Articles

  • Oral History Collections on the Holocaust in Hungary

    (Issue 2014/2)

    Download PDFDownload PDFThis paper focuses on Hungary, where the most unmerciful and the fastest destruction took place in the course of the European Holocaust. Even though it was indeed ‘the most unmerciful’ and ‘the fastest’, Holocaust research still fails to take a prominent role in Hungarian historiography. The archival collections do not constitute an inherent part of the Hungarian national historical heritage. That is to say that the experiences of both the Holocaust and the Roma Genocide have not yet become part of collective knowledge; nor have they been able to shape collective identities.

    This paper seeks to explore this ignorance through an analysis of existing digital oral history collections on the Holocaust in Hungary. The collections will appear in the order of their creation and will be discussed on the basis of questions such as who supported the collection and for what reason, how much research was done or what results they produced; we will also address whether the collections were established for museological, educational, scientific or tourism-stimulating purposes. The paper identifies three main reasons for the ignorance: First, it argues that – after the regime changes 1989/90 – while coming to terms with the memory of Nazism and autochthonous authoritarian regimes was one of the challenges of Eastern European societies, this process was competing with and retarded by the other challenge, namely the coming to terms with the communist system. Second, it states that the status of the research on the Holocaust and on the Roma Genocide is highly influenced by the actual social, cultural and political environment, while, third, we argue that one reason for that is the conservative attitude of European historiography.

  • Pleading for Cadavers. Medical Students at the University of Vienna and the Study of Anatomy

    (Issue 2015/2)

    Download PDFDownload PDFThis paper offers a close reading of a memorandum submitted by the medical students at the University of Vienna in January 1924. In the document, the students vividly described a crisis caused by insufficient supply of the so called medical cadavers which disturbed the training of future physicians. In order to solve the crisis effectively, the students pled for introducing new procedures that forced transfer of cadavers of all patients who had passed away either in hospitals, other institutions or private houses who had not been claimed by family members. Remarkably, the 1924 memorandum underscored not only the urgency of the crisis that required an immediate solution but also the non-partisan character of the appeal, signed by the students of the First and Second Institutes of Anatomy "with no difference of party affiliation". It underplayed the presence of anti-Semitism at the University of Vienna and the hostility against visibility of Jewish students at the Medical Department. The paper suggests that the memorandum ought to be understood in the context of the so-called cadaver affair at other universities in Central and Eastern Europe.

  • Pogrome in Polen 1918-1920 und 1945/46. Auslöser, Motive, Praktiken der Gewalt

    (Issue 2015/1)

    Download PDFDownload PDFThe paper focuses on the fundamental aspects of my dissertation project: triggers of pogroms, dynamics of violence and the role of the respective emerging statehood as well as the perpetrators’ self-perception. In both reference periods, pogrom violence referred closely to the establishment of Polish statehood, even though this happened under divergent circumstances. Both phases involved exceptionally large numbers of pogroms. In both cases profound socio-political ruptures and paradigm shifts took place, where the need to create enemies was tremendous. An examination of the perpetrators’ verbal utterances and actions during and after the pogrom allows to identify their symbolic reference points, which express antisemitic stereotypes and show how the pogromists defined their relations towards state authorities. The project will offer insights about prejudices during transitional phases, the dynamics of pogroms and how narratives of violence are preserved. The pogroms are reconstructed by means of eyewitness accounts, military records and court files.

  • Remembering Interactions. Interpreting Survivors’ Accounts of Interactions in Nazi-Occupied Poland

    (Issue 2016/1)

    Download PDFDownload PDFThis paper examines how memory sources are vital to learning about and interpreting children’s interactions in Nazi-occupied Poland. In particular, it focuses on the relevance of testimonies and memoirs to understanding hidden Jewish children’s contacts with other children while they were living under a false identity. Because these personal memory sources reveal many day-to-day situations not present in other types of documents and sources, they are often the only avenue through which we can learn about how Jewish children interacted with other children they came into contact with while in hiding. Two methods and situations receive particular attention:

    1. collecting as many resources as possible for a specific case study on Jewish street children in occupied Warsaw, and
    2. interpreting a variety of sources from diverse cases to find patterns of interactions that took place throughout Nazi-occupied Poland.

  • Sowing the Seeds of Hate. The Antisemitism of the Orthodox Church in the Interwar Period

    (Issue 2016/1)

    Download PDFDownload PDFThe present article is focused on the antisemitic mindset of several prominent Orthodox clergymen and theologians associated with the Romanian Iron Guard and the radicalisation of Orthodox nationalism under the impact of fascism. During a wave of right-wing ideological radicalisation, Orthodox clergymen and theologians shifted from understanding the Jew according to the patristic theology and canon law to a more confessional, exclusivist trend of theology. It also discusses the Romanian Orthodox Church’s position towards the development of an antisemitic theology and the implementation of this theology during the Holocaust by the Orthodox priests affiliated with the Romanian Orthodox Exarchate in Transnistria. 

