‘The Lit’

On Sunday March 26th Mia and Hannah gave a joint talk to Edinburgh’s Jewish Literary Society: “Jews in the Archive: Haunting Memories in the Aftermath of the Holocaust”. About 35 people were in attendance, keen to hear about – and contribute to – the diverse themes surrounding this ongoing research.

Speaking about the Dorrith Sim archive which she will be exploring in detail over the coming year, Hannah began with a useful theoretical outline of the recent growth in personal archiving: the increasing appeal to both researchers and (grand)children of opening the proverbial suitcase in the attic. With reference to the work of Daniel Mendelssohn, Joachim Schlör and others, she discussed how collections of family documents and correspondence offer the possibility of framing generalised discourses of migration on a more human scale, of understanding national and international histories through an individual set of voices. At the same time, however, they raise occasionally difficult questions about the researcher’s (or anyone else’s) gaze: what do we desire to see and learn from a personal archive, and whose voices do we expect to hear? Hannah situated Dorrith Sim’s life and collections within this fluid context, whilst simultaneously drawing out some of the more unusual issues which confront the researcher when dealing with this particular archive. The materials in the Dorrith Sim archive are the combined work of her paternal grandparents Alma and Julius, her uncle Ernst, and Dorrith herself. Consequently, they offer multiple historical viewpoints and suggest myriad stories. This is compounded by the fact that at the time of the dominant background narrative – the Holocaust – Dorrith herself was a young girl, implicitly reducing her own agency in this part of ‘her’ story. Hannah also pointed to the striking ordinariness of the archive, its everyday character. This too raises important questions about the relationship between the personal and the historical, the subjectivity of daily life vs the ‘big story’, and the importance of – and inherent difficulty in – retelling an everyday history (Alltagsgeschichte) of those frequently glossed as ’victims‘.

In a smoothly-choreographed transition, Mia took over to speak about Dybbuks, hauntings and the 1951 Glasgow Festival of Jewish Arts. She drew attention to the perhaps unlikely choice of S. An-sky’s 1913 play The Dybbuk as a vehicle to present Jewish culture to the post-war British world. The play, set in a 19th century shtetl, confronts the at times oppositional themes of personal love, social expectation, family life (and death), cultural history and of course the spirit world. An-sky’s text does not, however, come near to resolving any of its powerful internal contradictions, choosing instead to hold competing narrative forces in a tense yet creative balance. Mia argued that the play’s dominant themes and their continued pull upon Jewish cultural imagination can themselves be read as their own form of haunting: the very real (and recent) spectre of eastern European death and destruction continuing to haunt post-war Jewish memory. In particular, she contrasted the Jewish Institute Players’ well-received performance with a far less successful tour by Israel’s Habimah theatre company in 1948. Despite previous successes with the play, the post-war USA tour almost destroyed Habimah – to the extent that some members of the company began to suspect that the play itself was cursed. Linking her talk back to Hannah’s discussion of archives, Mia also drew attention to the play’s origins in the folkloristic collection expeditions undertaken by An-sky, Joel Engel and others in the early years of the 20th century. Borne out of a desire to document a disappearing culture, these expeditions formed the beginnings of modern east European Jewish archiving. In the process, they documented and formalised materials intended to inspire contemporary artists in the creation of a newly radical and socially-informed folk art ­– a tantalising possibility which was to remain sadly unfulfilled.

The discussion which followed the talk was lively and wide-ranging. Particular interest was given to the complex questions that Hannah had foregrounded (which stories she might choose to tell and why) and also to an engaged discussion of the unpredictable and precarious serious of events which have since accompanied An-sky’s archival materials. Both Mia and Hannah will present this ongoing research as part of Glasgow University’s ‘Narrative Spaces in Scottish Jewish Culture: A Comparative Perspective’ colloquium, which takes place on April 23rd-24th.

