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Postwar Trials, Resistance, and Childhood: New Perspectives on Survivors’ Networks

Sun, December 16, 12:30 to 2:00pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Cityview 2 Ballroom

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


Postwar Trials, Resistance, and Childhood: New Perspectives on Survivors’ Networks
In the early postwar period, survivors formed transnational networks on the basis of shared wartime experience, common geographical origin, and shared political agendas. This session argues that close examination of these networks reveals dynamic changes over time and in different political contexts. In particular, initial networks were far more specific than later more general categories of “Holocaust survivors” that would develop in the last decades of the 20th century.  Therefore, this panel examines three expressions of Holocaust survivors’ postwar networks that illustrate this shift over time. Each broadens our understanding of the various roles that survivor groups- both formal and informal- played and their significance for survivors after the war and in the larger narrative of Holocaust memory. They raise new questions about the role of survivor groups and postwar politics, their consensus on collective identity, and identity formation among survivors. They also complicate our thinking about how we define “Holocaust" and “survivor.”
The papers by Natalia Aleksiun and Avinoam Patt explore survivor networks in the immediate postwar period. Aleksiun’s work is anchored geographically and temporarily in the postwar trials in Poland from 1944-1948, while Patt’s investigates the beginnings of collective survivor identity that was forged in the DP camps. Aleksiun analyzes the interconnection between survivors and the postwar trials of Poles accused of crimes against their former Jewish neighbors. She suggests that the Polish prosecution relied on newly formed Jewish organizations in locating Jewish witnesses while Jewish survivors sought retribution by directly contacting the relevant authorities. Through both avenues, Aleksiun uncovers the formal and informal channels among survivors that shed light on the public impact of the trials on the survivor community. Patt’s paper illuminates the role of “resistance” in both the immediate postwar DP leadership and the collective survivor identity that emerged. He traces why their experience – a minority one among the She’erit Hapletah- came to be the preferred, collective narrative of the survivor community. Patt further explicates the reasons for the consensus around this ideology of resistance and heroism and how it came to occupy a central place in the drive to create a Jewish state. Beth Cohen’s paper explores how the definition of Holocaust survivor broadened in the last three decades of the 20th century. Building on the theme of collective identity, as it shifts geographically, temporarily, and demographically to highlight child survivors in the United States, Cohen analyzes the fraught process of surviving children in forging a collective identity as “Child Survivors.” 

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