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South Africa was not a significant destination for refugees fleeing Hitler’s Germany. Between 1933 and 1939, around 6,000 Jews landed on its shores, scarcely 2 percent of the total number who left. The fates of these refugees are nonetheless worthy of study, in particular because of the distinctive relationship between the Nazi ideology they left behind and the racist practices they encountered in their new homeland.
In this talk, Professor Shirli Gilbert will look at the experiences of German-Jewish refugees who came to South Africa, exploring how their earlier encounters with antisemitism informed their engagement with South African racism before and during apartheid. While a number distinguished themselves for their outspoken opposition to apartheid, the majority engaged with their adopted country in more ambivalent ways.
The project forms part of an ongoing research project exploring how the Holocaust informed Jewish responses to racism in South Africa both during apartheid (1948-94) and after the transition to a non-racial democracy.
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Shirli Gilbert is Professor of Modern Jewish History at University College London. She has previously held positions at the University of Southampton, the University of Michigan, and the University of Cape Town. Her publications include Music in the Holocaust (2005), From Things Lost: Forgotten Letters and the Legacy of the Holocaust (2017), and, with Avril Alba, Holocaust Memory and Racism in the Postwar World (2019). She is Academic Director of the Sir Martin Gilbert Learning Centre.