Collect and Record! Jewish Holocaust Documentation in Early Postwar Europe

By Laura Jockusch | Go to book overview

Introduction
Early Chroniclers of the Holocaust
Jewish Historical Commissions and Documentation Centers
in the Aftermath of the Second World War

In December 1947 survivors of the Nazi genocide of European Jews gathered in Paris for the first European Jewish Holocaust conference.1 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.”2

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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