Simon Dubnow Institute
for Jewish History and Culture at Leipzig University

Workshops 2014


10 to 11 November 2014

Pragmatic Alliances, Persistent Fidelity –

Conceptions of Loyalty in the Polish-Jewish Context in the 20th Century


Participants: Jörg Deventer (Leipzig), Christhardt Henschel (Leipzig), Eran Kaplan (San Francisco, Calif.), Kamil Kijek (Wroclaw/New York), David Kowalski (Leipzig), Hanna Kozinska-Witt (Halle), Jolanta Mickuté (Vilnius), Brian Porter-Szucs (Ann Arbor, Mich.), Marcos Silber (Haifa), Stephan Stach (Leipzig), Katrin Steffen (Lüneburg).





12 September 2014

Optimism about History and Consciousness of Catastrophe – The Workers' Movement and Political Intelligentsia in the 1950s and '60s


The Cold War was in every respect a singular period in history. Especially the period of the 1950s and '60s, the core time of the confrontation between systems, were characterized by a striking combination of optimism about history on the one hand and consciousness of catastrophe on the other. The technological achievements of the era, increased pay for workers and shortened working hours, and expanded possibilities for consumption, generated a huge acceleration of upward change in life worlds. Yet that was challenged by the rising potential of the threat of nuclear warfare between the superpowers. Ever more sharply rising living standards and the looming threat of nuclear »apocalypse« side by side led to the sense that people were living in a time suspended, the vortex of a temporal limbo. Moreover, the clash in world view between freedom and equality and its associated social semantics of the Cold War were able only superficially to neutralize the lines of conflict that had dominated the nineteenth century and the interwar era, especially in Eastern, Central and Southeastern Europe. Behind the dichotomy of the East-West conflict, hidden traces of the past can be detected. Former national and ethnic conflicts, often encoded by the language of social semantics, obtained at times significance and validity as did memories of the Holocaust.


In the framework of the final conference of the project »Hidden Presences« (Verborgene Präsenzen), on the one hand, the question will be raised regarding how the apocalyptic nuclear threat to humankind posed by the armed superpowers functioned to spread a veil over the past. On the other, the workshop seeks to explore how the traditional elements of the workers' movement, most particularly the rhetoric of social class and struggle, which infused the global political and geopolitical disputes and confrontations of the Cold War, served to distort the view of the central core event of World War II, the Holocaust. The conference focuses on the question as to why the leftwing memory of National Socialism extended on into the historiography of the workers' movement: left out was the event that placed into question more than any other the very core of the left philosophy of history: namely the optimistic belief in a nexus between work, rationality, progress and happiness.


In the framework of the conference, not only will the findings of the project be presented. Discussions will also be opened up centered on a historicization of the 1950s and '60s. With this workshop the project »Hidden Presences« (Verborgene Präsenzen) will conclude.