In contrast to the portrayal of archives as neutral sites that contain evidence of times past, this paper examines the construction of three archives during and after the Holocaust to highlight the challenges involved in gathering, preserving, and sharing documents produced by victimized populations. Specifically, I analyze the construction of, and conflicts among, the archives of the Centre de Documentation Juive Contemporaine in Paris, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York, and the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Each archive purports to contain the history of Jews in France during the Holocaust and strived in its aftermath not only to gather the remnants of European Jewish history but to reconstitute it, leading to contestations over what it meant to be Jewish in turn. Through analysis of the conflicts among these three archives, I show how debates over the possession of documents after genocide became symbolic debates about Jewish history and identity that would shape each of these archives for generations to come. I generalize from the example to discuss the practical implications of working with conflicting archives and examine the broader lessons for social scientists who wish to give “voice to the voiceless” by working with documents produced by victimized populations.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Szajkowski to the Tcherikowers, April 22, 1941, in YIVO RG 81, folios 151,158–61, in Leff (2015, 62).
https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/protecting-civilians; The term “elephants” here is in reference to a lyric by the musical group, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, that itself paraphrases an well-known African proverb, “When two elephants are fighting/ (The grass dem’ a-suffer)/ Which is the position of the civilian?”
Importantly, and as I have argued elsewhere (e.g., Luft 2015, 2020b), in many conflicts, these categories are not so neat. A perpetrator in one situation can be victimized or a rescuer in another, suggesting that even the phrase “victims’ archives” is worthy of unpacking and analysis, as who defines belongingness in any of these categories is informed by contentious politics.
This is but one example of the ethical challenges of working with Holocaust survivors’ testimonies, discussed by Einwohner. The others include concerns about how the “standard protocols and practices of social science data management can unintentionally dehumanize research subjects” and problems with writing up the results.
The full list of indexing terms can be viewed at https://vhaonline.usc.edu/keywordsearch/keywordSearch.
This problem is not limited to data on war and genocide but other forms of violence, as well. For example, a large and excellent body of work on colonialism has discussed these concerns in depth (e.g., Bailkin 2015; Bastian 2006; Shetty and Bellamy 2000; Stoler 2009), while African-American historian and scholar of literature Saidiya Hartmann (1997, 2007) has powerfully reimagined the experiences of enslaved women whose voices are frequently missing in archives using what she terms “critical fabulations,” a combination of archival and historical research with critical theory and fiction. In historical and archival research on genocide, Caswell (2010, 2014), Robinson (2014), and Weld (2014) have produced excellent studies of record keeping, its processes, silences, and challenges, in the wake of mass violence.
I am grateful to Sunmin Kim for his helpful framing of these three projects.
For a list of archives dispersed by the ERR, see Patricia Grimstead’s remarkable ERR Project, which provides up-to-date information on the current locations of ERR files and related sources worldwide: https://www.errproject.org/guide.php
The UGIF was an organization established by the Vichy government’s Office of Jewish Affairs to consolidate all the Jewish organizations of France into one single unit.
“Voici quelques mots en ce que nous voulons,” Archives of the Central Consistory during World War II, Maurice Moch Collection at the Alliance Israélite Universelle, Paris, reel 1, folder 4, in Jockusch (2012, 53).
Indeed, the authors of the CDJC’s agenda noted, “There is no doubt that at this current moment our coreligionists in other countries are also compiling documentations concerning their respective countries.” ibid., in Jockusch (2012, 52).
Emanuel Ringleblum was murdered by Nazis in the Pawiak prison in Warsaw in March 1944. Thus far, two of the three caches of documents from the Oyneg Shabbes archive have been recovered. The third is still missing.
Yiddishkeit (in Yiddish, ייִדישקייט) is slang for the many varieties of traditional and Jewish popular culture.
Zamler (זאַמלער) is the Yiddish word for collector. As discussed further in the paper, YIVO encouraged volunteers from all over the world to become zamlers and gather materials for its archive.
