Knowledge and Awareness: Jews of the German Academic Tradition and the Arab-Israeli Conflict

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This research project sought to write a chapter in the history of cultural transfer and influence focusing on Jewish scholars in the area of Oriental Studies who were either partially or fully educated in institutes of higher learning within the sphere of German language and culture, and who subsequently pursued their professional careers in Palestine and the State of Israel. The study sought to examine the path taken by German Orientalism into the heart of Israeli learning and research on the one hand, and to trace the marks left by the escalating Jewish-Arab dispute on these same scholars, who initially became acquainted with the East in places far removed from this dispute, namely within the sphere of European and particularly German learning and discourse.

This research project departed from the premise that the study of the Orient provided these scholars with various singular linguistic and cultural skills that influenced their understanding of the developing reality they encountered upon their immigration from Europe and shaped their outlooks to some extent. The research project further assumed that their close proximity to their objects of study as a result of their migration, and the growing pressure exerted on them to harness their expertise and professional knowledge to the needs of the Jewish collective in Palestine and the State of Israel, challenged their scholarly ethos of independence, distance and objectivity that had been inculcated in these scholars in the European academies of the turn of the century and the first third of the 20th century. It therefore sought to examine the paradox of proximity and remoteness; and through this to examine the possibility that the proximity to the East distanced it from these scholars, or alternatively, caused them to choose to distance themselves in response to the intense proximity created by the dispute. Mobilization, disappointment and disenchantment are part of the range of reactions exhibited by these scholars in face of the growing dispute, and it is these reactions that the research documented and analyzed.

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Constantin Brunner Through His Correspondence

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The project (2010-2013), funded by the Ministry of Science and Culture of Lower Saxony, focused on the edition of the letters of the German-Jewish philosopher, social critic, and follower of the Life Reform Movement Constantin Brunner (1862-1937), whose influential work is rarely acknowledged in current academic research. The project has been a result of the cooperation between the Seminar für Deutsche Philologie at the University of Göttingen and The Franz Rosenzweig Minerva Research Center at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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German-Israeli Research Cooperation in the Humanities (1970-2000): Studies on Scholarship and Bilaterality

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On October 20th, 1971, Tel Aviv University inaugurated the Institute for German History, the first of this kind in Israel.

Although in the field of natural sciences initial contacts between German and Israeli scholars had already begun in the mid-1950s, leading to close and successful cooperation, scholars in the Humanities approached one another considerably later. Indeed, apart from individual encounters between single scholars, the teaching and research in the fields of German History and Literature were introduced into the academic curricula of Israeli universities only in the late 1960s. The Hebrew University established the chairs for German History and for German Literature and Language only six years after the foundation of the institute for German History in Tel Aviv.

These initiatives had been realized primarily with the support of German funds. These pioneering institutions laid the foundation for establishing future cooperation between German and Israeli scholars in the Humanities: participants on both sides became familiar with the other country as visiting scholars, taking part together to organized events, carrying out common research projects and working on joined publications.

The bilateral research project focuses on the beginnings of German-Israeli research cooperation in the Humanities, especially in German Literature and History, up to the year 2000. The very process of establishing those fields of teaching and research among the involved German and Israeli protagonists and institutions will be examined. Besides a comparative outlook, the unique characteristics of each of the relevant institutions will be highlighted. At the same time, as leading figures in the field are concerned, their biographies and involvement will be recorded in oral history interviews.

Visit the project's website for more information, in Hebrew and in German as well.

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The Historical Archive of the Hebrew University: German-Jewish Knowledge and Cultural Transfer, 1918-1948

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The project was launched toward the 100th anniversary of the laying of the HU’s cornerstone. Perhaps unlike any other research institute, the history of the Hebrew University embodies the complex interactions between science and politics in the conflictual twentieth century. During the three years of the project, the materials of the archive underwent systematic cataloging and preservation. In parallel, the project’s team, comprised of graduate students and post-docs, used the archive for their individual research projects

The Archive of the Hebrew University:  includes documentation related to university’s various decision-making bodies (Board of Governors, the Senate, the Standing Committee); files of individual departments and research institutes, documenting their establishment; the on-going activity of the university in the pre-State era, which was deeply embedded in the political situation of Palestine and the conflict; and personal files of the university’s faculty and administration, covering different aspects of their employment at the institution.

Research topics:  the project’s team focused on the various aspects of the transfer of knowledge from Germany to Palestine (more than half of the initial faculty originated from or trained in German-speaking countries); questions of place and space; or specific figures from the university’s first faculty. 

The archive’s catalog is now available here and is searchable in English. You can also visit the archive’s website

Check out the project’s bilingual blog [here on the left menu!] and FB page for a pick of the materials.

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Documents – Memory – Historiography. The Second Theresienstadt Film

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At the focus of this project stands the 1944 propaganda film “Theresienstadt: Ein Dokumentarfilm aus dem jüdischen Siedlungsgebiet”. This infamous Nazi propaganda film was influential in creating the historical image of Theresienstadt as a comparatively “comfortable” camp. However, as the historian Karel Margry claims, although it contains some authentic information about it, “the film’s blatant dishonesty turns on what it did not show: the hunger, the misery, the overcrowding, the slave work… the high death rate and, most of all, the transports leaving to the East”. 

An essential part of this project is to give voice to the remaining survivors of Theresienstadt and incorporate their memories and interpretations of the film into this study.

One of the main subjects to be assessed in this study is the existence of diverse social, political, national and religious groups in the Ghetto, indicated both by what is present in and by what is missing from the film. Sources such as interviews, written testimonies, diaries and archival documents offer an opportunity to fill this gap in the social history of Theresienstadt. While the Jewish society of Theresienstadt has been the subject of extensive inquiry, the tensions between the representation of “the” Jewish community in the film and the actual experiences in the ghetto shed new light on both: the ways National Socialist authorities perceived (or imagined) the ghetto as well as the ways Jewish detainees perceived and imagined their social life. The gaps between the actual and the imagined provide us with a new course of inquiry that discloses an understudied set of Jewish experiences under Nazi oppression.

This joint project of German and Israeli teams of scholars provides a unique opportunity for an innovative and comprehensive study of Theresienstadt, using an in-depth analysis of the filmed footage from the camp. The interdisciplinary framework forged by sociologists, media experts, and historians facilitates a novel consideration of the social history of this camp. Examined from various perspectives, the project offers a critical synthesis of various sources, including visual sources, oral and written testimonies, interviews, archival sources, published and unpublished diaries and secondary sources. 

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