, Volume 11, Issue 1-2, pp 77-93

The power of a family archive

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Abstract

Traditionally, an archive of family letters provides primary source materials for historians. The family archive described in this article does provide detailed insight into the suffering of several Jews in Germany and France before and during World War II. It serves as a memorial to several individuals who were murdered by the Nazis. It is also a moving testimony of the cost of war. As such, it can be seen as contributing to the wider historical record of the Holocaust. But in addition, this family archive also opened an entire series of new relationships with previously unknown blood relatives scattered across the globe, with an artist drawing the archive into a creative remembrance project, and also with individuals interested in the history of their community in Germany, which was my father’s birthplace. This family archive demonstrates values of archives parallel to their historical significance. It provides a meaningful illustration for how they can, in an unanticipated and unpredictable fashion, serve as a device for forging contemporary and ongoing familial, interpersonal, and social relationships. Ultimately, this archive of family letters, created in the midst of pain and anguish and death, has laid a new foundation of commemoration and remembrance.