Research Unit Law

The Évian Conference of 1938

History and Memory

This research project deals with the Intergovernmental Conference in Évian-les-Bains, to which US President Franklin D. Roosevelt had invited more than thirty governments in reaction to the European refugee crisis in the summer of 1938. It aims on the one hand to describe innovatively the conference through the perspective of the Jewish participants, while on the other hand locating the conference in the context of international refugee policy in the interwar period. Thus, the 1930s will not be described as a »prehistory of the Holocaust«, because the delegates at Évian acted in the face of an open future. This change of perspective leads to a new assessment: The failure of the Western democracies in saving German and Austrian Jews from the Holocaust will not form the center of attention, but rather the dynamics of a promising process of negotiations. Thereby, it will be shown how international refugee policy was developed in its core aspects. Nevertheless, these efforts were stopped by the outbreak of World War II. By analyzing the Jewish initiatives and commitments before and during the Évian Conference, the project aims to elaborate an overview of Jewish politics on migration, refugee rights, and minority status in the interwar period. The connection between a new history of the conference and the memory thereof over the course of time by Jewish participants allows for a redetermination of the lieu de mémoire of Évian within Jewish history.