How are we to make sense of, recount and transmit the past? How do we acquire knowledge of, interpret and analyse what is, by definition, removed from our immediate access and experience?
More specifically, how do professionals – historians, authors, filmmakers – deal with the past, particularly where this past is immersed in at times unspeakable violence? What place do personal reflections and family history have in such endeavours?
Long gone perhaps the days in which historical accounts were uncritically assumed to be scientific and accurate representations of events as they had truly occurred. Yet how to approach and probe history – especially how to understand and transmit the Holocaust – from a variety of disciplinary and personal perspectives remains a critical endeavour. In discussion with renowned authors from the US, Canada, Israel and Germany on Europe’s troubled past, this half-day event proposes to do precisely that.
Marci Shore is associate professor of history at the University of Yale, where she teaches European cultural and intellectual history. She has written an unusually personal reflection on her engagement with post-Second World War Polish and East European history in her latest book The Taste of Ashes: The Afterlife of Totalitarianism in Eastern Europe (Crown, 2013). She is also the author of Caviar and Ashes: A Warsaw Generation’s Life and Death in Marxism, 1918-1968 (Yale University Press, 2006) and the translator of Michal Glowinski‘s Holocaust memoir The Black Seasons (Northwestern University Press, 2005). Currently she is at work on a book project titled “Phenomenological Encounters: Scenes from Central Europe.
Aaron Sachs is associate professor in the Department of History at Cornell University, where he also teaches in American Studies and coordinates the Cornell Roundtable on Environmental Studies Topics (CREST). The core of his research is about how ideas about nature have changed over time and how those changes have mattered in the western world. He has a particular interest in innovative history writing and the blend of history and memoir, explored in his latest book Arcadian America: The Death and Life of an Environmental Tradition (Yale, 2013), which interweaves his and his family's history with interpretations of nature and the built environment. He is also co-editor of a book series at Yale University Press, called New Directions in Narrative History.
David Silberklang is Senior Historian at the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem, and Editor of the scholarly journal Yad Vashem Studies, as well as Series Editor of The Holocaust Survivors’ Memoirs Project. In addition to his teaching at the University of Haifa, he teaches Jewish History at the Rothberg International School of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at Tel Aviv University, and he has been a visiting professor at Case Western Reserve University and the IDF College. His book Gates of Tears: The Holocaust in the Lublin District is forthcoming.
Rebecca Wittmann is associate professor in the Department of History at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on the Holocaust, postwar German trials of Nazi perpetrators and terrorists, and German legal history. She has received fellowships from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service). She has published articles in Central European History, German History, and Lessons and Legacies. Her book, Beyond Justice: The ‘Auschwitz’ Trial (Harvard University Press, 2005) won the Fraenkel Prize in Contemporary History. Her current project, “Nazism and Terrorism: The Madjanek and Stammheim Trials in 1975 West Germany” investigates the cultural and political mood in 1970s West Germany through a comparison of Nazi and Left-Wing terrorist trials.
Alexandra Senfft is an author and journalist whose work focuses on the Near and Middle East, the transgenerational consequences of National Socialism in Germany, and the dialogue with victims and their descendants. Having studied Islamic Sciences, she was an advisor on the Near East to the German Green Party, UN Observer in the Westbank and until 1991 press spokeswoman for the UN in Gaza. Her intriguing memoir, Schweigen tut weh. Eine deutsche Familiengeschichte (Silence is painful. A German Family History) received the German Biography Prize 2008. It engages with the troubled life and tragic death of her mother, daughter of senior Nazi Hanns Ludin, who was unable to come to terms with his crimes. Senfft is also the niece of Malte Ludin, whose film about the family difficulties with Hanns Ludin’s Nazi past, 2 oder 3 Dinge, die ich von ihm weiß (Two or three things I know about him’), will be shown in the evening.
2 oder 3 Dinge, die ich von ihm weiß (Two or three things I know about him)
Dir. Malte Ludin (2005), German with English subtitles
German filmmaker Malte Ludin explores the questionable legacy of his father, executed Plenipotentiary Nazi Party Minister Hanns Ludin, in this documentary that delves into a dark family history while exploring just how stories are passed down through the generations. It's been 60 years since the end of World War II, and though the story of Hanns Ludin is now a matter of public record, his family continues to whitewash their history and deny the brutal facts.