CFP: Workshop: ‘Survivors’ – Politics and Semantics of a Concept

Berlin, November 20-21, 2014

Center for Jewish Studies Berlin-Brandenburg in co-operation with the Berlin Institute of Technology Center for Research on Antisemitism and the DAAD Walter Benjamin Visiting Professor

Organized by Alina Bothe and Markus Nesselrodt

The current understanding of the term ‘survivor’ in social and cultural studies includes various layers of meaning. In the German discourse ‘survivors’ are often understood as those who were persecuted as Jews by the National Socialists in the years 1939-1945 and survived the war in Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe. Those who were able to escape and survive in exile are classified as ‘refugees’ or ‘emigrants’. The University of Southern California Shoah Foundation applies a broader concept of the term ‘survivors’ which includes all Jewish interviewees regardless of the variety of their experiences. Both examples illustrate the impact of a collective attribution by others to the status of being a ‘survivor’. In addition to the already widely discussed categories of victims and witnesses the concept ‘survivor’ still needs further discussion.

Taking into account the multiple self-narratives of Shoah survivors opens new possibilities of understanding survival. The Jewish Displaced Persons in occupied post World War II Europe identified themselves initially as She’erit Hapletah, the ‘surviving remnant’ of European Jewry. Following this self-definition, all remaining European Jews belonged to this collective; a formulation that stressed unity after catastrophe and effaced the many differences in wartime experiences of survival. Those who survived the war as refugees or deportees in the Soviet Union also became part of the She’erit Hapletah when they were repatriated to their countries of origin, especially Poland, from where, finding only a “vast graveyard” and renewed antisemitism, many fled again. Even as they became the majority in the Jewish Displaced Persons Camps of occupied Europe, their specific experiences and memories were marginalized. Scholars have only recently begun to examine (and re-examine) the complex set of historical experiences and meanings attached to the concept and definitions of ‘survivor’ and survival.

The workshop will focus on the different semantic and political meanings of the concept of ’survivor’ since World War II. It is necessary to critically analyze the different disciplinary, historical, and national understandings of the term. These questions are not new but need to be asked once again from a contemporary perspective. The political and social conditions that provide individuals a public forum for their memories will be considered as well. In many countries there has been a broadening of the concept of ‘survivor‘ over the decades, very often related to discussions about remembrance and restitution. What strategies and policies stand behind this change, and how does the semantic opening work in practice?

Possible topics for contributions include:

  •        juridical definitions of the term ’survivor‘ and the consequences
  •        other definitions of the term and their effectiveness
  •        Jewish and non-Jewish understandings of the ’survivor’
  •        reparations and compensation for survivors
  •        narratives of survival
  •        gaps and taboos in survivor’s narratives and memories
  •        function and role of ’survivors‘ in national memorial cultures
  •        national and transnational conditions of the ’invention‘ of the ’survivor’
  •        survivors as historians, writers, politicians
  •        the impact of gender on semantics and politics of the concept
  •        how does media affect the memory of survival
  •        how do current political questions and anxieties shape debates about definitions of survivors?

Confirmed keynote speakers for the workshop are:

Dr Atina Grossmann (Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, New York, DAAD Walter Benjamin Visiting Professor)

Dr Stefanie Schüler-Springorum (Director of the Berlin Institute of Technology Center for Research on Antisemitism)

Dr Anne Rothe (Associate Professor of German, Wayne State University, Detroit)

The workshop will be held in German and English. Selected contributions will be published. Funding will be available only on a limited basis and by request. Please submit your proposal of 300-500 words for a paper of 20 minutes length together with your institutional affiliation and your academic CV by April 1, 2014 via e-mail to Alina Bothe:

Participants will be notified by May 1, 2014.


For more information please contact:

Zentrum Jüdische Studien Berlin-Brandenburg
Alina Bothe
Sophienstr. 22 a
10178 Berlin

Tel: 49 (0)30 20 93 – 66 311
Fax: 49 (0)30 20 93 – 66 325


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