New perspectives: The Legacy Collection and the Holocaust

A belated Happy New Year from Collection Development! We hope you’ve had a good break and are looking forward to the year ahead.

Wednesday January 27 was Holocaust Memorial Day across the UK; it encourages everyone to remember victims of the holocaust and those of subsequent genocides. January 27 marks the date that the largest Nazi death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, was liberated in 1945 by Soviet soldiers. Holocaust Memorial Day is particularly significant at Sussex as the Centre for German-Jewish Studies is based here; there is a day of events each year to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day. The Centre focuses on examining the history, culture and thought of Jews.

As material held within the Legacy Collection spans the 20th century, it’s unsurprising that we’ve found material relating to the Holocaust. What has been a surprise, however, is how many different perspectives on antisemitism are contained within the Legacy Collection – and how early on the material starts discussing events in Germany…

Jewish life in Germany before the Second World War

The Jews in Germany, by Israel Cohen

The Jews in Germany, by Israel Cohen

The Collection Development team are currently listing a large series of monographs which will form part of the Legacy Collection. We recently discovered a monograph from c. 1933 entitled ‘The Jews In Germany’ by Israel Cohen (1879 – 1961), an author who supported the creation of a Jewish settlement in Palestine. The booklet discusses how Germany is suppressing the Jews in “every sphere of national and social life, and in every branch of cultural and economic activity,”. It urges Great Britain, and the League of Nations, to stop this from happening.

The impact of fascism on Jewish life

Jews and Fascism

Around 1935, the Co-Ordinating Committee Against Fascism published a pamphlet entitled Jews and Fascism: An urgent warning on a most important matter. The content of the pamphlet isn’t exactly what you’d initially think! The booklet argues that fascist antisemitism has been “deliberately fostered” (p.2) to distract non-Jewish workers away from the real economic problems facing society: essentially, fascists are being anti-Semitic in order to gain more power. It’s an interesting notion, but the booklet is written by a group who wish to overthrow capitalism; their motives for writing it appear to be to unite everyone in their cause rather than examine antisemitic activity. Incidentally, we’ve struggled to find any information on the Co-Ordinating Committee Against Fascism so if you’ve heard of the group before, do get in touch.

Jewish persecution in Poland

In 1940, the Free Europe publication issued several pamphlets about Nazi activity in Poland.  The Persecution of Jews in German-Occupied Poland examines how Germany treated Jews after Poland was invaded in 1939. The writer notes that Germany viewed Jewish people as being “outside the law” (p.7) and thus officials did anything they liked to and with them. There are descriptions of decrees and crimes against Jews, as well as information about the Lublin reservation which Nazis intended to deport Jews to. However, the author notes that “the Germans do not seem to have any definite plans for solving the Jewish question,” (p.7) which supports contemporary evidence that there was no established strategy for the Holocaust until later in the war. Once again, it’s been very difficult to track down any information on who published material under the name of ‘Free Europe’ so if you know anything do contact us.

After the war: the Nuremburg trials

The Trial of German Major War Criminals by the International Military Tribunal sitting at Nuremberg Germany

The Trial of German Major War Criminals by the International Military Tribunal sitting at Nuremberg Germany

Between 1945 – 1946 , the Nuremberg trials sought to prosecute former Nazi leaders for war crimes, including crimes against humanity relating to the Holocaust. We recently discovered three documents (published by His Majesty’s Stationery Office) that provide the speeches of the chief prosecutors at the opening of the trial, the close of the cases against individuals and the close of the cases against the Nazis as a whole. We were surprised to see that these speeches were made available publicly so quickly (the items are dated from 1946) and they provide a direct insight into some of the most famous ground-breaking legal trials in history.

Documents from the Legacy Collection relating to Jewish life in Europe during the 1930s - 1940s

Documents from the Legacy Collection relating to Jewish life in Europe during the 1930s – 1940s

Holocaust related material in the Legacy Collection spans far and wide, as we’ve seen from the examples listed above. What I’ve found particularly interesting about the material is that no matter how much you learn about Jewish 20th Century history, there’s always more to be found; for example people used events in Germany to discuss their own agendas, which is somewhat unsurprising but still unsettling in hindsight. The Holocaust needs to be continually discussed; by participating in events to support Holocaust Memorial Day and discovering new perspectives on the past, we can ensure those who suffered as a result of the terrible actions across Europe are never truly forgotten.

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