Refugees or deportees? The semantics of the first “Polenaktion” past and present
Keywords:conceptual history, Polenaktion, October 1938, persecution policies
On the last weekend of October 1938 approximately 17,000 Jews with Polish citizenship, many of them born in Germany, were arrested all over the Reich, transported to different towns at the Polish border and forced to cross at gunpoint. Using the method of conceptual history, this article shows how contemporaries talked and wrote about the events from very different standpoints: victims of this persecution, Jewish help organizations as well as perpetrators. By using a very wide array of sources the shift in persecution policies, which is marked by the “Polenaktion”, can at the same time be traced as a shift in the concepts used to understand the events. One can literally observe a “coming to terms” with the unique events. Informed by writings of Hannah Arendt and Elie Wiesel as well as Kurt Grossmann and Arieh Tartakower, this contribution pays special attention to the term “refugee”.
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