Second event of the Astaire Seminar Series in Jewish Studies ‘Jews, movement, migration, location’, 21 March 2017, University of Manchester

Venue: A113 Samuel Alexander Building, University of Manchester
Time: 5-7pm

Sander Gilman (Emory University), Jews as Exiles and their Representations after 1933

Cathy Gelbin (University of Manchester), German Jews and the Cosmopolitan Ideal in Exile from National Socialism

Sander Gilman is a distinguished professor of the Liberal Arts and Sciences as well as Professor of Psychiatry at Emory University. A cultural and literary historian, he is the author or editor of over eighty books. His Obesity: The Biography appeared with Oxford University Press in 2010; his most recent edited volume, The Third Reich Sourcebook (with Anson Rabinbach) was published with the University of California Press in 2013, He is the author of the basic study of the visual stereotyping of the mentally ill, Seeing the Insane, published by John Wiley and Sons in 1982 (reprinted: 1996) as well as the standard study of Jewish Self-Hatred, the title of his Johns Hopkins University Press monograph of 1986.

In our age when the meanings associated with ‘exile’ and ‘asylum’ are radically shifting, it is valuable to examine how those not directly impacted came to understand such a political alteration after 1933. The transformation of European cosmopolitan intellectuals, at home in the world but also confortable with their role in high German culture, into exiles and asylum seekers was sudden and often unpleasant.  By late January 1933, such cosmopolitans, especially those publically identified as Jews or ‘political’ (or both) began to see their status changing, even prior to the introduction of punitive laws under the new Nazi state.  I shall examine two cases of how these exiles were seen by non-Jews in radically different political spaces:  Thomas Mann in exile writing his Joseph novels and Martin Heidegger, suddenly placed in a position of leadership in the new Nazi state, commenting in his ‘Black’ notebooks about Jews. I shall also think about what such positions mean for ‘Others,’ Jews and Germans (or both) in our age of the demonization of exiles and asylum seekers.

Cathy Gelbin is a Senior Lecturer in German Studies at the University of Manchester. She specializes in German-Jewish culture, Holocaust Studies, gender and film. She is co-editor of the Oxford journal Leo Baeck Institute Year Book for the Study of German-Jewish History and Culture and serves on the Board of Directors and Trustees of the Leo Baeck Institute London, as well as on the selection committee of Studienstiftung’s international Leo Baeck Fellowship Programme in German-Jewish Studies. Recent publications include The Golem Returns: From German Romantic Literature to Global Jewish Culture (2011) and Jewish Culture in the Age of Globalization (2014, co-ed. with Sander L. Gilman).

The brief period between the two world wars saw concerted efforts by liberal and leftist-leaning German and Austrian Jewish writers to promote the cosmopolitan ideal. For a little over a century, the cosmopolitan dream of a united Europe had been nascent among Christian and Jewish intellectuals in the German-speaking realm. Following the nationalist disaster of World War I and the rise of antisemitism throughout the 1920s, the cosmopolitanist project assumed particular urgency for Jewish intellectuals. My talk examines the changes in cosmopolitanist attitudes that exile from National Socialism effected among German-Jewish writers and intellectuals, including Joseph Roth, Stefan Zweig and Lion Feuchtwanger.

New Research Associate joins the project

We are delighted that today Phil Alexander has joined the project as research associate.

Phil photoPhil is currently visiting lecturer in Klezmer and Yiddish Song at Cambridge University. His recent PhD explores the relationships between performance space, cultural identity and musical meaning amongst klezmer practitioners in contemporary Berlin. Phil is also a busy figure on the Scottish music scene, leading the band Moishe’s Bagel and performing regularly with folk and jazz musicians across the UK.

The personal papers of Ernst Levin (1887-1975), neurologist, University of Edinburgh

Lothian NHS archivist Louise Williams blogs about this fascinating collection which has been donated alongside Ernst Levin’s medical papers to the Lothian NHS Archive housed in the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Research Collections.

There is a rich cultural story to be discovered, as Levin appears to have been well-connected in the Berlin and Munich cultural avantgarde of the inter-war years.

Announcing the Astaire Seminar Series in Jewish Studies 2016/17:’Jews: movement, migration, location’

The Astaire Seminar Series 2016/17 is organised between the Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, St Andrews, Durham and Manchester. Events are free and open to all. If you are planning to attend any of these seminars please contact the local organiser for details regarding venue and timing. The address is in the link for each location.

