Family Networks and Surviving the Holocaust in Eastern Europe

Wednesday, February 28, 2018
Marshall D. Shulman Seminar Room (1219 International Affairs Building, 420 W 118th St)

Please join the Harriman Institute and the East Central European Center for a talk with Natalia Aleksiun, Associate Professor of Modern Jewish History at Touro College, Graudate School of Jewish Studies.

Seeking to explain the survival of her children and grandchildren, Esther Stermer of Borszczów declared in her memoir: “Our family in particular would not let the Germans have their way easily. We had vigor, ingenuity, and determination to survive. Above all our family would stand together. When one of us was in danger, the others could not cower to escape. They proved their personal strength and character, time and again”. But what role did family solidarity actually play in their survival? And what were the limits of it in the survival strategies that other Jews in Eastern Galicia employed? Based on testimonies, diaries, memoirs and oral interviews, this lecture considers the family networks which could increase individual and group survival. It examines how family members managed to evade capture and deportation by relying on the intervention and support of close, distant and surrogate relatives. While focusing on survival, it points to the limited agency that Jews seeking rescue had when engaging in these social networks for both “low-level,” ad hoc survival measures and the more organized, though often clandestine, modes, to epic rescue operations. Limited agency pertains not only to the exceptional nature of survival. It also helps us understand the psychological economy of hiding and surviving in Eastern Europe.

Natalia Aleksiun is Associate Professor of Modern Jewish History at Touro College, Graduate School of Jewish Studies, New York. She studied East European and Jewish history in Poland, where she received her first doctoral degree at Warsaw University, as well as Oxford, Jerusalem, and New York, where she received her second doctoral degree at NYU. Among several prestigious fellowships, she was a fellow at the Institute of Contemporary History in Munich, Germany; Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, University of Pennsylvania, and Senior Fellow at Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies, Vienna, a Yad Hanadiv Postdoctoral Fellow in Israel and Pearl Resnick Postdoctoral Fellow, The Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, USHMM, Washington D.C., and the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich. She published a monograph titled Where to? The Zionist Movement in Poland, 1944-1950, and numerous articles in Yad Vashem StudiesPolish ReviewDapimEast European Jewish AffairsStudies in Contemporary JewryPolinGal EdEast European Societies and Politics, Nashim and German History. She coedited the twentieth volume of Polin, devoted to the memory of the Holocaust and the 29th volume titled Writing Jewish History in Eastern Europe. Her book titled Conscious History: Polish Jewish Historians before the Holocaust will be published with Littman in 2018. She is currently working on a book about the so-called cadaver affair at European Universities in the 1920s and 1930s and on a project dealing with daily lives of Jews in hiding in Galicia during the Holocaust.