Current Book Project
My manuscript, Saving our Survivors: How American Jews learned about the Holocaust, reveals how American Jews came to know stories about Holocaust survivors in the early postwar period through the efforts of American Jewish communal organizations to aid survivors in Europe. By analyzing survivor narratives employed by organizations to raise funds, motivate volunteerism, and influence political reform, this work complicates historical assumptions about postwar silence and inaction.
In the immediate aftermath of the war, American Jewish communal organizations waged a series of public campaigns that introduced American audiences to the Holocaust and its survivors to American Jews. Through all available media, Jewish groups collected, translated, and transmitted stories about Jewish persecution under Nazism that reached nearly every Jewish home in America and philanthropic programs aimed at aiding survivors in the postwar period engaged Jews across the politically, culturally, and socially diverse American Jewish landscape. I consider previously overlooked cultural materials from the archives, including fundraising pamphlets, letters, posters, short films, campaign appeals, radio programs, pen-pal letters, and advertisements that make up the material record of this communal response to understand how survivors were first represented in America and became part of an American discourse about the Holocaust.
This study contributes to the growing field of scholarship focused on the immediate postwar period and raises new questions about the long history of Holocaust memory in America. By examining the collection, construction, preservation, and dissemination of stories by and about Holocaust survivors in the immediate aftermath of the war, I argue that efforts to send humanitarian aid from America to Europe imbued initial survivor stories with core American motifs such as thanksgiving, freedom, and hope. These stories were meant to humanize the experiences of European Refugees, celebrate America as the land of freedom and site of refuge, and advocate for American immigration reform. As such, they offer an opportunity to rethink the centrality of authenticity and evidentiality as the primary factor of survivor memory.
“In a world still trembling”*: American Jewish philanthropy and the shaping of Holocaust survivor narratives in postwar America (1945-1953)
Now available at escholarship.org >
* Letter from Mrs. Charles E. Wyzanski, Jr. and Mrs. Siegfried Kramarskky, co Chairmen of the National Youth Aliyah Committee, to Youth Aliyah co-workers, 27 July 1945, Hadassah Archives, Box 17, Folder 118.