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Focus of Research: Children as Displaced Persons

Societal and personal repercussions of the Shoah and of Nazi forced labor were the focus of the workshop “Life in the Aftermath – Displaced Persons, Displaced Children and Child Survivors on the move. New approaches in education and research”, a joint event organized by the International Tracing Service (ITS) and the Max Mannheimer Studienzentrum in Dachau.

For several years now there has been growing research interest in how the millions of DPs had experienced the time immediately following the capitulation of the Nazi regime and what kind of support they had received. In her keynote lecture at the workshop US historian Atina Grossmann referred to these years as an interregnum - between the traumatic experiences of war, genocide, displacement  and the burden of starting over. She drew attention to the fact that only a few years after Nazi Germany had been declared “free of Jews”, some 300,000 Jewish people, primarily from East-Central Europe and Eastern Europe, were living in Germany and several of its neighboring countries. Although the Jewish DPs and the German population may have been staying in the same land, they were living in different worlds, fundamentally separated by the diversity of their war experiences.

New Research Interest: Displaced Children  

Within the so-called “Aftermaths Studies”, the topic area of Child survivors has been widely neglected up to now. That is why a second focus of the workshop was on the under-researched collections of the Child Search Branch files in the ITS archive. Historian Boaz Cohen, Head of Holocaust Studies at Western Galilee College in Akko, Israel, emphasized that, without taking into consideration the Displaced Children, and above all the significant role their generation has been playing until today, postwar history remains incomplete.

Pedagogical Workshops and Excursions

The second day of the seminar focused on DPs as a topic in the educational work, which, in the light of the current refugee situation, has gained considerable significance. Speakers from memorial sites and museums presented their new approaches. Parallel to this, two excursions to former DP facilities were offered: DP camp Föhrenwald as one of the largest camps, and which wasn’t officially closed until 1956, and the DP Children’s Center in the Indersdorf Abbey. The afternoon offered opportunities to meet and talk with contemporary witnesses to hear more about their personal experiences.

International Research Projects

Four panel discussions covering “Children as Survivors and DPs” took up the topic of Boaz Cohen’s keynote lecture on the third workshop day. Ten scholars from seven countries presented their research projects, addressing not only the personal consequences for the children and young adults but also research on the structures of professionally organized aid: from the care given to individuals of specific nationalities, to reuniting families, to the use of analysis instruments of the digital humanities to outline the paths taken towards starting a new life.  

The ITS 2017 Yearbook as a Conference Volume

During the workshop, the traveling ITS exhibit  »“Where should we have gone after the liberation?” Transit Stations: Displaced Persons after 1945« was set up in the Max-Mannheimer Studienzentrum. It is on display there until the end of July 2016, and will continue to be available on loan to interested institutes. The workshop and the exhibit were the first steps towards a closer cooperation between the ITS and the Max-Mannheimer Studienzentrum.

Nina Ritz, the pedagogical director of the Studienzentrum, was very satisfied: “The conference more than met our expectations. Discussing the international contributions on educational offers as well as new research results in a methodologically diverse event was so enriching for our work. Ultimately, the conference advanced the public discourse on this issue and spawned several new research ideas – some of which even link the historical topic with the present.” ITS Director Floriane Hohenberg also stressed the value of this cooperative effort: “In order to show more clearly the research potential to be found in our archive, we need partners and projects such as these.” Together with the Max Mannheimer Studienzentrum, the ITS will publish its 2017 Yearbook as a conference volume based on the contributions to the international workshop.