Most practitioners in the fields of Holocaust Studies and contemporary German history have been reluctant to confront the challenges posed by the late twentieth-century cultural turns in the humanities and social sciences. The impact of the much-noticed Saul Friedlaender-convened conference on Probing the Limits of Representation at UCLA in 1990, for example, has been strikingly limited. Some of the recent Holocaust scholarship has dealt with these challenges by focusing on dimensions of space and geography. For all their insights, these new developments in the field have often reproduced the old limitations of conventional historiography that largely limited the study of this genocide’s victims and perpetrators to the confines of individual nation-states. Yet, the history of the Holocaust and of European Jewry is a history of constant border crossings. What is needed, this talk argues, is a more profound rethinking of the spatial terms of analysis. By critically reconsidering the implications of the cultural—including the spatial and linguistic—turns for our understanding of the Holocaust and twentieth century Jewish and German history, this lecture will test and further develop transnational approaches to the study of the Nazi genocide of European Jews, combining theoretical reflections with brief empirically oriented examinations of Central European-Jewish responses to mass violence.
German soldiers in the Soviet Union during a December 1943 Soviet offensive on the eastern front. (Source: the US Holocaust Memorial Museum website).