Virtual Event: How to Be a Refugee: Simon May in Conversation with Toby Simpson
October 25 @ 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm
The Wiener Holocaust Library and the Institute for the History of the German Jews is delighted to co-host this event with Simon May, author of How to be a Refugee: The Gripping True Story of How One Family Hid their Jewish Origins to Survive the Nazis. The most familiar fate of Jews living in Hitler’s Germany is either emigration or deportation to concentration camps. But there was another, much rarer, side to Jewish life at that time: denial of your origin to the point where you manage to erase almost all consciousness of it. You refuse to believe that you are Jewish.
How to Be a Refugee is Simon May’s gripping account of how three sisters – his mother and his two aunts – grappled with what they felt to be a lethal heritage. Their very different trajectories included conversion to Catholicism, marriage into the German aristocracy, securing ‘Aryan’ status with high-ranking help from inside Hitler’s regime, and engagement to a card-carrying Nazi. Even after his mother fled to London from Nazi Germany and Hitler had been defeated, her instinct for self-concealment didn’t abate. Following the early death of his father, also a German Jewish refugee, May was raised a Catholic and forbidden to identify as Jewish or German or British.
In the face of these banned inheritances, May embarks on a quest to uncover the lives of the three sisters as well as the secrets of a grandfather he never knew. His haunting story forcefully illuminates questions of belonging and home – questions that continue to press in on us today.
About the speakers:
Professor Simon May is Visiting Professor of Philosophy at King’s College London. Simon May’s interests lie in ethics, philosophy of the emotions, questions of identity and belonging, and German 19th and 20th Century thought, especially the work of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Heidegger. He is also a devotee of the aphoristic form. His monographs include Nietzsche’s Ethics and his War on “Morality” (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); Love: A History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011); Love: A New Understanding of an Ancient Emotion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019), and The Power of Cute (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019).
Dr Toby Simpson is the Director of The Wiener Holocaust Library.
Closing remarks by:
Dr Kim Wünschmann has been Director of the Institute for the History of the German Jews since October 2021. She studied Jewish Studies, political science, and psychology at the Free University of Berlin and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She received her doctorate with a historical study at Birkbeck College, University of London, which was awarded the Yad Vashem International Book Prize for Holocaust Research, the Prix “Fondation Auschwitz – Jacques Rozenberg,” and the Herbert Steiner Prize of the Documentation Center of Austrian Resistance (DÖW) and the International Conference of Labor and Social History (ITH).
Event guidelines for those joining online:
1. The Library will send you a Zoom link and joining instructions via email prior to the event. Please check your junk email folders.
2. Please try and join 5 minutes before the event start time and we will let you into the room (do try and bear with us if this takes a few minutes).
3. If you would like to ask a question during the event, please type your question into the chat function, and we will endeavour to answer as many questions as possible during the Q&A. Your webcam will not be seen during this event.
4. The event will be recorded for the Library’s YouTube channel and will be shared at a later date.
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