In Global Transit: Forced Migration of Jews and other Refugees (1940s-1960s)

20.05.-22.05.2019, Konferenz, Berkeley

Conference at GHI West and The MAGNES Collection of Jewish Art and Life at the University of California, Berkeley 
Conveners: Wolf Gruner (USC Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research, Los Angeles), Simone Lässig (German Historical Institute Washington/GHI West, UC Berkeley), Francesco Spagnolo (The Magnes, UC Berkeley), Swen Steinberg (University of Dresden) 

In cooperation with India Branch Office of the Max Weber Foundation, New Delhi (Indra Sengupta, Razak Khan) and China Branch Office of the Max Weber Foundation, Beijing (Max Jacob Fölster)

This conference is the second in a conference series devoted to people “In Global Transit.” The first conference, which took place in Kolkata in 2017 focused on Jewish and political refugees from Nazi-controlled Europe who fled, at least initially, to European colonies or countries of the global South.

“In Global Transit: Forced Migration of Jews and other Refugees (1940s-1960s)” will build on the 2017 conference, taking a broader perspective and expanding the geographic and analytical focus. It will examine the experience of Jewish refugees who found haven — but not new homes — in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. For most of these individuals, the end of the war did not mean an end to life in transit. To the contrary: after a period of temporary settlement, they found themselves not only once again on the move, but also in a new, more ambiguous situation. On the one hand, growing awareness of the Nazis’ attempt to wipe out European Jewry called attention to the plight of the Jewish refugees. But, on the other, they were just one among many groups in search of permanent homes as the large-scale expulsion of ethnic, religious, and/or national groups became a global phenomenon. The ever-more frequent waves of involuntary migration, in turn, provided the impetus for the development of an international refugee policy — a process in which onetime refugees from Nazi-controlled Europe played a notable part.

The conference “In Global Transit: Forced Migration of Jews and other Refugees (1940s-1960s)” aims to illuminate the particularities of (usually) involuntary Jewish migration from and between countries of the global South that have received little scholarly attention thus far. We seek, moreover, to use the experience of Jewish refugees as an analytical prism to consider the phenomenon of forced migration more generally. Jews were part of European and worldwide flows of migrants of unprecedented scale and diversity. Among those migrants were individuals, such as the Nazis and Nazi collaborators who fled to South America, North Africa, and the Middle East, whose experiences hardly fit narratives of victimhood. Most societies at the time were not prepared to deal with mass movements of refugees caught “in transit,” and, needed new knowledge and legal instruments in order to respond. That new knowledge was produced not least of all by Jewish legal experts and social scientists who drew on their own experience of life in transit. 

The conference will look beyond established turning-points and consider long-term refugee movements between socially and culturally disparate countries and regions. Jewish refugees from Nazi-controlled Europe will be taken as a paradigmatic group to explore basic questions about the transit experience, for example, the question of the relationship between knowledge and modes of dealing with contingency and uncertainty. An important related issue is the tension between the simple desire to survive and the challenge of planning for a life in a new, unfamiliar setting. We are particularly interested in the encounters between Jewish refugees and members of other groups they encountered while in transit countries, such as other refugees, colonial subjects, and religious or ethnic minorities subject to discrimination.

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