Commission on Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, “Tentative List of Jewish Cultural Treasures in Axis-Occupied Countries,” supplement to Jewish Social Studies 8, no. 1 (1946): 6, in Leff (2015, 128).
Alex Bein, Yisra’el Halpern to Ben Zion Dinaburg, “‘Al hatsalat ha-‘arkhiyonim ha-yehudim min ha-golah ṿe-rikuzam ba-‘arets,” 29 Oct. 1951, CZA P64/148/1/1 in Lustig (2017, 279).
Yisra’el Klausner, introducing Alex Bein, “Hartsa’ah du”ḥ ‘al nesi‘ati,” 1957, CZA P64/20/I in Lustig (2017, 245).
“Reshimah ‘ara‘it shel ha-ḥomer ha-te‘udati she-nitḳabel me-germanyah,” CZA L33/1882 in Lustig (2017, 260).
“Ha-‘asifah ha-kelalit ha-shenatit shel ha-ḥevrah,” 2 Feb. 1950, CAHJP IHS/9 in Lustig (2017, 273).
Of course, this viewpoint is not limited to the past nor to Dinur exclusively but is popular among Zionists in Israel and worldwide still today.
CDJC, Les Juifs en Europe, 23 in Jockusch (2012, 3).
Moshe Mark Prager, “The State of Research Activity on the Destruction of Israel in Europe and the Program of Concentrating the Documentation in the General Archives of Yad Vashem (Report on My Trip and Research in Europe, January–May 1947),” June 17, 1947, VA AM1, folder 527, frame 191 in Jockusch (2012, 161–62).
Heuman 2015, 23.
Szajkowski to R. Tcherikower, September 30, 1945, in YIVO RG 81, folio 152,129, in Leff (2015, 99).
Szajkowski to R. Tcherikower, France, February 29, 1945 [sic], in YIVO RG 81, folio 151,836; and July 6, 1945, in YIVO RG 81, folio 152,006, ibid.
‘Procés-verbal de la r.union du comit. Directeur du CDJC’, 8 November 1950, CDJC, MDXXXVI, boite 2, p. 2 in Heuman (2015, 92).
Simon Dubnow was rounded up and ghettoized in Riga, Latvia by the Nazis in July 1941. Survivors recall that Dubnow encouraged Jews in the Riga Ghetto to create records of the atrocities perpetrated against them by Nazis, regularly proclaiming to them in Yiddish, “Yidn, shraybt un farshraybt!” (“Jews, write and record!”). Dubnow was murdered by Nazis in December 1941.
Yedies fun YIVO, Sept. 1943, in Lustig (2017, 216).
A full recounting of Szajkowski’s undertakings in France and elsewhere is beyond the scope of this paper, and his story is more complicated than this brief summary can attest. Jewish historian Lisa Leff's (2015) excellent The Archive Thief tells the full story of his exploits.
Bein, “Din ṿe-ḥeshbon mi-nesi‘ati le-‘eropah,” 19 Dec. 1949, L33/1439 in Lustig (2017, 252)
Like the article’s title, this phrasing is a play on the Jewish concept of tikkun olam as well as the concept of עוֹלָם הַבָּא (olam ha-ba). While tikkun olam refers to the responsibility for Jewish people to act to repair the world. In Jewish theology, Olam Ha-ba refers to the world after death. For many Jews, the Olam Ha-ba also refers to the era of the Messiah.
Indeed, sometimes a serendipitous finding can change the subject of a research project altogether. Shai Dromi (2020) provides a brief summary of this in a recent essay where he describes how private documents that he found at the International Committee of the Red Cross archives in Geneva, which were distinct from what he originally looked for, eventually became the basis for his book Above the Fray: The Red Cross and the Making of the Humanitarian NGO Sector.
