Simon Dubnow Institute
for Jewish History and Culture at Leipzig University

International Conferences 2008

International Annual Conference »Perplexities – The Holocaust and the Political Memory of the Left«


29 to 30 October 2008


This year's international conference explores the question of whether – and if so why – the destruction of European Jewry as the central point of National Socialism and World War II was not perceived in an adequate manner in the post-war period.

The conference looks carefully at three prime circumstances: the constellation of the Cold War in global politics and the fear of a nuclear homicide; second, the rising tide of decolonization and the associated colonial brutality, and third, as the most central concern, the fact that socialist and teleological interpretations of history contributed to a distorted perception of the Holocaust. For that reason, the workers’ and trade union movement lies at the center of epistemological interest. One the one hand, the movement itself was a victim of Nazism. On the other hand, having emerged as history's victor, the left felt that its worldview had been confirmed with the defeat of Nazi Germany. It seems that this constellation implies an especially complex form of decoding and shifting.


A further concern of the conference is to discuss the different layers of experience and memory which can be mustered to help explain the lack of perception. In addition, it has to be examined whether and to what extent the experience of exile had an impact on the Leftist theories after 1945. The geographical focus will be on the successor states of Nazi Germany. However, Western Europe with its specific post-war myths will be discussed as well. France as both a colonial and continental power is of particular interest. Contrary memories and the collision between divergent historical experiences will also be dealt with. In this context, the example of the war in Algeria is especially significant. The question will likewise be explored as to whether the special engagement of the Left for the anti-colonial liberation struggle also sprang in part from the need for a projective relief from the burden of its own history.


The conference will also examine the situation in the former state-socialist countries in Eastern Europe. To what extent did theories such as Marxism-Leninism and the communist analysis of fascism represent a means of actually repressing the Holocaust, thus constituting an obstacle for properly engaging with it? Although the Holocaust was not extensively dealt with anywhere in the postwar period, it was present in latency and repeatedly erupted to the surface. Interestingly, this occurred mainly in events where the left felt a sense of emotional involvement.