EAHS Conference 13th – 16th November 2017, Kraków
With the support of White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities (WRoCAH), three PhD students from the ‘Future of Holocaust Memory’ network – Emily-Rose Baker, Michael Holden, and Diane Otosaka – were given the opportunity to attend this year’s European Association for Holocaust Studies Conference in Kraków, Poland, titled ‘Current Research on Auschwitz History and Memory.’ Though the EAHS is a relatively young association (having been officially founded in 2015), its establishment supports a wide-ranging collaborative structure promoting intellectual exchange between scholars working in the field of Holocaust studies across Europe. Professor Jonathan Webber, a founding member and current chairman of the association, emphasised in his opening remarks the need to support collaboration between researchers and memorial sites and museums.
Prior to the opening day of the conference itself delegates were invited to participate in a study trip to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, which included privileged access to Block 10 (in which inmates, and especially women, were used as experimental subjects) and the museum’s preservation department. This visit allowed participants a fitting, first-hand encounter with the conservators’ decision-making process, in which the often blurred boundary between conservation and restoration is continually negotiated.
After this affecting trip, the conference proper commenced with a keynote speech from Professor Zdzisław Mach of the Jagiellonian University, who highlighted the complex politics of remembrance exemplified by the tension between competing pedagogies of ‘shame’ and ‘pride’ in Polish society. This was followed by panels focussing on the role and evolution of the Auschwitz museum as a memorial site in Poland, artistic representations of the Holocaust (folk art, literature, and painting), and perpetrator perspectives.
A great diversity of themes was tackled during the second day: ethics of representation, historiography, the potential of social media in creating virtual communities of memory, translation, testimony, education, sociology, and architecture, to name but a few. Of the three, the second day in particular proved a great testament to the vitality of research into Holocaust representation that is currently taking place across Europe, and provided a crucial, illuminating counterpart to the opening day, which broadly focussed on the essential work taking place in social-anthropological and historical contexts.
Following on from the time-worn beauty of the Jagiellonian University on the first day, and its more modern counterpart, the Pedagogical University of Kraków, on the second, the final day of the conference was held in Kraków’s historic Jewish district of Kazimierz, at the Galicia Jewish Museum. The role of language – notably in the construction and fluctuation of narratives about the Holocaust – as well as the evolution of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum were amongst the main topics tackled on the last day.
While the breadth of research and quality of the papers were evidenced the dynamism of European Holocaust Studies, the conference was also the perfect opportunity for postgraduate researchers and established scholars alike to engage in fruitful, illuminating discussion in a variety of formal and informal settings; the association’s founding aims of collaboration and exchange were well met at this year’s conference.