9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN31 Ethnic Relations, Racism and Antisemitism

2009-09-04 13:30:00 2009-09-04 15:00:00 Friday, 4 September 13:30 - 15:00 Israel and Zionism II Building II, C5.05

Cultural Genocide and its Antidote: The Case of the "Jewish Cultural Reconstruction"

This paper deals with "cultural genocide" but with cultural reconstruction efforts as a response to genocide. I will read this reconstruction efforts as self-conscious attempts by members of the same collective to not let this happen again.

Specifically, this essay will be a contribution to Jewish politics and the politics of Jewish identity. It will show that the realization of the genocide which was perpetrated on the Jews granted them a peculiar form of collective recognition. This was true for ways in which formerly private property was transformed into collective one. I will show how Jewish intellectuals (like Hannah Arendt, Rafael Lemkin, Salo Baron and others) re-defined these issues in theory and practice during a formative period of history that created the categories of thought that after further development now frame the post-cold war world and its struggle to mold a new future. Jewish identity and universalist, human rights identity were born together, developed together, and are still axially connected.

I pay especially close attention to Hannah Arendt's work as research director and executive director of "Jewish Cultural Reconstruction" (JCR). Not very much has been written about this organization, which was founded 1944 in order to re-define the notion of "Jewish Cultural Property", and to deal on a practical level with heirless Jewish cultural property stolen by the Nazis and liberated by the Allies. I will show Arendt's role in this process: Within JCR, Arendt directed a research project called the "Tentative List of Jewish Cultural Treasures in Axis Occupied Countries" (published in 1946-48). It is a list of the now destroyed Jewish cultural institutions all around Europe. This list - one of the central documents of a lost and destroyed Jewish culture in Europe has to my knowledge never be analyzed and used as an analytical point of departure. The list served the "Jewish Cultural Reconstruction" as a baseline reference in its negotiations with the American administration to get itself appointed the chief trustee of the heirless property of the European Jews. It also served as an antidote to cultural genocide.