Call for papers: “The Shoah as a European Project?”

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Call for papers

International conference at the German Historical Institute, Paris

Dates: March 14-16, 2023

Call deadline: July 24, 2022

The Holocaust as a European Project? New research on perpetrators in a transnational perspective


To what extent should the Shoah be understood as a European project? This is the question that prominent Holocaust scholars such as Mary Fulbrook and Thomas Sandkühler have been asking themselves recently. Since the Nazis came to power, the Germans have been the forerunners and practitioners of discrimination, exclusion, and ultimately the systematic murder of the Jewish population in Germany. During the war, the German occupiers were undoubtedly the initiators, architects and executors of the extermination of the Jews. But everywhere they found accomplices and partners to implement the ghettoization, deportation and murder of the Jewish population. While there is now substantial work on complicity in various occupied countries, an interpretive framework to describe and explain involvement in the Holocaust as a transnational phenomenon is lacking to date. Although Holocaust research has become more international in recent decades, the instrumentality of transnational history (i.e. the question of transfer of knowledge and practice, systemic comparison, and the search for a cross-cutting interpretive scheme) is not widely used in this important field of research when it comes to studying the complicity of non-German societies. The colloquium aims to contribute to grasping the European dimension of cooperation during the Holocaust on a conceptual, comparative and terminological level, in order to explore the possibilities of exploring this field with the tools of shared or cross-history.

Themes and questions

Studying the forms of involvement in the Shoah requires an account of the multiple configurations of the occupation regime and collaboration in various parts of Europe. Individuals acted within different frameworks of action defined by the Germans as artisans and executors of the genocide of European Jews.

Taking into account these varied contexts and German responsibility, the colloquium will examine comparisons and overlaps as well as possible transfers of knowledge and practices on a European scale. To conduct a research on the various conditions of occupation, it is necessary to first identify which phenomena, groups or institutions are suitable for comparison or for the study of transfer processes. Once this basis is established, it will be possible to bring out the research desiderata and define a future research agenda.

In a next step, the conference will investigate to what extent the German executioners consciously involved the local population, institutions and administrations in the genocide of the Jews. How effective was this strategy in different contexts and regions? Moreover, the Germans persecuted a minority that was already stigmatized before the war in the occupied countries: what role did pre-war anti-Semitic practices and discourses play?

What forms of cooperation and compromise can be identified in the different regions, given the framework conditions of the German occupation? During the colloquium we would like to discuss several categories of non-German accomplices:

– Partners in mass murders who murdered Jews on their own initiative (e.g. the Romanian army and others)
– Europeans involved in German mobile killing units and Aktion Reinhardt killing centers (e.g., the Trawniki)
– local police forces under German command
– Cooperation partners (police forces, institutions, administrations and gendarmeries from various European countries) who were not under German command
– civilian population, informers, “Aryanization” profiteers
– Clandestine groups (resistance against the Germans while persecuting Jews

Our aim is to study uniformed units, civil administrations and other institutions in a comparative and transnational perspective: e.g. the role of local police, fire departments, construction brigades, lower echelons of civil administration or the church. How can we make a cross-national comparison of these institutions? To what extent did the usurpation of Jewish property by local populations play a role in how they became involved or compromised in the killings? Is it possible to compare the denunciation of Jews in the various countries (in terms of frequency, administrative procedures, social norms)? Inevitably, the question of the simultaneity of different phenomena arises: to what extent were non-German executioners simultaneously victims of the German occupation or active in the resistance – and how, if at all, did involvement in crimes, victimhood, and resistance fit together?

Finally, the shift in perspective is central here: did Jewish victims see their persecution as a European phenomenon in which they had no allies? And how did they describe their situation in the occupied societies? How did they perceive the radicalization of Nazi extermination policy and practice or the behavior of the local population? How did knowledge about the Shoah circulate among the Jewish population in Europe?

Our explicit aim is to put concepts, terms and methodological approaches to the test during the conference. Eminently controversial within the research community and yet commonly used, the notion of collaboration as an analytical category[2] will be questioned. Do we need a new “collaboration research” or a “new executioner research” that takes into account non-Germans[3]? Would the terms collusion, cooperation, complicity, compromise be more appropriate? Which sources can be revisited and what value does a “new research on executioners” place on the sources of the victims?

We are looking for 20-minute paper proposals that address the question of non-German accomplices and executioners from a comparative or transnational perspective. We are also very interested in integrating the Jewish perspective on the European scope of the Holocaust and the circulation of knowledge. We are also interested in methodological and theoretical questions. While the geographical focus is on France, Germany, and Central and Eastern Europe, proposals on Southern and Southeastern Europe or on French colonies, especially the Maghreb, are welcome.

The conference will take place subject to funding.

Please send your proposals in English with a maximum of 500 words and a brief CV by July 24, 2022 to Agnieszka Wierzcholska:

Organizing Committee:

Frank Bajohr, Zentrum für Holocaust-Studien, Institut für Zeitgeschichte, München

Havi Dreifuss, Tel Aviv University/ Yad Vashem, Jerusalem

Jürgen Finger, Institut historique allemand, Paris

Andrea Löw, Zentrum für Holocaust-Studien, Institut für Zeitgeschichte, München

Anna Ullrich, Zentrum für Holocaust-Studien, Institut für Zeitgeschichte, München

Agnieszka Wierzcholska, Institut historique allemand, Paris

Claire Zalc, CNRS-IHMC (Institut d’Histoire Moderne et Contemporaine) / EHESS (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales), Paris