Simon Dubnow Institute
for Jewish History and Culture at Leipzig University

Workshops 2010

18 June 2010

Early Historians. On the Origins of Jewish Holocaust Research


A notorious view prevailed that the working through of the Holocaust by historians had not come into its own until the early 1960s, after a long phase of latency. According to such an understanding, serious Holocaust historiography had largely been triggered by the major court proceedings initiated then – such as the Ulm Einsatzgruppen trial, the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem and the Frankfurt Auschwitz trial. That image has changed fundamentally, principally because younger historians scrutinized the work and significance of the early Jewish Historical Commissions. These commissions, already established in the war’s final phase and the immediate postwar period, initiated the collecting and publishing of documents, and likewise undertook the first historical studies. The commissions were composed of Holocaust survivors, and formed the first generation of Holocaust researchers. In subsequent years, they were intent on bringing that topic into the public in the countries they had chosen to settle in after the war: Poland, France, Israel, the U.S. and Germany.


The workshop seeks to investigate in comparative frame exemplary case studies on these early beginnings. The aim is to shed greater light on those individuals and their proper work. These were long neglected and/or accorded scant or no recognition at universities or in the public world of scholarship more generally. The core thesis the workshop will examine is that underlying this exacting, rich and many-sided historiographic legacy of the early Jewish Holocaust researchers is a fund of distinctive experiential knowledge; in many respects, from today’s perspective that knowledge anticipates later historical inquiry. Workshop participants will attempt a first preliminary stock-taking of these beginnings in Shoah scholarship.