Oral History Workshops – Introduction
Tuesday – July 19
Dr. Dobrochna Kałwa (University of Warsaw)
In 1933, at the beginning of the National Socialist regime, Germany counted approximately 500,000 Jews. In 1946/47, three years after the National Socialists had declared Germany judenrein, over a quarter of a million Jews were gathered in Germany, most of them in the American zone. Only c. 15,000 were German Jews, of whom almost half were in Berlin. The majority were Eastern European Jews, gathered as “displaced persons” in Allied-occupied Germany, only a minority were direct survivors of the Nazi “Final Solution.” The largest group among the “DPs” and the least studied or recognized – comprised perhaps 200,000 Jews who had fled or been deported into the Soviet interior and after the German defeat, were repatriated to Poland. They left a harsh but life-saving refuge in the USSR and fled again, from postwar Polish anti-Semitism into the American zone of occupied Germany.
Despite the enormous amount of sources and significant prior scholarship, scholars and students of the Holocaust have only recently focused on the social (and gender) history of the highly diverse population that constituted this She’erit Hapletah, the surviving remnant of European Jewry gathered under Allied “care and control” in defeated Germany. Jewish DPs insisted that, “My world was divided into two parts, those who had lived outside the camp and those who lived inside. Outside the camp were enemies.” But in fact, the “enemies”, as well as the victors who supervised both the survivors and the defeated, were always present, in varied ways, especially in regard to key aspects of daily existence, such as food, housing, policing, medical and child-care, within and outside the camp. This presentation addresses research areas that have been marginalized and neglected in history, representation, and memory: the impact of the Soviet experience on definitions and memories of being a “survivor;” the reconstruction, even in transit, of lives and families after catastrophe; and the multiple postwar encounters – unexpected and often temporary – between Jews and Germans, as commonplace as they were complicated, simultaneously loaded with symbolic meaning and part of everyday life.
The implementation of the project is possible due to the support of Nissenbaum Family Foundation.