Conference: 15. Workshop on the History of the Nazi Concentration Camps: Continuities and Discontinuities in the Historical Development and Reception of the Nazi Concentration Camps
Organisation: Christiane Hess, Julia Hoerath, Dominique Schroeder and Kim Wunschmann in cooperation with: Memorial and Museum Sachsenhausen, Ravensbrueck Memorial Museum and Zentrum fuer Antisemitismusforschung (TU Berlin)
Date: 12 -16 November 2008,
Location: Memorial and Museum Sachsenhausen, Ravensbrueck Memorial Museum
Deadline: 16 May 2008
The “15 Workshop on the History of the Nazi Concentration Camps” will take place from 12 to 16 November 2008 in the memorial sites of Ravensbrueck and Sachsenhausen (Brandenburg, Germany). Both conference venues have an eventful and varied history, shaped by the different types of camps established there during the Third Reich and by the differently orientated work of the memorial site museums before and after Germany’s reunification. By focussing on the notions of continuity and discontinuity, this year’s workshop seeks to explore the development and structure of the Nazi concentration camps, and the changing memory of these places of terror. We want to evaluate existing periodisations, think historical events in terms of dynamic processes, and engage critically with previous interpretations of historical context and development. Our overall goal is to bring together the results of specialised and empirical studies, and consider how syntheses with broader analytical application might be achieved.
The planned conference stands in the tradition of the annual “Workshops on the History of the Nazi Concentration Camps”, first held in 1994. Participants themselves are responsible in annual rotation for the organisation of these workshops. By now an internationally-established forum, the workshop gives young scholars the valuable opportunity to present and discuss their work with an informed community of peers in a critical but supportive environment. Whereas the workshops of the past years have focussed on the memory and post-war history of the concentration camp sites, this year’s conference will concentrate more on the period of National Socialism itself.
Proposals for papers should relate to at least one of the workshop’s key themes:
(1) The development, structure and changing functions of the concentration camp system over the 12-year period of the Third Reich.
(2) The experiences, motives and modes of behaviour displayed by the camps’ signature actor groups: perpetrators, persecuted and bystanders.
(3) The various forms of collective reception and interpretation of the criminality perpetrated in the camps.
(1) The first thematic section seeks continuities and discontinuities in the structural history and systemic development of the Nazi concentration camps. From the improvised detention centres of varied location, control and institutional set-up, swiftly established in the first months after Hitler’s seizure of power, to the formation of the concentration camp SS and the development of a sprawling network of Haupt- and Nebenlager, the concentration camps have been sites of imprisonment, forced labour, torture and death for millions of people. Research on the camps has traditionally striven to render this variable history intelligible via periodisation, which itself brings key questions into focus: is the development of the camp system best understood in terms of qualitative functional change? Might we instead identify a process of piecemeal and compound functional accretion? Specifically, what role did the early camps of 1933/34 play in the formation of the later system? Was the establishment of the ‘Inspectorate of the Concentration Camps’ (IKL) and attendant reorganisation of the Lager as great a watershed as is often asserted in historiography? Did the women’s and youths’ concentration camps develop in analogy to the main Konzentrationslager, or follow a separate development?
(2) Focusing on the actor groups in the concentration camp encourages probing beyond structural and organisational history for evidence of continuity and rupture. In particular, oral history has proven a rich research resource for ‘opening out’ the history of the concentration camps, yet it is one which demands close scrutiny of technique and instruments. Can methods developed in work with camp-survivors be transferred unproblematically to Tätergeschichte? Or does a focus on perpetrators rather require a completely different methodological apparatus? What kind of information about specific perceptions, motives and modus operandi can we gain when dealing with perpetrators, victims and bystanders? What new insights are yielded in focussing on the experience of the victims in parallel to the institutional development of the camp system? Specifically, to what extent are the continuities and discontinuities identified in an organisational history mirrored in the memoirs of former prisoners? Furthermore, does our narrative change if the research focus rests on the unfolding persecution and imprisonment of different groups of victims? Here, we would like to focus in particular on the fate of marginalised groups of prisoners such as the Sinti and Roma, homosexuals, “asocials”, “criminals” and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Finally, we warmly invite scholars who work on the development of the relationship between the camps and their local environments – the nebulous “bystander” actor group - to contribute to this second thematic section.
(3) After their dissolution or liberation the former concentration camps were frequently made invisible and forgotten. It was only at the initiative of survivors, sometimes against local protest, that such former camps were remodelled into memorial sites. The international sites of Nazi crimes have gradually become essential elements of a national and European remembrance culture and memorial practice. By studying the former camp sites’ post-war history we can learn how a society seeks to comes to terms with its past, and which moral and political lessons it draws for the future. The different forms of dealing with the Nazi past, on both a state-official and on a civil-societal level, are themselves subject to changes in function and signification whose continuity and discontinuity we would like to explore in the third thematic section. What function do memorial policies have for the building of national identity in the two German states before 1989/90, the reunified nation and also in Eastern Europe? And how is this expressed in on-site memorial conceptions; in the architectural design of the loci as well as the political and civic education practised by the memorial sites’ pedagogical departments? Which critical positions are taken by whom towards state-directed forms of Vergangenheistbewältigung? Which impulses come from arts and media (film, theatre, literature, visual arts)?
Both conference venues with their varied histories stimulate the search for clarity in the questions outlined above. They confront us with the historical legacy of the camps Oranienburg, Sachsenhausen, Ravensbrück and Uckermark and stimulate debate about the conception of the different memorial sites that exist and have existed here, about the processes of revision (after the German reunification in 1989/1990) they have undergone, and about the realisation of permanent and special on-site exhibitions. Guided tours and discussions with the responsible historians and pedagogues form part of the workshop’s programme.
Conference papers should be 20 minutes long and will be followed by 40 minutes of discussion. The sessions should have an informal workshop character with the discussions of open question in the foreground. The speakers should be present during the whole conference to enable a sustained and far-reaching exchange amongst the participants. Furthermore, the publication of the accepted conference papers in an essay collection is planned.
The Call for Papers is addressed to advanced graduate and PhD students who work on the history of the Nazi concentration camps and their memory. We explicitly invite applications by international students for presentation of their research. The workshop’s languages are German and English.
We ask those wishing to contribute to the conference to submit an abstract of their proposed paper (one page) and a short biography by Email to the conference organisers by 16 May 2008:
Chosen speakers will be notified until mid June 2008. We try to reimburse reasonable travel costs and provide accommodation.
The Organisational Team
Christiane Hess, Julia Hoerath, Dominique Schroeder and Kim Wunschmann
Organisers of the 15 Workshop on the History of the Nazi Concentration Camps: Christiane Hess, Julia Hoerath, Dominique Schroeder, Kim Wunschmann
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