The full quote, which is most commonly attributed to the Roman philosopher Seneca, is “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
Arjona, Ana. 2016. Rebelocracy: Social order in the Colombian civil war. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bailkin, Jordanna. 2015. Where did the empire go? Archives and decolonization in Britain. American Historical Review 120 (3): 884–899.
Balcells, Laia. 2017. Rivalry and revenge: The politics of violence during civil war. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Balcells, Laia, and Christopher M. Sullivan. 2018. New findings from conflict archives: An introduction and methodological framework. Journal of Peace Research 55 (2): 137–146.
Bastian, Jeannette. 2006. Reading colonial records through an archival lens: The provenance of place, space and creation. Archival Science 6 (3–4): 267–284.
Baum, Matthew A., and Yuri M. Zhukov. 2015. Filtering revolution: Reporting bias in international newspaper coverage of the Libyan civil war. Journal of Peace Research 52 (3): 384–400.
Billig, Joseph. 1963. Alfred Rosenberg dans l’action idéologique, politique et administrative du Reich hitlérien: Inventaire commenté de la collection de documents conservés au C.D.J.C. provenant des archives du Reichsleiter et Ministre A. Rosenberg. Les inventaires des archives du Centre de Documentation Juive Contemporaine, Paris, n° 1.
Braun, Robert. 2019. Protectors of pluralism: Religious minorities and the rescue of Jews in the Low Countries during the Holocaust. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Brown, Karida L. 2016. On the participatory archive. Southern Cultures 22: 113–127.
Campbell, Susanna P. 2017. Ethics of research in conflict environments. Journal of Global Security Studies 2 (1): 89–101.
Caswell, Michelle. 2010. Khmer rouge archives: Accountability, truth, and memory in Cambodia. Archival Science. 10: 25–44.
Caswell, Michelle. 2014. Toward a survivor-centered approach to records documenting human rights abuse: Lessons from community archives. Archival Science.
Coeuré, Sophie. 2007. La Mémoire spoliée. Les archives des Français, butin de guerre nazi puis soviétique (de 1940 à nos jours). Paris: Payot.
Cohen, Dara Kay, and Amelia Hoover Green. 2012. Dueling incentives: Sexual violence in Liberia and the politics of human rights advocacy. Journal of Peace Research 49 (3): 445–458.
Cook, Terry, and Joan M. Schwartz. 2002. Archives, records, and power: From (postmodern) theory to (archival) performance. Archival Science 2 (3–4): 171–185.
Cronin-Furman, Kate, and Milli Lake. 2018. Ethics abroad: Fieldwork in fragile and violent contexts. PS: Political Science & Politics 51 (3): 607–614.
Davenport, Christian, and Patrick Ball. 2002. Views to a kill: Exploring the implications of source selection in the case of Guatemalan state terror, 1977–1995. Journal of Conflict Resolution 46 (3): 427–450.
Derrida, Jacques. 1995. Archive fever: A Freudian impression. Diacritics 25 (2): 9–63.
Dromi, Shai M. 2020. Archival research during COVID-19. Footnotes: A publication of the American Sociological Association 48 (3): 7–8.
Einwohner, Rachel L. 2011. Ethical considerations on the use of archived testimonies in Holocaust research: Beyond the IRB exemption. Qualitative Sociology 34 (3): 415–430.
Einwohner, Rachel L., and Thomas V. Maher. 2011. Threat assessment and collective-action emergence: Camp and ghetto resistance during the Holocaust. Mobilization: An International Journal 16 (2): 127–146.
Finkel, Evgeny. 2017. Ordinary Jews: Choice and survival during the Holocaust. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Fishman, David. 1996. Embers plucked from the fire: The rescue of Jewish cultural treasures in Vilna. New York: YIVO.
Foucault, Michel. 2012. The archaeology of knowledge. New York: Vintage.
Fox, Nicole, and Hollie Nyseth Brehm. 2018. “I decided to save them”: Factors that shaped participation in rescue efforts during genocide in Rwanda. Social Forces 96 (4): 1625–1648.
