Historical Social Research

Frank Wolff: Beyond Genocide: How Refugee Agency Preserves Knowledge During Violence-Induced Migration. [Abstract]

Genocide targets lives and also aims to destroy cultures. Hence, refugees do not only save their bare lives, as the common notion of a refugee in need of individual protection assumes; they also engage in various collective practices to safeguard their cultural heritage from destruction. As an expression of self-consciousness against genocidal violence, this process of rescue becomes a part of that very cultural heritage and thus fundamentally alters its meaning. To develop a better understanding of this complex process, this article first develops general thoughts on refugee agency and cultural survival. Secondly, to exemplify the variety of such efforts and their cultural meaning, this article examines how European Jews, and particularly the General Jewish Labor Bund, attempted to save Yiddish culture and material collections on the secular history of European Jews during the 20th century. In conclusion, it argues that in addition to the individualized perception of a refugee, we need to consider collective cultural rescue as an integral part of refugee politics.

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