The Holocaust and its Aftermath from the Family Perspective
15.-16.03.2017, Konferenz, DHI Warschau
Applying gender analysis to the field of Holocaust Studies has yielded important results. Whereas before the 1990s, most Holocaust scholarship focused almost exclusively on the experiences of male victims, expanding to include women’s experiences has both opened up new areas of inquiry and raised crucial questions about established areas. And yet this developing scholarly conversation has limitations as well. As Joan Ringelheim, an early adopter, pointed out in her later work, scholarship about women during the Holocaust easily becomes essentializing; at times even suggesting that women were somehow more capable of facing the Nazi onslaught. More recently Pascale Rachel Bos has argued that many of the perceived differences between the experiences of men and women may have more to do with the way the different genders were taught to express themselves than with actual differences. Even more fundamentally, however, examining the Holocaust and its aftermath through the lens of gender requires breaking up the Jewish family.
While there is no question that the Nazis sought to destroy the Jewish family, it is equally clear that Jews continually resisted this effort, sometimes in surprising ways. Thus to divide men and women into separate categories is to privilege gender above what may have been an even more crucial element of their identities. Because of course not all men were sent to the right and not all women and children to the left. Jews of all genders and ages, and in all of the contexts of the Holocaust, made decisions about flight, passing, hiding, joining together and separating based on calculations of their own survival, but also based on perceptions of the greater good of their families.
This difficult process of decision-making can be traced into the postwar years, when many of the survivors faced the dilemma of where and with whom to start a new family life. The demographics of survival, with a surplus of unmarried women, influenced opportunities. Decisions of Jews from Europe regarding whether to stay or to leave the continent have mainly been analyzed through the prism of political and ideological factors. The role of family still plays only a marginal role in the research on the first postwar years, even though creating a new family was one of the crucial—if not the most important—features of the effort of most of the surviving Jews to start new lives. Research on postwar family life has also revealed the profound influence of war experiences, and of the loss of prewar families, on subsequent generations.
This conference will place the family at the center of discussion. Drawing on the insights of gender analysis, but unfettered from its strict binaries, it will look at the ways in which familial concerns influenced decision-making. When were young people sent away or ahead? How did individuals and families decide who would stay with the elderly or infirm? What factors allowed some families to stay together? How did gender, socio-economic level, religious and political affiliation, geography and chronology affect these choices? And how did all of these factors continue to play out in the postwar period?
We welcome papers touching on these issues across occupied Europe, with special focus on east central and eastern Europe, and from the prewar through the postwar periods. Indeed, decisions about emigration in the late 1930s and through the late 1940s and 1950s are deeply enmeshed with questions of family – with reconnecting with family members and also with the importance of establishing new families.
The one and one half day conference will take place at Villa Lanna in Prague, 15-16 March 2017. We plan to publish an edited volume of selected papers after the conference in order to share our findings and encourage further work in this area.
Thanks to generous funding from the German Historical Institute of Warsaw, the Institute for Contemporary History of the Czech Academy of Sciences and CEFRES Prague, we will be able to offer accommodation and meals for all conference participants. Limited travel subventions may be available for some speakers.
Institute for Contemporary History
Czech Academy of Sciences, Vlasska 9, Prague 1