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Virtual PhD and a Cup of Tea: Letters as People: Emotion and Information in the Correspondence of German-Jewish Refugees from Nazism 1933-45

June 12 @ 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm

A composite letter from members of the Böhm family in Antwerp to Theodor Hirschberg in London. University of Southampton Special Collections, Papers of Theodor Hirschberg, MS 314/1/77

This event is organised as part of the Holocaust Letters exhibition events series organised by the Holocaust and Genocide Research Partnership. 

The 1930s/40s saw thousands of German-Jewish refugees seek asylum in locations across the world, with the by-product being the enforced fracturing of family networks and the shared world in which they inhabited. During this period, contact between separated family members continued, albeit minimised, with the aim of gaining information on the health and location of loved ones being of primary importance. Abruptly, space was injected into close familial relationships, with letters acting as the bridge between separated parties and thus creating their own metaphysical ‘epistolary space’ often in replacement of physical spaces. Conversations on emigration efforts, familial life and geopolitical concerns moved from within the home on to pieces of paper, as family units dispersed. Discussions altered and adapted into a new epistolary space, albeit one often burdened with the ineffability of their situation.  

In this presentation, postgraduate researcher Charlie Knight will discuss the correspondences of five families whose archives are held in both private collections and public institutions. The presentation will touch upon a number of key research questions including: How did the writers and addressees understand the role and importance of these letters? What emotional strategies can be identified within the correspondences? How is information/knowledge disused and transferred within this new ‘epistolary space’? And what early knowledge of the Holocaust could be ascertained from these objects? Finally this presentation will reflect on the methodology and place of the researcher within this project, as well as the letters’ hapticity and materiality.  

Charlie Knight is a Postgraduate Researcher at the Parkes Institute for the Study of Jewish/non-Jewish Relations at the University of Southampton. He is funded by the Wolfson Postgraduate Scholarship in the Humanities for his research into German-Jewish refugees from Nazism in Britain. Charlie was the joint postgraduate representative for the British and Irish Association for Holocaust Studies in the 2021/22 academic year, and currently teaches German History at the School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies at UCL. He is also the co-organiser of the international workshop ‘Letter Writing in Holocaust Studies’ held at the Wiener Holocaust Library, and has himself spoken at conferences in the UK, Germany and Israel. His most recent publication ‘Constructing narratives: considerations in the letters of Theodor M. W. Hirschberg and his family’ was published in Jewish Culture and History in 2022. 

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