SWL Readers

  • A Natural History of Evil

    (Issue 2014/2)

    Download PDFIn the 36,525 days of the twentieth century, between 100 and 160 million civilians lost their lives at hand of mass-murder, slaughter and massacres – that is an average of more than 3.000 innocent deaths per day. The pace has not slackened in the new millennium: statistically speaking, September 11 was an ordinary day.

    In his lecture, Zygmunt Bauman outlines and analyses the efforts made to solve the mystery that more perhaps than any other keeps ethical philosophers awake at night: the mystery of unde malum (Whence the Evil?) and, more specifically and yet more urgently, of “How do good people turn evil?” The latter is, succinctly put, the secret of the mysterious transmogrification of caring family people and friendly and benevolent neighbours into monsters.

  • Auschwitz, Holocaust-Denial, and the Irving Trial

    (Issue 2014/1)

    Download PDFSince the 1970s, Holocaust deniers have focused their attention especially on the issue of crematoria in Auschwitz, thinking that questioning the existence of these would enable them to deny the Holocaust itself. The Holocaust deniers' attacks against the evidence of the Auschwitz crematoria reached a dramatic apex during the infamous London court case David Irving against Deborah Lipstadt in the year 2000. Court-ordered expert Robert Jan van Pelt defended his 700 page report under cross examination for five days – the outcome was pathetic for David Irving.

    The Dutch architectural historian's lecture in English focused on the background and developments of this historical court case.

  • Culture, Trauma, Morality and Solidarity. The Social Construction of ‘Holocaust’ and Other Mass Murders

    (Issue 2014/2)

    Download PDFCultural trauma occurs when members of a collectivity feel they have been subjected to a horrendous event that leaves indelible marks upon their group consciousness, marking their memories forever and changing their future identity in fundamental and irrevocable ways. While this new scientific concept clarifies causal relationships between previously unrelated events, structures, perceptions, and actions, it also illuminates a neglected domain of social responsibility and political action. By constructing cultural traumas, social groups, national societies, and sometimes even entire civilizations, not only cognitively identify the existence and source of human suffering, but may also take on board some significant moral responsibility for it. Insofar as they identify the cause of trauma in a manner that assumes such moral responsibility, members of collectivities define their solidary relationships that allow them to share the suffering of others. Is the suffering of others also our own? In thinking that it might in fact be, societies expand the circle of the ‘we’ and create the possibility for repairing societies to prevent the trauma from happening again. By the same token, social groups can, and often do, refuse to recognize the existence of others’ suffering, or place the responsibility for it on people other than themselves.

  • Der Ort des Terrors. Die Welt der nationalsozialistischen Zwangslager

    (Issue 2014/1)

    Download PDFThe network of camps that eventually covered almost all of Europe under the management of the SS was a firm component of the national socialist system of terror and defined the Nazi regime in its essence. From the British channel island Alderney to the Soviet Union and from the Baltic to Greece, there was hardly a place in the Nazi sphere of power without one form or another of such a camp. The names of the large concentration and extermination camps have today become synonyms for Nazi state terror, and are perfect metaphors of terror, dehumanisation and racist mass murder. Paradoxically, however, this development at the same time saw the erasure of the traces of those countless small camps in the system: the network that made the terror possible in the first place down to its last branch. They have been lost from Europe's cultural memory. 

    Wolfgang Benz provides a systematic presentation of this knowledge, making it accessible again on the basis of the nine volume standard oeuvre on the history of Nazi concentration camps which he published together with Barbara Distel.

  • Die letzten Tage von Buczacz. Die Zerstörung einer multiethnischen Stadt

    (Issue 2014/1)

    Download PDFOmer Bartov's presentation addressed the way in which Ukrainians, Poles and Jews remember the Holocaust in the formerly multi-ethnic town of Buczacz, where Simon Wiesenthal was born (as was Omer Bartov's mother). Buczacz is located in what used to be the Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia, then became part of Poland's eastern lands and is now part of the Western Ukraine. For centuries, it was marked by its population's ethnic and religious diversity. During the time of the Second World War, the Nazis murdered the entire Jewish population; the Polish inhabitants fell victim to ethnic cleansing by Ukrainian nationalists and Soviet authorities. Omer Bartov used written and oral reports by victims and survivors in order to investigate the relationship between memory and history, between individual fates and grand historical processes of change. He argued for the healing effect of remembrance and coming to terms with the past. The presentation was accompanied by a wealth of pictures of Buczacz and of Omer Bartov's research activities in that city.

