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Dispossession: Plundering German Jewry, 1933-1945 and Beyond, Conference, Boston University, 9-11 November 2014

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Among the stereotypes about Jews circulating in Nazi Germany, perhaps the most prominent portrayed Jews not simply as rich, but as enriching themselves at the expense of ordinary Germans. It is one of the cruelest of ironies, however, that the Nazis were the real economic predators, robbing Europe’s Jews before murdering them. Within twelve short years, the Nazis managed to dispossess Germany’s Jews, taking away first their rights, then their property, and finally their lives.

Despite the enormity of the crime, however, the dispossession of the Jews has only recently become the focus of scholarly attention. This conference brings together scholars from a variety of countries working on the financial history, social significance, and cultural meanings of the theft of assets owned by Jews. Panels range from the methods by which Jews were robbed, including the legal technologies and bureaucratic actors, to the kinds of assets stolen, from liquid assets to art, and the difficult process of restitution after 1945.

Conference Organizers: Jonathan Zatlin (Boston University) and Christoph Kreutzmüller (Haus der Wannsee-Konferenz)

Conference Schedule

Sunday, November 9, 2014

5:00 pm

Welcome:  Consul General Rolf Schütte (German Consulate, Boston), Michael Zank (Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies, BU), Hartmut Berghoff (German Historical Institute, Washington, DC)

Introduction: Jonathan Zatlin (Boston University)

Keynote Address: Christoph Kreutzmüller (Haus der Wannsee-Konferenz, Berlin), “Kristallnacht and the Destruction of Jewish Commercial Activity in Germany”

Monday, November 10, 2014

8:30-9:30: Economic Background

Albrecht Ritschl (London School of Economics), "Financial Destruction. Confiscatory Taxation of Jewish Property and Income in Nazi Germany"

Jonathan Wiesen (Southern Illinois University, Carbondale), “A Jew-Free Marketplace: The Ideologies and Economics of Thievery”

Jonathan Zatlin (Boston University), Chair

9:30-11: The German-Jewish Commercial Presence

Dorothea Hauser (Warburg Archiv, Hamburg), “Too Involved and Too Engaged: The Warburg Bank's Late Surrender”

Stefanie Mahrer (Franz Rosenzweig Minerva Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem), “Fighting the Thieves. Salman Schocken’s Strategies to Save His Possessions”

Pamela Swett (McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario), “Salesmen, Salesmanship, and Dispossession in the Retail Context”

Eugene Sheppard (Brandeis University), Chair

11-11:30 Coffee Break

11:30-1Bureaucracy and Dispossession I

Ingo Loose (Institut für Zeitgeschichte, München-Berlin), “The Reich Ministry of Economy and Its Role in the Institutional Competition of Plundering European Jews”

Johannes Beermann (University of Bremen), “Taking Advantage: German Freight Forwarders and the Theft of Jewish Property, 1938-1945”

Christine Schoenmakers (Carl von Ossietzky University, Oldenburg), “The ‘Legal’ Theft of Jewish Assets: A Closer Look at the Key Actors and Mechanisms of Expropriation between 1933 and 1945”

Hartmut Berghoff (German Historical Institute, Washington, DC), Chair

1-2:30: Lunch break

2:30-4Bureaucracy and Dispossession II

Jonathan Zatlin (Boston University), “’Retiring’ to Theresienstadt: The Heimeinkaufsverträge and the Dispossession of the Elderly”

Stefan Hördler (German Historical Institute, Washington, DC), “Administered Plundering: Gefangenen-Eigentums-Verwaltungen in the Nazi Camp System”

Alfred C. Mierzejewski (University of North Texas, Denton), “Taking from the Weak, Giving to the Strong”

Devin Pendas (Boston College), Chair

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

8:30-10: The German “Model” in European Context

Tal Bruttman (City of Grenoble/Memorial de la Shoa, Paris), “Identifying ‘Jewish Assets’ in Vichy France”

David Crowe (Elon University, Elon, North Carolina), “Plunder and Theft of Jewish Property in the General Government”

Mirna Zakić (Ohio University, Athens), “Volksdeutsche, Aryanization, and the Holocaust: The Case of the Serbian Banat”

Jeffrey Diefendorf (University of New Hampshire, Durham), Chair

10-10:30: Coffee Break

10:30-12: Art and Visual Representation

Michael Berkowitz (University of London), “Coming to Terms with a Lost Cohort:  Recalling and Restoring the Legacy of Jews and Photography”

Charles Dellheim (Boston University), “Traffic in Significant Symbols: The Meaning of Looted Art”

Jonathan Petropoulos (Claremont McKenna College, Claremont, California), “Art Dealers in Nazi Germany: Trafficking in Looted Art Before and After 1945”