15 December 2016, University of Glasgow
Venue:  Lecture Theatre A, Boyd Orr Building, University Avenue, Glasgow
Time: 5-7pm

Ada Rapoport Albert (UCL), From Russia to Poland: Interwar Habad Hasidism in Exile

Mia Spiro (University of Glasgow), The Dybbuk’s Haunted Stage: Performing Jewish Mysticism in the Aftermath of the Holocaust

This event is part of the Mysticism in Comparative Perspective Conference

21 March 2017, University of Manchester
Venue: A113 Samuel Alexander Building, University of Manchester
Time: 5-7pm

Sander Gilman (Emory University), Jews as Exiles and their Representations after 1933

Cathy Gelbin (University of Manchester), German Jews and the Cosmopolitan Ideal in Exile from National Socialism

26 April 2017, University of St Andrews
Venue: Old Class Library, School of History, 69 South Street, St Andrews
Time: 2-4pm

Adam Shear (University of Pittsburgh), Jews and their Books on the Move in Early Modern Europe

Emily Finer (University of St Andrews), Jewish Migration and Metamorphosis in Early Soviet Fiction

This event is co-sponsored by USTC and the School of History

9 May 2017, University of Durham
Elad Lapidot (Freie Universität Berlin), Deterritorialized Immigrant: The Talmudic Ger as a Cross-Border Figure

Ilan Baron (University of Durham), The International Cultural Politics of Israeli Cuisine

11 July 2017, University of Edinburgh
Hana Wirth-Nesher (University of Tel Aviv), To Move, to Translate, To Write: Jewish American Immigrant Voices

This event is a keynote lecture at the British Association for Jewish Studies Annual Conference.

Catching up

The last couple of months on the project have been very busy. Firstly, we had to say good-bye to our excellent Research Associate Deborah Butcher whose life is taking a different course. Her year on the project was wonderfully productive and Deborah’s contribution was essential in getting our research moving. We thank Deborah for all her hard work and wish her well for the future.

We are therefore hiring again: Vacancy: Research Associate


Dr Spiro @Lessons & Legacies

Mia and I travelled to California for the biennial Lessons & Legacies Conference where we presented papers in a panel together with Professor Sue Vice (University of Sheffield): ‘The Archive and the Production of Holocaust Memory’. Mia spoke on the role and effect of the editor on the shape of published Holocaust memoirs. Sue presented on three out-takes from Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah, a paper which tallied well with another panel in the conference dedicated solely to Shoah. My own paper reflected on the role of the historian in shaping the narratives arising from family archives, a presentation directly related to my research on the Dorrith Sim Collection.


The Jewish Experience in Scotland (2016) exhibition by SCoJeC and the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council

This week we hosted the 3rd meeting of the project’s Advisory Board. Two main discussion points arose, both related to the project’s work with the wider public. We had originally planned to develop an exhibition on the project’s themes of migration, space, and identity which could be used as a stand-alone piece in various venues and support educational initiatives. However, as our project began, we linked with a number of related initiatives in Scotland who were working on Jewish genealogy and developing a ‘Holocaust era study centre’ in the SJAC. Exhibition projects are arising from these groups and we are delighted to see them come to fruition. Our ideal has always been to co-operate and enhance the resources available to the wider public and schools in Scotland. Hence we have now decided to create a short film which speaks to the project’s themes; this will be tied in with specific educational resources for which we will seek input and co-operation with Scotland’s professional bodies for teachers. The Research Associate who will join us, will have an important role in developing the film and resources. More on this in due course.

The second area of discussion concerned the possibility of celebrating and remembering the first Jewish Book Week which took place in Glasgow in 1937. 2017 marks the 80th anniversary of this event and we hope to be able to arrange an event next year to reflect on the content and impact of the 1937 Glasgow Jewish Book Week.

Vacancy: Research Associate: ‘Jewish Lives, Scottish Spaces’, University of Glasgow

Reference Number 015271
Location: Gilmorehill Campus / Main Building
College / Service: COLLEGE OF ARTS
Job Family: Research And Teaching
Position: Type Full Time
Salary Range: £33,943 – £38,183

Job Purpose

To join the AHRC research project Jewish Lives, Scottish Spaces: Jewish Migration to Scotland, 1880-1950, in order to carry out archival research along with the PI (based at the University of Edinburgh) and the Co-I (based at the University of Glasgow). The RA will be based in Glasgow and play a key role in analysing, publicising, and presenting relevant materials on twentieth-century Scottish Jewish life and culture, both available at the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre (SJAC) and related repositories in the UK. The RA will contribute their own research, including conference papers, and articles, under the thematic umbrella framed by Jewish Lives, Scottish Spaces.

For details, please see: http://www.gla.ac.uk/about/jobs/vacancies/

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!