Fujii, Lee Ann. 2012. Research ethics 101: Dilemmas and responsibilities. PS: Political Science & Politics 45 (4): 717–723.
Greenberg, Gershon. 2015. Moshe Prager’s holocaust historicism: Concrete data, inner faith and myth. Holocaust Studies 21 (1–2): 54–72.
Grimsted, Patricia Kennedy. 2005. Road to Ratibor: Library and archival plunder by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg. Holocaust and Genocide Studies 19 (3): 390–458.
Hartman, Saidiya. 1997. Scenes of subjection: Terror, slavery, and self-making in nineteenth-century America. New York: Oxford University Press.
Hartman, Saidiya. 2007. Lose your mother. Straus and Giroux, New York: Farrar.
Hedgepeth, Sonja M., and Rochelle G. Saidel, eds. 2010. Sexual violence against Jewish women during the Holocaust. Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press.
Herman, Dana. 2008. “Hashevat Avedah: A history of Jewish cultural reconstruction, inc.” Ph.D. diss., McGill University.
Heuman, Johannes. 2015. The Holocaust and French historical culture, 1945–65. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.
Jacobs, Janet L. 2004. Women, genocide, and memory: The ethics of feminist ethnography in Holocaust research. Gender and Society 18: 223–238.
Jockusch, Laura. 2012. Collect and record! Jewish Holocaust documentation in early postwar Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kalyvas, Stathis N. 2006. The logic of violence in civil war. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Kaplan, Oliver. 2017. Resisting war: How communities protect themselves. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Kopstein, Jeffrey S., and Jason Wittenberg. 2018. Intimate violence: Anti-Jewish pogroms on the eve of the Holocaust. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Kuperminc, Jean-Claude. 2001. La reconstruction de la bibliothèque de l’Alliance Israëlite Universelle, 1945–1955. Archives Juives 34 (1): 98–113.
Leff, Lisa Moses. 2012. Rescue or theft? Zosa Szajkowski and the salvaging of French Jewish history after world war II. Jewish Social Studies: History, Culture, Society 18 (2): 1–39.
Leff, Lisa. 2015. The archive thief: The man who salvaged French Jewish history in the wake of the Holocaust. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Lowry, James. 2017. Displaced archives. London: Routledge.
Luft, Aliza. 2015. Toward a dynamic theory of action at the micro level of genocide: Killing, desistance, and saving in 1994 Rwanda. Sociological Theory 33: 148–172.
Luft, Aliza. 2020a. Religion in Vichy France: How meso-level actors contribute to authoritarian legitimation. European Journal of Sociology/Archives Européennes de Sociologie. 60 (2): 1–35.
Luft, Aliza. 2020b. Three stories and three questions about participation in genocide. Journal of Perpetrator Research. 3 (1): 196–206.
Lustig, Jason B. 2017. “‘A time to gather’: A history of Jewish archives in the twentieth century” Ph.D. diss., University of California, Los Angeles.
Mbembe, Achille. 2002. The power of the archive and its limits. In Refiguring the Archive. Springer: 19–27.
Nicholas, Lynn H. 1994. The rape of Europa. New York: Vintage.
Parkinson, Sarah Elizabeth. 2013. Organizing rebellion: Rethinking high-risk mobilization and social networks in war. American Political Science Review 10 (3): 418–432.
Petropoulos, Jonathan. 1996. Art as politics in the Third Reich. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Poznanski, Renée. 1999. La création du Centre de documentation juive contemporaine en France (avril 1943). Vingtième siècle: Revue d’histoire, no. 63: 51–63.
Petersen, Roger D. 2002. Understanding ethnic violence: Fear, hatred, and resentment in twentieth-century Eastern Europe. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Petropoulos, Jonathan. 1996. Art as politics in the third Reich. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Perego, Simon and Renée Poznanski. 2013 Le Centre de documentation juive contemporaine, 1943–2013: Documenter la Shoah. Paris: Éditions du Mémorial de la Shoah.
