A new year, a new collection

I am very excited to begin work on the family archive of Dorrith Sim (née Oppenheim). Well known in the local and national community, Dorrith Oppenheim fled from the German city of Kassel to Scotland in summer 1939 on a Kindertransport. She was cared for by Sophie and Fred Gallimore in Edinburgh, with whom she remained until she married Andrew Sim in 1952. Dorrith’s parents, Hans and Trude Oppenheim, were deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1943 and then to Auschwitz-Birkenau where they were both murdered. Hans’ parents, Alma and Julius Oppenheim, were able to join his younger brother Ernst in Canada in early 1939, and his sister Alice fled via the UK to the United States. Dorrith’s grandparents were able to bring a large quantity of household goods and personal items with them, and Ernst was a conscientious correspondent who preserved both sides of many letter exchanges. Thus it is possible to trace the family’s efforts to secure passage out of Germany, in particular Ernst and Alice’s tireless work to rescue Hans and Trude.

Dorrith has given testimony about her and her family numerous times; most recently, for example, for Gathering the Voices. She was active in Holocaust remembrance in the local community and contributed to the work of the Kindertransport Association and particularly to its Scottish branch. Ernst and then Dorrith were aware of the significance of the collection of documents and letters, as well as material objects relating to the family history. Dorrith’s generosity made it possible for her children to deposit the archive with the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre in Glasgow where it is now accessible to researchers.

It is truly a privilege to be able to immerse myself in this archive and not only trace the intricacies of the family’s journey in the 1930s and 1940s, but also reach back to the family’s life in eighteenth century Germany, analyse letters and papers from World War I, and read forward into the present time through Dorrith’s own correspondence and collections of writings, documents and things. Historical research on Jewish refugee journeys, personal memories of one family, and public commemorations of the Holocaust intertwine in this archive. As my work begins I am mindful of the responsibility which comes with being allowed to look so closely into one family’s personal affairs which are of public significance. While I am sad never to have met Dorrith herself, I am grateful to her children for making this amazing family archive accessible and for welcoming my questions and thoughts. I am heartened by being able to place my work alongside and in relation to a growing body of scholarship on family archives and correspondence which brings the personal and local in connection with the history of communities and nations. To cite but a few:

Mark Roseman 2000, A Past in Hiding: Memory and Survival in Nazi Germany.

David Clay Large 2003, And the World Closed Its Doors: The Story of One Family Abandoned to the Holocaust.

Daniel Mendelssohn 2006, The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million.

Joachim Schlör 2016, ‘Liesel, it’s time for you to leave.’ Von Heilbronn nach London. Die Flucht der Familie Rosenthal vor der nationalsozialistischen Verfolgung.

Shirli Gilbert 2017, From Things Lost: Forgotten Letters and the Legacy of the Holocaust.

CfP: ‘Jews on the Move: Exploring the movement of Jews, objects, texts, and ideas in space and time’, British Association for Jewish Studies Conference, 10-12 July 2017, University of Edinburgh

Conference URL: https://britishjewishstudies.org/conference-2017/

This conference is hosted by the British Association for Jewish Studies (BAJS), in cooperation with the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh.

We gratefully acknowledge the following grants received in support of the conference:

Call for Papers:

From the earliest accounts travel and migration, movement across space and time characterise Jewish history. No less crucial than the movement of people is the movement of texts, objects, and ideas, which travel both physically and intellectually as generations in distant locations engage with these at different times and places. Jews themselves are associated with travel and migration, historically and in cultural production. This conference invites contributions of papers and panel proposals within the broad theme of the conference. What follows is a list of thematic headings which is indicative, but not exhaustive:

  • Jews and migration
  • Jews in / and the archive
  • Texts which move
  • Jewish journeys, journeys of Jews
  • Literary explorations of travel, movements, and migration and their consequences
  • Displaying Jews: museums, heritage, art
  • Jewish objects: from vernacular and ritual to display and memory

As usual with BAJS conferences, papers on topics unrelated to the conference theme are also welcome, including proposals by graduate students wishing to present on their doctoral research.

