Jacob and Yetta Gelman International Research Workshop (Washington, DC)

Deadline: February 2, 2024

From the Atlantic to the Black Sea: Local Relief and Rescue Operations on the Margins of the Holocaust

August 19–30, 2024

Washington, D.C.

Applications due 2/2/24

The Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum invites applications for the 2024 Jacob and Yetta Gelman International Research Workshop From the Atlantic to the Black Sea: Local Relief and Rescue Operations on the Margins of the Holocaust. The Mandel Center will co-convene this workshop with Gaëlle Fisher, Bielefeld University, and Sebastian Musch, University of Osnabrück. The workshop is scheduled for August 19–30, 2024, and will take place at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

In the last couple of decades, the role of non-governmental organizations and their relief and rescue activities for those seeking to flee Nazi-dominated Europe have received considerable scholarly attention. While the history of major global organizations—such as the World Jewish Congress and the International Committee of the Red Cross—has become integral to the study of the Holocaust, the decisive role of local actors in humanitarian operations has been neglected and, in many cases, overlooked entirely. With their distinct practical knowledge and connections, local actors often played a crucial role in relief and rescue for persecuted Jews, Roma, and others seeking to flee Nazi-dominated Europe. Navigating the space between highly specific local contexts and global politics, and filling the interstices between state actors and larger rescue and relief organizations, these individuals and groups proved to be skilled operators, with their own distinctive incentives, interests, and problems. 

This workshop advances research on rescue and relief in World War II by foregrounding these smaller local actors and organizations, particularly in locations on the perimeters of the main theaters of the Holocaust and on the peripheries of power. We will consider a range of non-governmental actors and networks from the Atlantic to the Black Sea, from Lisbon to Helsinki to Tbilisi to Cairo, often small-scale and grassroots, organized from below and inhabiting the margins. How and why did they attempt to provide rescue and relief for those in danger of persecution, deportation, and extermination by Nazi Germany and its allies? What challenges and constraints, material, ideological, or otherwise, did they face? What were the stakes, priorities, and possibilities for such actors at the margins and how did they differ from those in what are often regarded as the epicenters of the Holocaust? What were the global dimensions and effects of this civilian activism during the Holocaust?

By linking the nascent field of humanitarian studies with the local turn in the study of the Holocaust, we seek to provide a more theoretically informed, transnational, and comparative picture of relief and rescue activities that sheds new light on the structures, networks, and relationships that mattered and made a difference. Highlighting the interactions of these local actors with both local state authorities and larger global rescue and relief organizations will, for instance, contribute to a broader understanding of flight and forced migration during the Holocaust. This research, in turn, will enhance our understanding of how the war, violence, and the mass murder of European Jews and Roma has shaped beliefs, narratives, and conceptions of individual and collective agency––and continues to shape them to this day. 

We welcome contributions that address specific individuals and organizations, issues of scale, hierarchies and asymmetries of power in different local contexts, and regional and/or urban case studies from a broad range of sites on the margins.

Daily sessions of the workshop will consist of presentations and roundtable discussions led by participants, as well as discussions with Museum staff, and research in the Museum’s collections. The workshop will be conducted in English.

Museum Resources

The Museum’s David M. Rubinstein National Institute for Holocaust Documentation houses an unparalleled repository of Holocaust evidence that documents the fate of victims, survivors, rescuers, liberators, and others. The Museum’s comprehensive collection contains millions of documents, artifacts, photos, films, books, and testimonies. The Museum’s Database of Holocaust Survivor and Victim Names contains records on people persecuted during World War II under the Nazi regime, including Jews and Roma and Sinti. In addition, the Museum possesses the holdings of the International Tracing Service (ITS), which contains more than 200 million digitized pages with information on the fates of 17.5 million people who were subject to incarceration, forced labor, and displacement as a result of World War II. Many of these records have not been examined by scholars, offering unprecedented opportunities to advance the field of Holocaust and genocide studies.

The Museum’s related collections include:

Numerous Jewish Community records and small to mid-sized collections of letters, memoirs, photos, personal documents, and artifacts from cities such as Algiers (Algeria),  Burgas (Bulgaria), Cairo (Egypt), Casablanca (Morocco), Constan?a (Romania),  Helsinki (Finland), Istanbul (Turkey), Izmir (Turkey), Lisbon (Portugal), Malmö (Sweden), Tangier (Morocco), and Tbilisi (Georgia), among many others

The institutional records of transnational humanitarian organizations, including bulletins, circulars, and reports, of the Alliance Israélite Universelle, the American Friends Service Committee, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the Emergency Rescue Committee, the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Jewish Agency for Palestine, and the World Jewish Congress

Collections documenting networks of rescue and relief, such as the Comissão de Assistência aos Judeus Refugiados, the Basler Hilfswerk für Emigrantenkinder, the Emergency Rescue Committee, the Œuvre de secours aux enfants, and the Réseau Marcel, among others

Personal collections and testimony of individuals involved in rescue operations, such as Menachem BaderHélène Cazès-BenatarMoshe Carmilly-Weinberger, Miriam Davenport EbelWilhelm FildermanErnst FinkVarian Fry, Sadja Grand, Julius KühlRaymond LeiboviciPeretz LeshemFrancis Ofner, and Gabriel Chaim Zvi Pappenheim, among many others

Oral histories of survivors and refugees from, or transiting through, the Balkans; the CaucasusFrance, Italy, and SwitzerlandGreece, Turkey, and the Levant; the Iberian PeninsulaNorth Africa; and Scandinavia

Participants will have access to both the Museum’s downtown campus and the David and Fela Shapell Family Collections, Conservation and Research Center in Bowie, MD. To search the Museum’s collections, please visit collections.ushmm.org/search.

For further information and to apply, please visit ushmm.org/research-workshops.

Questions should be directed to researchworkshops@ushmm.org.

This workshop has been made possible through the generosity of the Yetta and Jacob Gelman Endowment at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.