  • Disenfranchised by Law. The ‘Numerus Clausus’ in Hungary, 1920-1945

    (Issue 2014/2)

    Download PDFAdopted in 1920, the Hungarian numerus clausus law introduced a mechanism to keep Jews out of universities by screening all applicants as to whether or not they were Jewish, either by religion or by birth. Jewish applicants were listed separately and their admission was only possible up to six per cent of all students. In her lecture, Mária Kovács challenged a number of historical legends that understate the significance of the numerus clausus law and of state-sanctioned antisemitism in the Horthy regime. It provided strong evidence to dispel the convenient legend that Hungarian antisemitism was a policy externally imposed by Nazi Germany. It demonstrated that government-sanctioned antisemitism in Hungary was a story in and of itself, a story whose beginnings had predated the rise of Nazism in Germany by over a decade. It showed how the numerus clausus law not only legitimised antisemitism as state-policy, but also served as an inspiration all throughout the interwar years for racist movements to demand further anti-Jewish quotas and legislation. Finally, the paper addressed current implications of debates over the law in Hungary’s memory war and demonstrated how apologetic accounts of the numerus clausus still serve to whitewash the Horthy regime from charges of state-sanctioned antisemitism.

  • Doch noch nicht Geschichte. Die langfristigen Folgen der NS-Verfolgung

    (Issue 2017/1)

    Download PDFDespite the demise of contemporary witnesses, the ‘third Reich’ remains very vivid into the present day. Many of those who had been on the side of the National Socialists wanted to draw a line under this past, yet the enduring legacy of National Socialist persecutions re­mains tangible through the generations. Now, however, we stand on the brink of an incisive historical turn. I shall  first cite some of the reasons why Nazi persecution remained signif­icant for so long after the collapse of the ‘third Reich’. I shall then describe four phases which I believe distinguish the testimonies of the survivors – as also of the perpetrators. I shall also examine the so­-called second generation of families of survivors as well as of perpetrators. Finally, I shall briefly discuss to what extent the ‘farewell to the contemporary witnesses’ nevertheless entails potential for thinking about new representations of the Nazi past and about historical scholarship in general.

  • Erinnerung versus Verdrängung am Beispiel Russland. Vom schwierigen Umgang mit der Vergangenheit

    (Issue 2015/2)

    Download PDFThere is a paradox saying in contemporary Russia that a country's past cannot be predicted: the image of the Russian or Soviet past is always influenced by the interpretation of the current political situation. In order to be able to understand why Russia is once again in the smothering hold of an “unpredictable past” and why one's attitude to Stalin is still, 62 years after his death, the sole measure for a person's position on democracy and liberal values, we must take a closer look at the social conditions during the second half of the 1980s. This paper addresses that task. Its particular focus is the construction of an official state ideology from contradictory historical images by the ruling elites in contemporary Russia.

  • Gefühlte Opfer. Illusionen der Vergangenheitsbewältigung

    (Issue 2014/2)

    Download PDFIn Germany, the Holocaust is one of the central historical events of reference for collective self-description. No other country has so intensely addressed its own criminal history. The decided effort to award the national socialist mass crimes an appropriate place in the collective memory is particularly supported by the memory figure of the “perceived victim”. Victim-identified remembrance has become a norm of a kind and it contains a promise of redemption which offers reconciliation in return for honest remembrance. However, even after decades of remorse, a state of moral release has still not set in and the apparent competition on display in matters of remembrance policy creates an increasing unease.

    What are the consequences for collective memory when Germany identifies primarily with the victims and their stories of persecution? What are the challenges to historical remembrance more than sixty years after the end of the war?

  • Geschätzt und gescholten. Benjamin Murmelstein in Wien 1938 –1943

    (Issue 2014/1)

    Download PDFBetween June 1938 and his deportation to Theresienstadt in January 1943, Dr. Benjamin Murmelstein acted as the right hand man of Dr. Josef Löwenherz, the head of the Jewish Community in Vienna. Both Murmelstein as a person and the manner in which he executed his office were regarded with some controversy during this time. Murmelstein's bad reputation even remained with him in Theresienstadt; it also affected post-war writings, including those of highly respected researchers. The negative assessment of the two Viennese officials essentially applies to the actions of the Jewish Councils in general. Research into the situation in which Murmelstein and Löwenherz had to execute their offices, into the choices that were available to them even in the darkness of ideologically determined hatred of the Jews and into what they were able to achieve in the interests of the Jews despite the indomitable pressure upon them reveal a different picture of Murmelstein and Löwenherz: their bad reputation is shown to be a distortion.

