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How it all started (part 2): Microcosms of the Holocaust

14 January 2023

In the summer of 2016, together with dr. Valeria Galimi (University of Florence) dr. Geraldien von Frijtag organized at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies (USHMM, Washington) the summer workshop Microcosms of the Holocaust. At the workshop scholars from different disciplines and countries presented and discussed their grassroots research on trajectories of Jewish-genitile relations in Europe before, during and after WWII. 


The focus of the workshop was on the fabric of daily life of Jews and gentiles entangled in those networks that remained largely free from prewar anti-Semitic socialization. Following Rachel Brenner (Brenner 2014), we employed for these networks the term ‘emotional community’. This term has first been introduced into the historical discipline by medievalist Barbara Rosenwein in 2002. According to Rosenwein, emotional communities consist of networks of mental and emotional ties between people, like family ties, church memberships or neighborhoods: ‘the same as social communities […] but the researcher looking at them seeks above all to uncover systems of feeling: what these communities (and the individuals within them) define and assess as valuable or harmful to them; the evaluations that they make about others’ emotions; the nature of the affective bonds between people that they recognize; and the modes of emotional expression that they expect, encourage, tolerate, and deplore.’ (Rosenwein 2002) How did individual members – Jews and gentiles – react on consecutive anti-Jewish acts? How did these acts affect the way they felt about and behaved towards ‘the others’ in their emotional community? What could be considered as a breaking point (or breaking points) in the history of a community? When did the ties loosen? How and when did a community actually dissolve? What do we know about ‘peer-pressure’ from outside the community, from Jews and from gentiles, to break the ties with ‘the others’? Using the emotional community as our analytical framework enabled us to look beyond the obvious social and professional ties, at the emotional tissue between Jews and gentiles. 


The result of this inspiring workshop was a special issue, 'Microcosms of the Holocaust: Exploring New Venues into Small-scale research of the Holocaust' of the Journal of Genocide Research 2019, vol. 21, no. 3.