  • The “Double” of Erika B. Sexual Conduct and Honour in a Hungarian Race Defilement Case

    (Issue 2016/2)

    Download PDFDownload PDFThis paper introduces the everyday realities of ‘race defilement’ practices in early 1940s Hungary through a case study. I argue that race defilement was an integral part of the Hungarian őrségváltás, ‘the changing of the guards’, in which the so-called ‘Christian’ middle class tried to push their ‘Jewish’1 male rivals away from economic and political opportunities and this included access to ‘honourable, Christian women’. The case of a well-to-do and influential lawyer exemplifies that the judicial system was especially keen on enforcing őrségváltás by handing out punitive measures for Jews who were in a position of power and therefore seemed more of a threat to the non-Jewish elite. The case study also shows that playing with the gendered notion of ‘honour’ and with the resources still available to Jews in Horthy-era Hungary in the early 1940s, the outcome of cases could be swung. I here employ an emotional history approach and Michel Foucault’s concept of the psychological-ethical ‘double’ to indicate how emotions and readily available stereotypes were used by the actors of this particular case for various, often game-changing purposes.

  • The Fédération Internationale des Résistants (FIR). Its activities during the Breakdown of the Soviet Bloc

    (Issue 2016/2)

    Download PDFDownload PDFThis paper offers an analysis of the activities of the communist-dominated Fédération Internationale des Résistants (International Federation of Resistance Movements, FIR), the interational umbrella organisation of associations of victims of Nazi persecution from both Eastern and Western Europe between the late 1980s and early 1990s. During this time, the collapse of the Soviet Bloc led to a deep crisis for the Eastern European organisations like the Polish Związek Bojowników o Wolność i Demokrację (Union of Fighters for Freedom and Democracy) representing the former anti-fascist resistance fighters and political prisoners of Nazi concentration camps, which had been part of the communist power apparatus, and therefore of FIR. The organisation, which had been mired in growing financial difficulties for at least two decades, then lost much of its influence and of its potential to spread its message among the public. Nevertheless, FIR tried to maintain its activities with a special focus on dealing with right-wing extremism, the preservation of the rights and pensions of former resistance fighters, a commitment to peace and disarmament, as well as to the politics of memory.

  • The Genocide of Roma and Sinti and Their Political Movement from the Perspective of Social Trauma Theory

    (Issue 2015/1)

    Download PDFDownload PDFIt is argued in this paper that Roma and Sinti memories of the genocide during the Second World War did not form a coherent picture of the past that would be widely shared among them. Therefore, the recent spread of memorialization and commemoration of the genocide of Roma and Sinti shall be interpreted as a process of the social construction of trauma in which memory increasingly becomes a marker of identity, not just the recollection of the past. The article presents the consequences of the genocide of Roma and Sinti for their post-war situation and the emergence of the memory of the genocide within their political movement, both on the local and transnational levels. Drawing on Jeffrey Alexander’s social theory of trauma, I argue that Roma and Sinti do remember the Nazi persecution, that these memories are fragmented and incoherent largely because of the nature of the crimes committed on them by National Socialism, and that their self-definition as victims of genocide is a social construction embedded in their struggle for empowerment.

  • The Hungarian Holocaust Memorial Year 2014. Some Remarks

    (Issue 2017/1)

    Download PDFDownload PDFFrom the perspective of the past two (almost three) years, it seems that the significant anniversary of 2014 went down in the annals of history as a remarkable  fiasco of Hungarian memory politics. Controversial Monument, Divided Hungarians, Angered Jewish Community – these newspaper headlines are still fresh in our minds. Over the course of the year, the Hungarian Holocaust Memorial Year turned to become somewhat infamous, and scandal followed upon scandal not only in domestic media but also in foreign newspapers. However, everything had started off well in the beginning. This essay will first briefly introduce the broader context of this  fiasco, discussing the main differences between Eastern and Western European memory politics before and after 1989. It will then distinguish some milestones of the Hungarian ambiguity and delay in coping with the European tendencies in Holocaust remembrance. After that, it will turn to its central subject, analysing the main events of the Hungarian Holocaust Memorial Year 2014. Toward the end, the essay will map the different initiatives between the coordinates of memory politics and show some unintended consequences of the unsuccessful governmental intentions.

