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At the end of the Second World War, child survivors of the Holocaust, living in orphanages and children’s colonies across Europe, began to hunt for surviving parents and other relatives. At the same time, parents and other relatives began to search for these lost children. This is well known – but what is less well known is what happened when surviving family members found each other. We assume that such cases of family reunification must have marked happy endings for child survivors, yet the archival record tells otherwise: surviving parents in many cases did not feel they could provide stable homes for their surviving children, and a considerable number of ‘Jewish war orphans’ living in children’s colonies after the war actually had at least one surviving parent. For other families, life together again proved impossible to maintain, and families reunited only to break apart after a period of months or years. This talk will explore not only why family reunification proved so difficult in the immediate postwar period, but also how children subjectively experienced such events. It will be of relevance not only for those interested in the legacies of the Holocaust, but for anyone interested in separated families in the present.
Offered in collaboration with The British Association for Holocaust Studies
Rebecca Clifford is Professor of European Transnational History at the University of Durham. Her most recent book, Survivors: Children’s Lives After the Holocaust (Yale, 2020) explores the postwar lives and memories of child Holocaust survivors. It was a finalist for the Cundill History Prize, shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize, winner of the Canadian Jewish Literary Awards Scholarship Prize, and named a Book of the Year by the Telegraph (2020) and the Globe and Mail (Canada; 2021).
Photo credit: Erika Tanith for the Cundill History Prize