold War, until the end of the 1960s
Chair: Nadège Ragaru (CERI, Sciences Po, Paris)
12:15 – 13:15 Lunch
13:15-14:45 Remembering Perpetrators and Rescuers across the Iron Curtain
Kai Struve (Martin Luther University, Halle-Wittenberg): The Case of Theodor Oberländer in 1959/60 – an Entangled History of Propaganda, Politics, and Holocaust Memory in East and West
Siobhan Hyland (University of Northampton): Searchlight – Campaigning against Nazi Perpetrators in Britain
Manja Herrmann (Selma Stern Center for Jewish Studies Berlin-Brandenburg): Transnational Holocaust Memory and the Case of Rescue: Kurt R. Grossmann and the Early Berlin Initiative Unsung Heroes (1958–1966)
Chair: Jeffrey Herf (University of Maryland, College Park)
14:45-15:15 Coffee break
15:15-16:30 Memory staged in the Courtroom
Matthew Turner (Deakin University, Australia / IfZ München): Cold War Courtroom: Politicising the Holocaust in the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial, 19631965
Vanessa Voisin (CERCEC, Paris): From the courthouse to the screen: Holocaust history made memory in Cold War USSR
Chair: Paulina Gulińska-Jurgiel (Aleksander Brückner Center Halle)
17:00 Roundtable Discussion:
Venue: Berrick Saul Building, York University.
How did Cold War Shape our Understanding of the Holocaust?
Jeffrey Herf (University of Maryland, College Park)
Nadège Ragaru (CERI, Sciences Po, Paris)
David Shneer (University of Colorado, Boulder)
Isabel Wollaston (University of Birmingham)
Moderation: Anna Koch (University of York), Stephan Stach (CAS, Prague)
Tuesday, 4 September 2018
Venue: Berrick Saul Building, York University.
9:00-10:30 Scholarship and Holocaust Memory
Olof Bortz (Stockholm University): Raul Hilberg, the Cold War and the history of the Holocaust
Stefan Troebst (Leipzig University, Germany): Skopje vs. Sofia: Contrasting Memories on Bulgaria and the Holocaust
Daniela R. P. Weiner (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) Educational Entanglements: East and West German History Textbooks’ Narratives about the Holocaust and the Second World War
Chair: Geoff Cubitt (IPUP, University of York)
10.30-11:00 Coffee break
11:00 – 12:30 Artists and intellectuals’ efforts to shape Memory
Jenny Watson (University of Sheffield) ‘No gas chambers. No crematoria. Romanian-German authors of the 1970s-80s and the insufficiency of international memory discourse
Irina Tcherneva (CERCEC, Paris) The arts judge crimes against humanity. Social and political usages of the painting The Last Way by Yosef Kuzkovski in Soviet Latvia (1944-1970)
Anna Pollmann (Hebrew University of Jerusalem): Atrocities without their own reality. Günther Anders and Holocaust reception in the West German Left
Chair: Hugo Service (University of York)
12:30 -13:30 Lunch break
13:30 – 15:00 Memory and Morality
Jonathan Kaplan (Freie Universität Berlin): Ambassadors of Memory: The Struggle of guilt and Responsibility in the GDR
Máté Zombory (Centre for Social Sciences, Hungarian Academy of Sciences) Moral Universalism in the East: Holocaust and memory in Zoltán Fábri’s film Late Season (1966)
Marta Zawodna-Stephan (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań) Let the dead serve the living. Dead body politics in the former Nazi camps on both sides of the Iron Curtain
Chair: Shaul Mitelpunkt (University of York)
15:15 – 16:15 Closing Remarks
Anna Koch (FMS, University of York), Stephan Stach (ÚSD, CAS Prague)
The conference was made possible thanks to generous funding from the European Association for Jewish Studies, the Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah, the Strategy AV21programme of the Czech Academy of Sciences, the Czech Science Foundation and the University of York.