  • The Hunger Letters. Between the Lack and Excess of Memory

    (Issue 2016/1)

    Download PDFDownload PDFAfter examining thousands of letters written between 1940 and 1944 by Polish Jews in ghettos on the verge of starvation, the author approached a visual artist to assist with processing the emotional aspect of the letters. The goal was to reflect the voices of their senders and addressees. Between October 2008 and spring 2010, two sample letters, reproduced from originals in the archive, were sent together with an explanatory letter to 3,000 randomly selected Varsovians. The Hunger Letters Project, the ‘letter in a bottle’, had repercussions that exceeded all expectations. Finally, the specific understanding of this public intervention is elaborated upon in the context of its ethnographic results.

  • The Past and Promise of Jewish Prisoner-Physicians’ Accounts. A Case Study of Auschwitz-Birkenau’s Multiple Functions

    (Issue 2016/1)

    Download PDFDownload PDFSeeking to demonstrate how the unique perspectives of Jewish prisoner-physicians can yield valuable insight into Nazi camps, this article first examines how scholars have used these medical functionaries’ accounts to inform their portrayal of Auschwitz-Birkenau’s exterminatory capacity and horrific conditions. It subsequently explores how these individuals’ memoirs and legal statements can also speak to the camp’s functions as a labour camp and transit camp. The article reinforces the significance of this relatively obscure prisoner group through an examination of Nazi documents, and it indicates that the prisoner-physicians’ parallel assignments to and experiences in Birkenau and concentration camp subcamps reveal that both institutions were simultaneously engaged in the Nazis’ dual missions of exploiting Jewish labour and annihilating European Jewry.

  • The Path to the Holocaust. Fascism and Antisemitism in Interwar Romania

    (Issue 2014/1)

    Download PDFDownload PDFThis article outlines the principal directions of my research: It focuses on the interplay of antisemitism and fascism in the ideology of the legionary movement in inter-war Romania as well as on the virtual consensus on antisemitism that was established in the 1930s as a result of the support for the movement received from most of the representatives of the ‘new generation’ of Romanian intellectuals. This consensus was pivotal in desensitising the general population towards the plight of Romanian Jews and making it possible for the discriminatory measures to gradually escalate into outright policies of extermination. Thus my research demonstrates the responsibility held by the legionary movement even though they were not directly involved in the Romanian wartime Holocaust perpetrated by the Antonescu regime: The legionary movement nevertheless promoted an antisemitic discourse that was much more extreme than that of all its predecessors and contemporaries, advocating a radical exclusion with genocidal overtones. Moreover, while being as ideological and abstract as its Nazi counterpart, legionary antisemitism posited religion rather than race as the basis for the exclusion of the Jews in line with the ideology of a movement that presented itself as ‘spiritual’ and ‘Christian’. The legionary exclusion based on religion proved as violent and murderous as the one based on race, both before and during the movement‘s time in power. As such, the evidence from the Romanian case study can serve to nuance and even challenge existing interpretations that identify only racist antisemitism as genocidal.

  • The Road Towards Genocide. The Process of Exclusion and Persecution of Roma and Sinti in the 1930s and 1940s

    (Issue 2014/1)

    Download PDFDownload PDFThe fate of the European Roma during the Holocaust, the murder of several hundreds of thousands of Roma and Sinti in the territories under control of the Third Reich – a genocide which by Roma and Sinti representatives is also referred to as 'Porrajimos' or 'Samusdripen' – now forms an accepted part of European historical discourse on the 20th century and has become the focal point of a new Europe-wide process of Roma identity formation. In its monstrosity and unprecedented brutality it is like a vast shadow cast upon the common history of Roma and Gadje alike, a memento of an unspeakably dehumanised past.

    Historians have reconstructed the events that culminated in these murderous acts in great detail, mapping the increasingly radical acts of marginalisation and persecution of people labelled as 'Zigeuner' ('Gypsies') by the authorities. This marginalisation started during the Romantic period, when Europeans were told to see 'Gypsies' as fundamentally different and exotic – the 'last savages of Europe'. This, combined with the emerging 'science' of eugenics, which declared these differences to be genetically determined and therefore immutable, prepared the ground for their marginalisation and exclusion from society, based on pseudoscientific concepts.

    A severe social crisis caused by the global economic crisis of the 1930s, aggravated by the lack of adequate social welfare systems in Central and Eastern Europe at the time, led to clashes between the Roma and non-Roma populations, especially in the formerly Hungarian, now Austrian, Burgenland region. This later provided the justification for the Nazi administration's racist policies against Roma and Sinti, which eventually culminated in genocide. Some key ingredients in this catastrophe may seem strangely familiar now, as we can again encounter them in Europe today. Looking at the policies that paved the way for the Nazi genocide of the 'Gypsies', it becomes clear that many of today's policies and administrative practices affecting Roma, especially in Eastern Europe, are not that new after all and have worrying echoes in the past.

