History Writing as a Jewish Response to Catastrophe
This chapter compares Jewish responses to the anti-Jewish violence of the early twentieth century to postwar efforts by survivors to document the Holocaust. Looking at victim testimony collection projects that emerged in the wake of the 1903 Kishinev pogrom, World War I, the Ukrainian pogroms of 1917-1921, and the Holocaust itself (as exemplified by Emanuel Ringelblum’s Oyneg Shabes archives in the Warsaw ghetto), it argues that the historical commissions and documentation centers perpetuated a unique genre of popular history writing—khurbn-forshung (destruction research)—that eastern European Jews had already developed decades before World War II. These precursors shared the goals of communal self-defense and legal, material, and moral redress and saw documenting atrocities as a way to mourn and commemorate the dead. Although the research techniques developed by earlier documenters bear direct similarities to those used later and provide a frame of reference, local conditions in the countries where survivors found themselves after the war played an equally important role.
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