On the third and last day of the conference the themes ranged from visual testimonies, and repatriation and resettlement, to the legacy of the euthanasia programmes and medical experiments, and the uses of the International Tracing Service (ITS) digital collection.
‘Survival Strategies’, was chaired by Hanna Ulatowska (University of Texas at Dallas), herself a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau – and focussed on specific types of resistance in ghettos and forced labour camps.
Martin Dean (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum) illustrated how testimony dating from the Second World War can be interpreted and analysed using today’s technology. He used as an example the writing of Shmuel Ostrometski and Google maps to illustrate the story of a group of Jews who made the decision to leave their forced labour camp, Pucewicze, in what is now Belarus.
Avinoam Patt (University of Hartford) then discussed the ghetto fighters’ post-war use of the phrase ’sheep to the slaughter’, suggesting that there was not a simple divide between passivity and resistance, and that the ghetto fighters were struggling to find their own place in the history of the Holocaust.
Next came Bettine Siertsema (Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam) and Sari Siegel (University of Southern California) who both talked about medical ‘grey zones.’
Bettine focused on the difference between the moral perspectives of qualified and non-qualified Jewish medical staff in camps. She argued that non-qualified medics tended to pride themselves on the good work they had done because they had been able to help - for instance by performing operations. Qualified doctors and nurses on the other hand struggled with the guilt of what they had or had not done, often unaware that some of their professional actions could make the situation worse for their patients. For example, separating contagious people from non-contagious sick could make a whole ward a target for selection for the gas chambers.
In the afternoon session on the International Tracing Service, the panellists demonstrated the potential of this vast archive.
Suzanne Brown-Fleming (USHMM) showed how the International Research Organisations’ (IROs) Care and Maintenance forms, which are searchable on the ITS, helped her to trace the post-war journeys of Asian, African and South American Displaced Persons. These previously marginalised nationalities and ethnicities have important stories to tell about the role of the IROs and about immigration after the Second World War.
Later in the same panel, Elizabeth Anthony (USHMM) spoke about brothels in concentration camps. She began by highlighting how ethically challenging it is to speak of ‘brothels’ and ‘prostitution’, bearing in mind that those involved were forced into the situation.
A rich and varied set of papers for this the last day of a very successful conference. Visit Beyond Camps for more information.