  • The Things that Affectively Live On. The Afterlives of Objects Stolen from Mass Graves

    (Issue 2016/2)

    Download PDFDownload PDFThe problem of grave-robbery at the sites of the former Nazi extermination camps in occupied Poland has received increasing academic interest recently. Rediscovered in historical research and brought to public attention by the publication of Jan Tomasz Gross’s and Irena Grudzińska-Gross’s Golden Harvest (2012), this practice, undertaken by local villagers searching for gold and other valuables allegedly hidden among and in the human remains of the camps’ victims, has since been engulfed in controversy around its meaning and social causes. At the same time, the objects stolen from the mass graves at the sites of the extermination camps have begun to resurface – sometimes they are even brought back to the sites from which they were taken. Focussing specifically on the ‘Aktion Reinhardt’ extermination camp at Bełżec, this paper traces the material afterlives of the stolen objects and the transformations of the affective, political and symbolic economies structuring their handling. Providing an interpretative gaze on the circumstances of their theft, their integration into the daily lives of the inhabitants of Bełżec, and finally their return, this paper brings to the fore the affective afterlives of those objects, and investigates their potential to challenge the cultural economies of science surrounding practices of grave-robbery at the sites of the former Nazi camps in post-war Poland.

  • Tipping the Rescuer? The Financial Aspects of the Budapest Building Managers’ Helping Activity during the Last Phase of the Second World War

    (Issue 2015/1)

    Download PDFDownload PDFMy research – through a history of the Budapest building managers (in Hungarian házmester) – asks to what degree agency mattered amongst a group of ordinary Hungarians who are commonly perceived as bystanders to the Holocaust. I analyse the building managers’ wartime actions in light of their decades-long struggle for a higher salary, social appreciation and their aspiration to authority. Instead of focusing on solely the usual pre-war antisemitism, I take into consideration other factors from the interwar period, such as in this paper the tipping culture. In my PhD thesis, I claimed that the empowerment of the building managers happened as a side-effect of anti-Jewish legislation. Thanks to their social networks and key positions, these people became intermediaries between the authorities and Jewish Hungarian citizens, which gave them much wider latitude than other so-called bystanders. That is to say that an average Budapest building manager could bridge the structural holes between the ghettoised Jewish Hungarians and other elements of 1944 Hungarian society as a result of his or her social network. This article argues that the actions of so-called bystanders in general, and the relationship between Budapest building managers and Jewish Hungarians in particular, can only be understood by placing them in a longue durée. Furthermore, it suggests that it is impossible – and unhelpful – to allocate building managers to a single category such as ‘bystander’. Individual building managers both helped and hindered Jewish Hungarians, depending on circumstances, pre-existing relationships, and the particular point in time. 

  • Transformationsgewalt in Europa 1944–1950. Perspektiven auf das Ende des Zweiten Weltkriegs

    (Issue 2015/2)

    Download PDFDownload PDFThis essay proposes that transformation violence be considered a particular form of violence that marked the transition to the post-war period towards the end of the Second World War. While a series of violent acts can be classified as wartime violence, transformation violence is a useful concept that can be applied in particular to three interlocked scenarios: settlement violence, meaning violent acts that aimed to destroy the former enemy in war and civil war; acts of war that constituted a continuation of ethnic and political civil wars from the occupation era and which were particularly hard to put to an end as long as the fighters familiar with the territory and the population were not given a convincing exit scenario (these might be described as gang wars if the term “gangs” did not carry such a strong ideological connotation); lastly, ethnic cleansing that aimed at a rapid political, demographic and social transformation of the state and the nation. These forms of violence all also had the purpose of arranging the population by new measures and to draw them into the new political system while at the same time creating loaded target groups who were to be excluded from the new political system. Finally, the article raises the question whether the export of violence into colonial territories aided the peacemaking efforts on the continent. It describes the scenario of violent re-colonialisation of territories like Algeria, which had been occupied by members of the axis powers during the Second World War.

  • Visualising the Holocaust

    (Issue 2014/2)

    Download PDFDownload PDFIn this text, I wish to explore the relationship between trauma and representation, which would serve as a theoretical framework for my research on the Roma Holocaust and its visual representation. First, I attempt to understand the concept of trauma starting from a rather psychoanalytic perspective and then shifting towards historiography. Then, I aim to conceptualise the Holocaust as a traumatic event within the context of representation and think about the ways in which the experience of the Holocaust was understood, thought, reflected or visualized in art.

    I argue that art, or representation in general, is an ‚outer dimension of memory‘; a tool for the working-through of a trauma; a possibility for a new rhetoric that provides a better understanding of our past, present and our future.