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January 26, 2018 11:23 am

The Need for Post-Holocaust Studies

avatar by Manfred Gerstenfeld


The entrance to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The memory and discussion of historical events usually fade away with the passing of time. This does not seem to be the case with the Holocaust, however, which is brought up regularly in a variety of contexts. Similarly, research shows that the phenomenon of Holocaust abuse is increasing.

There are many manifestations of the Holocaust in contemporary society. This is hardly recognized — because post-Holocaust studies do not exist as an organized area of research. Many books and articles about issues in the post-war period related to the Holocaust are published. They are, however, not grouped as such into one single field of study.

A superficial investigation identifies many post-Holocaust subjects in a variety of disciplines. For example, survivors are a prominent subject of study. This includes their post-war migration, and how and whether they were accepted in the societies that they returned to — or where they lived as immigrants. How did survivors rebuild their lives? Many of them made important contributions to humanity. The late Elie Wiesel is an example on an international scale. In an American context, Tom Lantos is another.

There is far more to study, however, including survivor organizations and their efforts to claim compensation for what was stolen, or to reclaim their belongings. Yet another aspect of potential study is the collection of survivors’ testimonies.

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Another topic in this broad category is the study of child survivors — of which I am one. We have become the last witnesses of Nazi persecution. Many pupils of post-war Jewish schools in countries occupied by the Germans were child survivors. As a result, it is likely that Jewish schools in the post-war period were significantly different from other schools in those countries — even more so than Jewish schools had been before the war.

Studying and describing the post-war psychological traumas and medical problems of survivors resulting from the Holocaust is also a post-Holocaust issue. Certain illnesses appear more often among Holocaust survivors than among other groups. For example, it is now known that there is a “greater likelihood of osteoporosis, dental problems, impaired vision, and heart issues from prolonged malnutrition in childhood and early adulthood” among child survivors.

Another huge complex of issues related to the Holocaust in contemporary society concerns its memorialization — i.e., what do Jews memorialize and what does society at large memorialize? The nature of Holocaust monuments is only one aspect of this. Initially in democratic countries, Holocaust monuments were often placed within Jewish environments — synagogues, institutions and cemeteries. The communist countries’ approach did not allow singling out Jews as specific victims of the Nazi occupation. Nowadays, in many places, new monuments are still being erected in far more central locations. New Holocaust museums and research institutions are also being created.

Post-Holocaust studies should also encompass disciplines such as history, politics, law, theology, philosophy, ethics, sociology, archaeology, social work, literature, architecture, art and genetics.

Frequently studies of post-Holocaust issues are considered part of Holocaust studies. This is a mistake. Holocaust studies are dominated by mass murder, victims, perpetrators and bystanders. In this bloody overall scene, the multiple aspects of post-Holocaust studies can never be clearly heard.

The next step in post-Holocaust studies should be the establishment of an inventory of articles and books in each of the disciplines mentioned. Only after post-Holocaust studies is established at a number of universities as a professional field, can one begin to see the huge interaction between the various disciplines within it.

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