Travel bursaries for postgraduate students from outwith the UK can be applied for at a later date.

Confirmed keynote speakers:

  • Professor Charlotte Hempel (Birmingham): People and ideas on the move: the evidence from Qumran
  • Professor Tony Kushner (Southampton): Jews as refugees: special or not?
  • Professor Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett (New York / Warsaw): Expanded Geography: An Epilogue to the History of Polish Jews at POLIN Museum
  • Professor Hana Wirth-Nesher (Tel Aviv): To Move, to Translate, To Write: Jewish American Immigrant Voices

Paper proposals should include an abstract of no more than 300 words and a speaker biography of 100 words max.

Panel proposals should include a rationale for the panel of no more than 500 words, abstracts of 300 words max for each paper proposed as part of the panel and speaker biographies of no more than 100 words.

Please send paper and panel proposals and all conference-related correspondence to: BAJS2017@ed.ac.uk.

Deadline for submission of paper and panel proposals:

  • 31 January 2017.

Confirmation of acceptance of proposals will be emailed by 31 March 2017.

Conference booking will open in mid-April.

Please note that delegates are responsible for finding and booking their accommodation during the conference. The University of Edinburgh offers a range of accommodation: http://www.edinburghfirst.co.uk/for-accommodation-internal/ . Visit Scotland lists options for all budgets: https://www.visitscotland.com/destinations-maps/edinburgh/accommodation/ .

The conference venue is School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh, New College, Mound Place, Edinburgh EH1 2LX, United Kingdom.

All catering provided at the conference will be vegetarian. If you are unable to eat a vegetarian diet please email BAJS2017@ed.ac.uk with your dietary requirements by 3 April 2017. Please be aware, that we are unable to guarantee at this point that we will be able to cater for your specific dietary needs.

The project one year on …

September marks the beginning of the second year of our research project, and thus, naturally, offers a time to reflect, look back at the project’s first year, take stock, and plan ahead.

Looking back

The project can look onto a good deal of achievement in year 1. The core project team – Hannah Holtschneider, Mia Spiro, and Deborah Butcher – launched with gusto into a thorough exploration of the range and breadth of materials collected and cared for by our project partner, the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre. Over the course of the first six months of the project Deborah worked her way through many shelves of boxes, and through the catalogue, describing materials relating to the main project themes. In spring we paused for an evaluation of our findings. The richness of our findings opened many avenues of investigation, a delightful position to be in, indeed! We are very grateful to the AHRC for giving us the opportunity to survey, explore and map as an explicit goal of this project.

Secondly, together with the SJAC we explored possibilities and opportunities to digitise aspects of the archive’s collections, so that researchers can access some documents remotely and better plan their visits to Glasgow. We also ran a ‘digitsation pilot’ at the University of Edinburgh to gain a thorough understanding of the practicalities of scanning, editing, and preparing images of archival documents for presentation online.

Looking ahead

We decided to focus our research on three areas which a) relate well to each of our specific areas of expertise, and b) analyse materials which have not previously been part of academic studies:

Deborah is now working on Jewish women’s history, firstly relating to women’s roles and work in the Friendly Societies and WIZO.

Mia is concentrating on the collections relating to Jewish refugee artists with a particular focus on the letters and personal papers of Hannah Frank.

Hannah‘s work on the life and work of Rabbi Dr Salis Daiches with a particular focus on his role in provincial Jewry occupied much of the first year of the project. This is now coming to fruition in a short monograph. Her main focus for the second and third years of the project is researching the family archive donated by Dorrith Marianne Sim (née Oppenheim) who came to Scotland in July 1939 on a Kindertransport.

The SJAC is selecting a representative sample of documents for digitisation. The actual digitisation process is scheduled for 2017, and the digital resources of documents available at the SJAC will be accessible via the University of Edinburgh’s gateway to research collections.

The second year of the project also launches work on public outreach. Over the course of this year we are planning a series of events which engage non-academic audiences with our research. Watch this space!