Presner, Todd. 2016. The ethics of the algorithm: Close and distant listening to the Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive. In Probing the ethics of Holocaust culture, eds. Claudio Fogu, Wulf Kansteiner, and Todd Presner, 175–202. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Reymes, Nicholas. 2000. Le pillage des bibliothèques appartenant à des juifs pendant l’occupation: Les livres dans la tourmente. Revue d’histoire de la Shoah, n° 168, janvier-avril.
Risam, Roopika. 2018. New digital worlds: Postcolonial digital humanities in theory, praxis, and pedagogy. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
Robinson, Goffrey. 2014. Break the rules, save the records: Human rights archives and the search for justice in East Timor. Archival Science 14: 323–343.
Rousso, Henry. 1991. The Vichy Syndrome: History and memory in France since 1944, trans. Arthur Goldhammer. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Shetty, Sandhya, and Elizabeth Jane Bellamy. 2000. Postcolonialism’s archive fever. Diacritics 30 (1): 25–48.
Schwarz. Jan. 2005. After the destruction of Vilna: Abraham Sutzkever’s poetry, testimony, and cultural rescue work, 1944–46. East European Jewish Affairs 35 (2): 209–224.
Simpson, Elizabeth. 1997. ed., The spoils of war: World War II and its aftermath: The loss, reappearance, and recovery of cultural property. New York: Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts.
Soyer, Michaela. 2014. “We knew our time had come”: The dynamics of threat and microsocial ties in three Polish ghettos under Nazi oppression. Mobilization 19 (1): 47–66.
Steele, Abbey. 2017. Democracy and displacement in Colombia’s civil war. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Steinlight, Alexandra. 2017. The liberation of paper: Destruction, salvaging, and the remaking of the republican state. French Historical Studies 40: 291–318.
Steinweis, Alan. 2006. Studying the Jew: Scholarly antisemitism in Nazi Germany. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Stoler, Ann Laura. 2009. Along the archival grain: Epistemic anxieties and colonial common sense (Princeton University Press).
Stone, Dan. 2017. The memory of the archive: The International Tracing Service and the construction of the past as history. Dapim: Studies on the Holocaust 31 (2): 69–88.
Taylor, Diana. 2003. The archive and the repertoire: Performing cultural memory in the Americas (Duke University Press).
Trouillot, Michel-Rolf. 1995. Silencing the past: Power and the production of history. Boston: Beacon.
Viterna, Jocelyn. 2013. Women in war: The micro-processes of mobilization in El Salvador. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Weidmann, Nils B. 2015. On the accuracy of media-based conflict event data. Journal of Conflict Resolution 59 (6): 1129–1149.
Weinberg, David. 1990. “The reconstruction of the French Jewish community after World War II,” in Proceedings of the sixth Yad Vashem International Congress: She’erit Hapletah, 1944–1948: Rehabilitation and political struggle. Jerusalem: Yad Vashem.
Weld, Kirsten. 2014. Paper cadavers: The archives of dictatorship in Guatemala. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Wieviorka, Annette. 1992. Déportation et génocide: Entre la mémoire et l’oublie. Paris: Plon.
Wood, Elisabeth Jean. 2003. Insurgent collective action and civil war in El Salvador. New York: Cambridge University Press.
I thank Claudio Benzecry, Andrew Deneer, Sunmin Kim, Jared McBride, and Debbie Sharnak for their helpful feedback on previous drafts of this paper. I am also grateful for comments received at the Social Science History annual conference in November 2019.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
The duty to repair the world through good deeds and service, also known as tikkun olam (in Hebrew, תיקון עולם), is widely considered by Jews worldwide to be a pillar of Jewish tradition.
About this article
Cite this article
Luft, A. How Do you Repair a Broken World? Conflict(ing) Archives after the Holocaust. Qual Sociol 43, 317–343 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11133-020-09458-9