  • Holocaust Landscapes. Mapping Ghettoization in Hungary

    (Issue 2014/2)

    Download PDFThe lecture sought to examine both the wartime mapping out of ghettos by local officials, and the contemporary mapping of ghettoization by the academic researcher as a way to uncover the shifting motivations and experiences of both Jews and non-Jews during the Holocaust in Hungary. In part, the lecture sought to contribute to recent scholarship on the Hungarian Holocaust by examining the complex involvement of local officials in implementing crucial elements such as the concentration of Jews. But the lecture also sought to ask broader methodological questions by considering the potential of the so-called ‘spatial turn’ in the ‘digital humanities’ to ask – and answer – new questions. In short, the lecture sought to explore whether geographical approaches have the potential to contribute to the interdisciplinary field of Holocaust Studies in general and study of the ghettoization in particular.

  • Jews and the Hungarian State. Integrative and Exclusionary Models from Medieval to Modern Times

    (Issue 2015/1)

    Download PDFIn Hungary, official memory and history discourses often distinguish between ‘Jews’ and ‘Hungarians’, harking back to the Horthy-era concept of the ‘Christian national’ state. This dichotomy clashes with modern ideas of citizenship and acts as a carrier of antisemitism. This lecture analyses the role of political authority in fostering integration or exclusion over a long time span. It begins with the attitudes of those holding political power in the Kingdom of Hungary in the Middle Ages, when the distinction between Jews and Christians was based on religious affiliation. In particular, two processes will be examined: one leading to increased integration, granting protection and rights, and the other promoting segregation, demonisation and hostility. The lecture will then focus on key moments in modern history, exploring the functions of these two contradictory but related processes. It will finally tackle the question of the role of the state in (dis)continuities between medieval exclusion and modern antisemitism.

  • NS-Gerichtsverfahren in den USA. Die Arbeit der Dienststelle für Sonderermittlungen des US-Justizministeriums, 1978–2010

    (Issue 2014/1)

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    During the first two decades following the Second World War, hundreds of thousands of migrants arrived in the United States of America from all parts of Europe, many of them having fled the Soviet occupation. Several hundred had been in service to Nazi Germany or other powers in league with the Third Reich before 1945: as state ministers, administrative officers of the German occupational forces, adjunct policemen or as guards at the concentration camps and extermination camps. In the late 1970s, the US Department of Justice established an Office for Special Investigations. It was their task to investigate alleged Nazi perpetrators, and, if applicable, to prosecute them for violation of the US immigration and naturalization laws. Their efforts resulted in the deportation from the United States of America of more than a hundred of these persons.

    Peter Black recounted the story of this office from an insider's point of view. Beginning with an explanation of the problem of competence, he explained why it took so long for these cases to be initiated, and how it was possible that decades passed between the initiation of a deportation case and the actual deportation. He then went on to analyse a range of cases, described the required evidence and finally presented a discussion of selected individual cases.

  • Opening the Archives of the International Tracing Service (ITS). How did it happen? What does it mean?

    (Issue 2014/1)

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    Until the end of 2007, the International Tracing Service (ITS) was the largest collection of inaccessible records anywhere in the world that shed light on the fates of people from across Europe – Jews as well as members of virtually every other nation or nationality – who were arrested, deported, sent to concentration camps, and even murdered by the Nazis; who were put to forced labour, calculated in many places to result in death; and who were displaced from their homes and families, and unable to return home at the war’s end. These were documents that Allied forces collected as they liberated camps and forced labour sites across Europe in the last months of the war and during their post-war occupation and administration of Germany and Austria. 

    The archives of the ITS in Bad Arolsen, Germany, contains over fifty million documents produced in the Second World War era relating to the fates and destinies of over 17.5 million people. Using samples and case studies, the author, who led the campaign to open the archives, provides a view of the effort to open the collections for research and discuss the importance of this recent event for Holocaust survivors, victims of National Socialism, and scholars.

  • Opferkonkurrenzen. Debatten um den Völkermord an den Sinti und Roma und neue Forschungsperspektiven

    (Issue 2015/1)

    Download PDFIn 1992, the government of the Federal Republic of Germany decided to dedicate a memorial to the victims of the genocide of Sinti and Roma. The Memorial for the Sinti and Roma of Europe murdered under National Socialism by the artist Dani Karavan was inaugurated in October 2012 in the centre of Berlin, near the former Reichstag building. The planning and construction phase spanned two decades, during which many discussions addressed the significance awarded to the Nazi persecution of “gypsies” next to the Holocaust. These discussions reached an apex in a controversy enacted via media between Yehuda Bauer (then the director of the International School for Holocaust Studies in Yad Vashem) and Romani Rose (the head of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma). This paper critically reflects the debates in light of new research results on the genocide of Sinti and Roma.

