Professor David Cesarani (right) with Professor Paul Shapiro of USHMM at the Beyond camps and forced labour conference held at IWM London, 4-6 January 2012
On 4-6 January 2012, Imperial War Museum London hosted the fourth international conference in the Beyond camps and forced labour series. Professor David Cesarani of Royal Holloway, University of London, co-organiser of Beyond camps and forced labour guest blogs here about the key themes which emerged from the conference:
‘It is hard to sum up the themes that were explored in the conference, let alone find patterns common to all the papers. But I think that some distinct threads did emerge. One was the discovery of new archival sources or the re-examination of neglected collections.
The largest and most important of these is the vast archive of the International Tracing Service of the International Committee of the Red Cross at Bad Arolsen. Thanks largely to the persistence of Professor Paul Shapiro of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum we now have a good idea of the staggering riches that were kept locked away by the ITS for decades, and the process of making them available to researchers is now well underway. The many sub-collections will offer new insights into the existence of inmates in the concentration camps, the death marches, and the experiences of refugees and survivors after liberation. One of the most extraordinary collections was described by the new ITS historian, Susanne Urban. It comprises 1,200 responses to questionnaires sent out to survivors of death marches – amongst the earliest, most immediate testimony every recorded. The ITS records will help historians to map and analyse population movements after 1945, including the influx of former DPs into the UK. It will take decades and many PhD theses to even scrape the surface of this treasure trove.
A photograph showing Roma in Radom, Poland – torn from a German soldier’s photograph album. IWM HU 105681
Here in the Department of Research, one of my responsibilities is to oversee the development of new content for The Holocaust Exhibition. My next is to display a collection of recently acquired photographs of Roma and Sinti (‘Gypsies’).
A photograph showing Roma in Radom, Poland – torn from a German soldier’s photograph album. IWM HU 105682
Roma and Sinti were targeted by the Nazis in their discriminatory laws and policies from 1933. They were later subject to slave labour, internment and mass murder (including at extermination camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau). 25%, or up to 220,000 of Europe’s Roma were killed by the Nazis.
‘Trixie’ who accompanied her young owner –Inga Joseph– when she left Vienna for Britain as one of the Kindertransport refugees in June 1939. IWM EPH 3922
The Holocaust Exhibition was ten years old last year, and giving talks about its impact is a rewarding thing to do. Visitor figures – at 7-800 a day – are still high. The subject has become mainstream after years of being marginalised, and films, tv programmes and books still appear each month with new slants, and new questions.
Today I am talking to the Sheffield branch of the Association of Jewish Refugees. I know one of the members well – Inga Joseph, who came as a Kindertransport refugee in 1938 and it is through her that I was invited along. Inga gave the IWM two dolls which she brought with her as a child refugee from Vienna – Trixie and Peter – and has written up her early life in three highly readable books written under the name of Ingrid Jacoby.
Alicia Melamed Adams, Two Frightened Children, c 1963, Imperial War Museum IWM ART 17458
The Muswell Hill studio is flooded with sunlight and all around are paintings of flowers in radiant reds, yellows and blues. I have come to visit Alicia Melamed Adams, the Holocaust survivor whose paintings and whose story I wrote up as one of the chapters of Justice, Politics and Memory in Europe after the Second World War published this summer. We did the interviews in this studio a year ago, sifting through her old family photographs and going over the details of her family’s horrendous wartime ordeal.
Alicia was born Alicia Goldschlag in Boryslav, in Galicia – in Eastern Poland - to parents who gave her and her brother Josef a happy childhood. But during the Second World War the Nazis imposed a reign of terror, with random shootings and disappearances a daily occurrence. Alicia’s parents and brother were all murdered by the Nazis. Her brother Josef – who had ambitions to become an architect – died in the Janowska camp in Lviv in 1942. Her parents were shot.