Virtual Book Talk: Dance on the Razor’s Edge: Crime and Punishment in the Nazi Ghettos
October 14 @ 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Svenja Bethke in conversation with Zoë Waxman.
The ghettos established by the Nazis in German-occupied Eastern Europe during the Second World War have mainly been seen as lawless spaces marked by brutality, tyranny, and the systematic murder of the Jewish population. Drawing on examples from the Warsaw, Lodz, and Vilna ghettos, Dance on the Razor’s Edge explores how under these circumstances highly improvised legal spheres emerged in these coerced and heterogeneous ghetto communities.
Looking at sources from multiple archives and countries, this book investigates how the Jewish Councils, set up on German orders, formulated new definitions of criminal offenses and established legal institutions on their own initiative as a desperate attempt to ensure the survival of the ghetto communities. Bethke explores how people under these circumstances tried to make sense of everyday lives that had been turned upside down, taking with them pre-war notions of justice and morality, and considers the extent to which this rupture led to new judgments on human behaviour. In doing so, this book aims to understand how people attempted to use their very limited scope for action in order to survive. Set against the background of a Holocaust historiography that often still seeks clear categories of “good” and “bad” behaviour, Dance on the Razor’s Edge calls for a new understanding of the ghettos as complex communities in an unprecedented emergency situation.
About the speakers
Svenja Bethke is Lecturer in Modern European History and the Deputy Director of the Stanley Burton Centre for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Leicester. She works on themes of the Holocaust, Modern Jewish History and Fashion History. In 2019-2021, she held a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem for her new project ‘Clothing, Fashion and Nation Building in the Land of Israel’.
Zoë Waxman is Departmental Lecturer in Modern Jewish History at the University of Oxford. She previously taught in the history faculty in Oxford and at Royal Holloway, University of London, where she was fellow in Holocaust Studies. She is the author of Writing the Holocaust: Identity, Testimony, Representation (2006), and Anne Frank (2015), as well as numerous articles relating to the Holocaust and genocide. A board member of the British Association of Holocaust Studies, she also sits on the editorial board of Holocaust Studies and the Journal of Modern Jewish Studies. She is a trustee of The Wiener Holocaust Library and a member of the academic advisory board for the Imperial War Museum’s Holocaust galleries. She is currently working on Women of the Holocaust: Gendering the Shoah (forthcoming with Oxford University Press) and a project on rape and sexual abuse in genocide.
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