Susannah Heschel (Dartmouth, Hanover, New Hampshire), Chair

12-1:30: Lunch break

1:30-3: Restitution

Eva Balz (Ruhr-Universität Bochum), “The Politics of Property in the Cold War. The Restitution of Jewish Assets in Berlin”

Benno Nietzel (University of Bielefeld), “Restitution, Memory, and Denial: Assessing the Legacy of ‘Aryanization’ in Postwar Germany”

Lisa Silverman (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee), “Repossession and Return: Madame d'Ora and the Restitution of Jewish Property in Austria after the Holocaust“

Anna Rubin (Department of Financial Services, New York State), “The Nazi Regime and Legal Spoliation”

Abigail Gilman (Boston University), Chair

3-4: Conclusions

Laura Meier-Ewert (La Commission d’indemnisation des victimes de spoliations intervenues du fait des législations antisémites en vigueur pendant l’Occupation, French Embassy, Berlin)

Christoph Kreutzmüller (Haus der Wannsee-Konferenz, Berlin)

Albrecht Ritschl (London School of Economics)

Jonathan Wiesen (Southern Illinois University, Carbondale)

Jonathan Zatlin (Boston University)

Sponsors: The Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies at Boston University, German Historical Institute (Washington, D.C.), Boston University Center for the Humanities, Arvind and Chandan Nandlal Kilachand Honors College at Boston University, Florence and Chafetz Hillel House, Boston University History Department, Memorial Museum at the House of the Wannsee Conference (Berlin)


Original posting:

Call for Papers

The organizers - Jonathan Zatlin (Boston University) and Christoph Kreutzmüller (Haus der Wannsee-Konferenz) - seek to bring together scholars from a variety
of countries working on the financial history, social significance, and cultural meanings of the theft of Jewish assets by the Nazis.

Among the stereotypes about Jews circulating in Nazi Germany, perhaps the most prominent portrayed Jews not simply as rich, but as enriching themselves at the expense of non-Jewish Germans. It is one of the cruelest of ironies, however, that the Nazis were the real economic predators, robbing Europe’s Jews before murdering them. Within twelve short years, the Nazis managed to dispossess Germany’s Jews, taking away first their rights, then their property, and finally their lives.

Despite the enormity of the crime, however, the dispossession of the Jews has only recently become the focus of scholarly attention. To some extent, interest in the state-sponsored seizure of Jewish assets has been understandably overshadowed by the more pressing need to reconstruct and understand the Holocaust. If theft paled in comparison with murder, moreover, such technical problems as currency transfer restrictions, capital levies, and blocked accounts have seemed far too arcane to most historians to deliver significant insights into the nature of the “Third Reich,” much less the murder of Europe’s Jews. And where a lack of interest in financial history has not inhibited the study of the confiscation of Jewish assets, lingering concerns about confirming antisemitic stereotypes about Jews and money has. Finally, differences in analytical emphasis, such as a focus on the perpetrators instead of their victims, have perpetuated historiographic divisions between German and Jewish history. Those divisions have also contributed to a narrative incoherence that made it more difficult to identify the business of economic discrimination as an autonomous topic.

For all of these reasons, the organizers – Jonathan Zatlin (Boston University) and Christoph Kreutzmüller (Haus der Wannsee-Konferenz) – seek to bring together scholars from a variety of countries working on the financial history, social significance, and cultural meanings of the theft of Jewish assets by the Nazis. In addition to promoting intellectual exchange, we aim to overcome the historiographic divisions between Jewish and German history by combining the history of the victims with that of the perpetrators in novel ways. Drawing on what might be called the “economic turn” in the field of history, we seek to disrupt standard accounts of German Jews, which alternatively downplay the embeddedness of the Jewish community in German society or reduce the diversity of Jewish experience to the ravages of antisemitism, and instead integrate Jewish into German history by incorporating Jewish agency into the larger story of the Nazi dictatorship. By construing “dispossession” broadly, moreover, we aim to combine cultural interpretation with economic analysis of this theft in order to make the significance of this history more accessible to larger audiences.

The organizers welcome proposals on a variety of relevant themes, such as: * The Jewish commercial presence under the Nazis, including regional and sectoral case studies * Nazi justifications of expropriation and plunder * The incompatibility of emigration and confiscation * Legal and financial technologies deployed by the regime to confiscate Jewish assets * The identification of assets as “Jewish” * The theft of artwork * The theft of Jewish communal property * Gender as a demographic and financial issue * Contemporary German reactions to the dispossession of the Jews * German-Jewish responses to these measures * The dispossession of German Jewry as a “learning process” or model for the rest of Europe * Problems of restitution The organizers expect to publish a selection of papers in a volume designed to break new ground by bringing together cultural, social, and economic history.
The language of the workshop and the published volume will be English.

Please send a 500-word abstract and a one-page CV to the following email address by March 1: disposs [at] bu.edu

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