  • Sklavenarbeit und Gewalt. Die KZ-Außenlager

    (Issue 2014/1)

    Download PDFThe detainees at the subcamps of Neuengamme concentration camp near Hamburg lived and worked under a broad range of conditions. Although the first two subcamps were established as early on as in 1941/1942, it was not until 1944 that all of northern Germany was covered. The Neuengamme concentration camp had more than 85 subcamps, to which the SS had brought about 40,000 detainees as slave workers for the German war effort by the end of 1944. Marc Buggeln has compared the subcamps and evaluated the significance of a range of factors such as labour conditions, racism and gender differences with regard to the concentration camp inmates' likelihood of survival. In this way, he was able to disprove some central assumptions made by concentration camp research to date, or at least to seriously curtail the general validity that had been ascribed to them. Finally, he describes the conditions for the perpetrators as well as the victims at hand of a selection of biographies.

  • Spaziergang in der Herrengasse. Straßenfotos aus dem jüdischen Czernowitz

    (Issue 2014/1)

    Download PDFCzernowitz was the Habsburg Empire's „Vienna of the East“; it had a lively German-speaking Jewish community, almost all of whom were persecuted or murdered during the time of the Second World War. Yet the memory of Cernowitz lives on, passed on as it is by survivors and their descendants “like a wonderful present“ and a „relentless curse“, as noted by Aharon Appelfeld. We find evidence of old Cernowitz in historical reports, memoirs, documents and literary works. These include impressive contributions by Cernowitz-born writers.

    In their lecture, Marianne Hirsch and Leo Spitzer focussed primarily on materials from family albums and collections in order to tap into the world of Jewish Cernowitz before its destruction. In particular, they analysed street photographs depicting daily life which had been taken on the city's streets before the Second World War and during the occupation by Romanian fascists and their allies from Nazi Germany. What do these ordinary and apparently opaque images tell us about the rich and diverse past? We were astonished to discover that they tell and show us a lot in that they reveal both more and less than we had expected.

  • The Microeconomics of State Antisemitism. Expropriating the Jews under Bulgarian Rule, 1941–1944

    (Issue 2016/2)

    Download PDFWhile the Jews inhabiting Bulgaria proper survived the Holocaust, the Jews from the Greek and Yugoslav lands administrated by the Bulgarian authorities in the years 1941 to 1944 were deported by those into German custody and murdered in Treblinka. The economics of this Holocaust story has attracted scant attention. The lecture draws evidence from the Bulgarian archives and addresses the Government’s spoliation policies carried out in the realm under its control. They nurtured behavioural patterns, mobilised social actors and fostered institutional networks. Reduced to its basic economic terms, the expropriation of the Jews boiled down to a forced offer of assets and personal belongings, which engendered strongly biased customer’s ‘markets’. This operation remapped segments of the economic tissue and further enhanced the role of the State through the arbitrary interventions of the Commissariat for the Jewish Affairs. In a broader perspective, the myriad of induced economic transactions contributed largely to the banalisation of antisemitism among different strata of the society.

  • Thomas Mann ohne Juden. Vergangenheitspolitik im westdeutschen Nachkriegskino

    (Issue 2014/2)

    Download PDFThomas Mann is the single best representative of German culture to authenticate the Federal Republic of Germany's foundation narrative. As an exile, he was beyond any suspicion that he might have in any way supported the Nazi regime. As an American residing in Switzerland, he was more easily included in the Western camp than, for example, his brother Heinrich. As a Nobel price winner and internationally respected author, he embodied the German cultural nation. As a member of the grandfathers' generation, he represented a better Germany with traditions that reached far beyond January 1933 – traditions which the Federal Republic wanted to latch onto. The desire to divorce this older tradition from the Nazi past via the person of Thomas Mann is demonstrated more than anything by the author's academic reception. His treatment in popular culture – the transposition of his works into the mass medium film – was obviously even more effective, however. This lecture addressed how the Jewish figures in his novels and novellas were successively made to disappear or vanished in the works' post-war film treatments.

  • Ungarn. Das umstrittene Kapitel des Holocaust

    (Issue 2014/2)

    Download PDFThe circumstances of the extermination of the Hungarian Jews on the eve of the Allied victory – at a time when the secrets of Auschwitz were already known to the political elites (even in Hungary) – remain a mystery within the history of the Holocaust. In his lecture, Randolph Braham established the central elements of the questions that remain and offered an analysis. It is necessary to consider the wider context in order to see how it was possible for this unthinkable and unforeseeable catastrophe for the Jewish Hungarians to take place.

    The lecture focused amongst other issues on the historical roots of the different considerations and miscalculations (even illusions) by the elites in Germany and Hungary in their desire to achieve particular political and military goals as well as on the various strategies employed by the Jewish political elites in Hungary and Slovakia (both traditional and Zionist) in their attempts to rescue their communities.