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Many Jewish families who fled Nazi Germany took their photo albums with them. In them, we gain rare and unexpected insights into their lives in a racial state. Photos show not so much day-to-day realities, but strategies of reassertion and resistance: pictures of lives hoped for, aspired to, and a proud display of both Jewish and German identities. As well as the albums, Jewish refugees also took their cameras. In this talk, Maiken explores how lives were re-built in exile, and the complex ways in which ‘Germaness’ was reconfigured in new cultural contexts, such as the United States and Mandate Palestine. She argues that photos reveal layers of experience on which written documents, such as letters and diaries, often remain silent. But in their character of focusing on happy moments and stories of success, photos are also tricky sources that require careful decoding.
Maiken Umbach works as professor of modern history at the University of Nottingham, and as chief academic advisor at the National Holocaust Museum. Her work focuses on the question of what photography can reval, and obscure, for how we research, commemorate, and teach about National Socialism and the Holocaust. Her most recent publications include the co-authored book Photography, Migration, and Identity: A German-Jewish-American Story (with S Sulzener, Palgrave, 2018), the edited volume Private Life and Privacy in Nazi Germany (with E Harvey, J Hürter, A Wirsching, Cambridge University Press, 2019), and the article ‘Jewish Photos and Holocaust Testimony: A Complex Relationship’ (with A Tofts, Holocaust Studies, 2022).