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מחקר ולימודים // לסדנת מחקר: נכסים, אחזקות והאתיקה החומרית של צדק השואה [וושינגטון 08/24] דדליין=2.2.24

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Property, Possessions, and the Moral Materialities of Holocaust Justice

August 516, 2024

Application deadline: Friday, February 2, 2024

The Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum invites applications for the 2024 Moskowitz/Rafalowicz International Research Workshop Property, Possessions, and the Moral Materialities of Holocaust Justice. The Mandel Center will co-convene this workshop with Dovilė Budrytė, Georgia Gwinnett College, and Neringa Klumbytė, Miami University. The workshop is scheduled for August 516, 2024, and will take place at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Throughout Europe, dispossession was an integral component of the mass murder of Jews and Roma during the Holocaust. Interviews with survivors, eyewitnesses, and collaborators in Eastern Europe affirm that theft was a common reason for the active participation of local populations in the mass killings known as the “Holocaust by bullets.” The personal belongings of victims ended up in the families and homes of those who conducted the killings or assisted the perpetrators. Others were redistributed to local populations or sold at auctiחוons; locals moved into houses previously owned by their Jewish neighbors.

Despite efforts at property restitution following the 2009 Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets and Related Issues, both academic study and public awareness of the scope of the looting by local populations and the massive losses of Jewish and Romani immovable property in the Holocaust remains scant. Furthermore, it also remains unclear how attempts at property restitution are perceived by their intended recipients—the descendants of the victims.

This workshop focuses on historical justice through the lens of things and property. Ethnographic research with families of Holocaust survivors and victims indicates that they understand justice in terms of moral materialities—that is, restitution is, for them, inextricable from recognition, the restoration of personal dignity, and inclusion into society. Their experiences lead us to ask: How do possessions and property feature in claims about identity and social belonging made by the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors and victims? How do stories of theft and appropriation raise public awareness of the material annihilation of Jewish and Romani communities? What sorts of social dynamics and historical relationships are prompted by the discovery of Jewish and Romani things and property in non-Jewish/non-Romani homes? How do  understanding of historical justice articulated in stories about possessions and property in local Jewish and Romani communities differ from conceptualizations of historical justice in national and transnational projects that focus on restitution of Jewish property?

Addressing these questions in our workshop, our goal is to develop a comprehensive approach to historical justice that accounts for the fate of possessions and property and their biographies of new “ownership,” and foregrounds articulations of  history and justice by Jewish and Romani communities in terms of moral materialities in the context of national and international perspectives on historical justice. To do so, we will consider these topics from several interrelated angles: 1) object biographies of the things and property looted during the Holocaust, including items in museum collections, 2) individual experiences in reclaiming possessions and property after the war, processes and practices related to large-scale restitution programs, and theorizations of justice through restitution, 3) public cognizance, recollection, remembrance, and/or denial of local involvement in the appropriation of possessions and property through theft, looting, redistribution, or (re)sale during the Holocaust, and 4) the stories of theft and appropriation passed down in the family realm or shared within Jewish and Romani communities.

In addition to shedding light on the processes related to historical justice after the Holocaust, we hope to contribute to discussions about Holocaust restitution in various public spheres and expand conceptualizations of transnational and state-level justice to include the perspectives of their intended beneficiaries.

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.


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United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC, USA
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