Collect and Record! Jewish Holocaust Documentation in Early Postwar Europe

Collect and Record! Jewish Holocaust Documentation in Early Postwar Europe

Collect and Record! Jewish Holocaust Documentation in Early Postwar Europe

Collect and Record! Jewish Holocaust Documentation in Early Postwar Europe


This book describes the vibrant activity of survivors who founded Jewish historical commissions and documentation centers in Europe immediately after the Second World War. In the first postwar decade, these initiatives collected thousands of Nazi documents along with testimonies, memoirs, diaries, songs, poems, and artifacts of Jewish victims. They pioneered in developing a Holocaust historiography that placed the experiences of Jews at the center and used both victim and perpetrator sources to describe the social, economic, and cultural aspects of the everyday life and death of European Jews under the Nazi regime.

This book is the first in-depth monograph on these survivor historians and the organizations they created. A comparative analysis, it focuses on France, Poland, Germany, Austria, and Italy, analyzing the motivations and rationales that guided survivors in chronicling the destruction they had witnessed, while also discussing their research techniques, archival collections, and historical publications. It reflects growing attention to survivor testimony and to the active roles of survivors in rebuilding their postwar lives. It also discusses the role of documenting, testifying, and history writing in processes of memory formation, rehabilitation, and coping with trauma.

Jockusch finds that despite differences in background and wartime experiences between the predominantly amateur historians who created the commissions, the activists found documenting the Holocaust to be a moral imperative after the war, the obligation of the dead to the living, and a means for the survivors to understand and process their recent trauma and loss. Furthermore, historical documentation was vital in the pursuit of postwar justice and was deemed essential in counteracting efforts on the part of the Nazis to erase their wartime crimes. The survivors who created the historical commissions were the first people to study the development of Nazi policy towards the Jews and also to document Jewish responses to persecution, a topic that was largely ignored by later generations of Holocaust scholars.


In December 1947 survivors of the Nazi genocide of European Jews gathered in Paris for the first European Jewish Holocaust conference. Only two and a half years earlier, Nazi Germany had surrendered unconditionally, and it had been just over a year since the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg had sentenced to death twelve central figures of the Third Reich’s politically and military leadership. the Nuremberg court had established that among its innumerable and unprecedented crimes, Nazi Germany had murdered 5.7 million Jews, two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe and one-third of Jews in the world. the thirty-two delegates from thirteen nations met under the auspices of the Center of Contemporary Jewish Documentation (Centre de Documentation Juive Contemporaine; cd JC), an institution created by French survivors to collect documents and prepare historical works on the cataclysm of their nation’s Jews. the delegates represented various Jewish historical commissions and documentation centers which studied the fate of their own communities under German occupation. Their goal was to discuss how to comprehend and ultimately write the history of the traumatic events they had recently survived. Although these events are now widely known as the Holocaust, most of the survivors at the time used the Yiddish term khurbn (destruction) or referred to it as “the catastrophe” or “the cataclysm.”

Delegates came from Allied-occupied Germany and Austria, Sweden, France, Greece, and Italy. From across the divide that now separated Western and Eastern Europe, Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria also sent delegates, as did Great Britain, the United States, Palestine, and Algeria. Most delegates had personally experienced the Nazi genocide of European Jews, surviving only by the skin of their teeth. They had lost parents, siblings, spouses, children, and friends, and witnessed the destruction of their communities. After enduring rising levels of disfranchisement and discrimination, most of them had lived through ghettoization, deportation, internment in concentration and extermination camps, and forced labor. Others had joined armed resistance movements or survived in hiding or under a false identity.

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