Zionism and Jewish DP Politics in the Aftermath of the Holocaust

AHA Session 101
Central European History Society 4
Friday, January 8, 2016: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Salon C (Hilton Atlanta, Second Floor)
G. Daniel Cohen, Rice University

Session Abstract

Jewish Displaced Persons played a disproportionately large role on the international diplomatic stage after the Holocaust, figuring prominently in post-war diplomatic negotiations over the future of Palestine.  International observers deemed DP Zionist enthusiasm central to the resolution of the political conflict over the land of Palestine.  And indeed, DP Zionist enthusiasm emerged soon after liberation and became the hegemonic political force within the She’erit Hapletah (Surviving Remnant). Nonetheless, the establishment of Israel after WWII was not inevitable; the impact of the Holocaust on the Zionist cause has been at the center of an intense and unresolved historiographical and political debate. For this reason, an understanding of the origin and appeal of Zionist enthusiasm for the Jewish DPs, as well as the manner in which it functioned and was facilitated, is of considerable importance. While DP Zionism filled a symbolic need that had arisen for the Jewish people in the wake of tragedy, not all Jewish DPs would make the Zionist dream their personal reality. Zionism in the DP camps was thus not merely a monolithic Zionism, geared solely to the requirements of the Jewish community in Palestine; it filled the needs of many groups, productively, therapeutically and diplomatically. All the same, this Zionism was highly contingent on the availability (or lack thereof) of other immigration options, and outside observers feared enthusiasm would diminish as the wait in DP camps extended from months into years.  The three papers on this panel will examine related aspects of the postwar experience of the surviving Jewish population in postwar Germany that highlight the diversity of the Jewish DP population and complicate efforts to offer simple conclusions to postwar Jewish politics. Atina Grossmann focuses on the challenges Jewish DPs confronted after the war in rebuilding Jewish life as individuals and as a collective. Marriage and procreation was represented as a symbolic affirmation of Zionism and Jewish life, but in an indication of the multifaceted, sometimes contradictory, ways in which Zionism was understood and expressed, on the pragmatic individual level, it could lead to quite different destinations. Robin Judd focuses on the experiences of female survivors who married American, British, and Canadian military personnel. Although many of these women envisioned that they would immigrate to Palestine after the war, their decisions to marry Allied soldiers complicated their personal postwar Zionist politics. Avinoam Patt will examine the use of the motifs of resistance and revolt in the construction of a collective Zionist identity for the “Surviving Remnant,” focusing specifically on the experiences of young survivors who joined the kibbutz groups of Zionist youth movements in the DP camps and their influence on the postwar politics of the Jewish DP population. The dynamic nature of such interactions points to Zionism as a uniquely functioning transnational political system, which could force its “stateless” adherents to confront the very real duties of citizenship while still residing on “bloodsoaked” German soil. Daniel Cohen will serve as chair and commentator for the session.

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