For a long time, traditional historiography has assumed that the end of the Second World War was soon followed by a silent agreement by all concerned to cast a veil of silence over the murder of millions of Jews. The parties concerned all had different motivations to agree on such a "blessed act of oblivion", following Winston Churchill's quotation in his Zurich University speech in September 1946. Traditional historiography dates this phase in which the Holocaust had become a taboo subject to last until the end of the 1970s / beginning of the 1980s; behind the "iron curtain", it is said that it even took until the end of communism in 1989/1990 for public treatment of the murder of the Jews to occur.
Recent research by academics, such as most recently David Cesarani, has called these historiographical assumptions into question: these researchers have revealed and discussed efforts made from 1945 onwards and into the early 1950s to make public the crimes of the Nazi regime and its collaborators, to confront the populations with the crimes that had taken place, and to drive home to the post-Nazi societies what had happened in their names. These early initiatives have so far been accredited largely to Holocaust survivors and Jewish organizations. However, evidence of numerous acts undertaken at state level in order to address the past indicates that there were in fact also political efforts that were made immediately after the war in order to confront and acknowledge the wrongs committed.
The Simon Wiesenthal Conference 2012 will take up this very point: it will address the conditions and contexts of concrete political measures taken, gestures and statements made, without wanting to focus on the actual legal penalties. What attempts were undertaken in order to make public the mass murder, document it, remember the genocide and define responsibilities, to "overcome" and ask the "question of guilt"? How did non-state actors engaged in the politics of confronting the recent past interact with the political actors? Which political interests were tied up with the efforts to confront the past? Why and how did these efforts fail? When can the first tendencies to create a taboo around the subject be detected? What were the reasons for this?
International actors and their influence on the way the past was dealt with ought to be illuminated in order to clarify whether and to what extent national discourses were shaped by considerations of international politics. Did the differences between Western and Eastern European approaches to dealing with the past begin with the Cold War, or can they be discerned earlier? The roles taken on by different agents engaged in forming policies of how to deal with the past shall be discussed, calling into question the conception of a "Vergangenheitspolitik as an expression of linear continuities and homogeneous opinions".
Contributions are welcome to address concrete cases, but ought to focus on wider contexts, circumstances, macro studies. The research presented should address post-war European policy issues, touching, where possible, on the influence of foreign policy factors on the treatment of the past, the political instrumentalisation(s) of the past(s) and the onset of the taboo on the subject. The contributions should reveal the Realpolitik content inherent in the politics of framing the past.
The questions raised above can be discussed at hand of the following actual thematic cases for the period 1945 - c.1955:
- First institutionalised efforts at documentation of the crimes by political and state actors (historical commissions)
- Academic appraisals and their adoption by politics: historiography, philosophy, political science, psychoanalysis
- Confrontation and representation in arts and literature
- Museums, exhibitions, mass media, popular culture and their treatment of the crimes
- Symbolic acts of recognition and remembrance: celebrations, symbolic laws, remembrance, erected sites of memory (monuments and memorials)
Working languages of the conference are German and English. The VWI will cover the costs of your stay. The VWI is hoping to secure separate funding to cover travel costs.
Applications are to be made in German or English and are to include an abstract of your topic (600 words max.) as well as a short CV and a list of publications. Please submit these by May 31, 2012 per email with the subject header "Simon Wiesenthal Conference 2012" to cfp [at] vwi [dot] ac [dot] at.
Concept: Regina Fritz (Vienna) and Béla Rásky (Vienna)
This conference is planned to coincide in topic and timing with the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure EHRI workshop "Early attempts at the historical documentation of the Holocaust", which is taking place in Budapest in November 2012.
bela [dot] rasky [at] vwi [dot] ac [dot] at