Staff projects

Dr Paul Moore

The German People and the Nazi Concentration Camps, 1933 - 1945

To what extent was Nazi Germany a “feel-good dictatorship”, in which ordinary Germans were “proud and pleased” about even the most repressive aspects of the regime, as some historians have argued? My research examines issues relating to popular opinion, propaganda, and the representation of violence in modern Germany by taking the concentration camps, the archetypal tool of Nazi terror, as its focus. I am currently completing my first monograph, on German popular opinion on the Nazi concentration camps in the period 1933-1945, to be published by Oxford University Press in 2019.

To what extent did the German public approve of the camps, and what was the nature and extent of their knowledge of them? Far from being kept secret, the camps were intended to be public knowledge – the opening of Dachau was announced in a press conference, and prominent prisoners were publicly paraded through the streets of their communities on their way to concentration camps. My study examines the wealth of propaganda on the camps alongside the unofficial exchange of information among members of the public as documented in memoirs, diaries and court cases. The concentration camp featured in conversations, rumours, even dreams and jokes, and in ways frequently at variance with the official image of these institutions. For some, the camp was a key part of everyday reality in the local community, while others experience the camps in a more mediated fashion.

With social divisions along lines of class, gender, region and confession to the fore, this study examines popular opinion on the regime in general and its camps in particular across the twelve year lifetime of the Nazi dictatorship, and assesses how changes in the camp system were reflected – or failed to be reflected – in popular attitudes towards extra-legal terror in the "Third Reich".

Dr Svenja Bethke

Clothing, fashion and nation building in the ‘Land of Israel’

How does clothing become fashion? To what extent does a consensual mode of dress emerge within a heterogeneous migrant society? How can clothing become political and to what extent can it express power relations? And which role does visual culture and photography play in communicating and enforcing changing clothing ideals? These questions lie at the core of my new research project, ‘Clothing, fashion and nation building in the Land of Israel’, that has been awarded a Marie Curie Individual Fellowship by the European Commission, to be hosted at the Hebrew University, the Yad Ben Zvi Institute in Jerusalem and the PHRC at De Montfort University from 2019-2021.

Taking the 'Land of Israel' as a case study, I argue that investigating clothing, fashion and aesthetic perceptions brings to the fore the agency of migrant groups and adds a personal dimension to the history of nation building. Focusing on the period from the 1880s – when large-scale migration began – until the foundation of the Israeli state in 1948, I will investigate how Eastern European and German Jewish immigrants expressed social, cultural and political belonging through clothing and to what extent they were able to enforce their ideologies in the course of nation building. I ask to what extent the immigrants influenced each other in developing a specific mode of dress, and how they referenced the socio-cultural and political practices of their countries of origin, as well as the clothing of Arab people and the Ottoman and British occupying authorities.

With an unprecedented focus on gender and visual materials, the project will draw from collections preserved by 15 archives in Israel, Poland and England, and 6 Israeli, German, American and Russian databases. The project will analyse private and public photographs and posters, and contextualise them against an assessment of written material and oral history interviews. I aim to develop a new methodology that will integrate approaches from fashion history and visual culture into the history of nation building to shed light on the processes of negotiation and power struggles on the micro level of a community.

Ghettos as Communities of Coercion

In my doctoral project and the resulting first book, I examined definitions of criminality and legal norms formulated by the Jewish Councils in the ghettos of Warsaw, Łódź and Vilna, set up by force by the Germans during the Second World War. I researched the internal institutions that the Jewish Councils established to persecute newly defined offences as well as the perceptions of ordinary ghetto inhabitants, thus strengthening the everyday life perspective within Holocaust studies. My book Tanz auf Messers Schneide: Kriminalität und Recht in den Ghettos Warschau, Litzmannschaft und Wilna [Dance on the Razor’s Edge: Criminality and Law in the Warsaw, Łódź and Vilna Ghettos] (Hamburg, 2015), has been awarded three international prizes, and is forthcoming in an English translation with Toronto University Press in 2020.

Following this, I became interested in survival strategies, patterns of behaviour and power struggles within these ghetto communities that do not fit into narratives of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviour still prevailing in Holocaust scholarship. In this context, I have been working on the topic of Jewish post-war reflections on criminality and morality in ghettos and on petition writing in ghettos, resulting in a forthcoming chapter in an edited volume, ‘Attempts to Take Action? Petitions to the Jewish Council head in the Łódź ghetto ’, in Wolf Gruner and Thomas Pegelow Kaplan (eds), Petitions Resisting Genocide: Negotiating Self-Determination and Survival in Societies under Oppression (New York and Oxford: Berghahn, 2018).

In my current research on ghettos, I call for an understanding of ghettos as communities of coercion, composed by force by the Germans and comprising highly heterogeneous individuals to integrate ambivalent patters of behaviour into Holocaust historiography. I emphasise that individual and collective strategies of survival and the patterns of behaviour developed under these circumstances were diverse, dynamic and ambiguous. Understanding ghetto communities in their full complexity allows for a comparative approach with other communities of coercion across time and space and to explore human behaviour at the edge of human existence.

Dr Luca Fenoglio (Leverhulme Fellow)

Fascist violence against non-military enemies across the Mediterranean between 1940 and 1943

The book that I am currently writing results from the intersection of these research interests. The book stems from my PhD thesis and investigates Fascist Italy’s treatment of Jews in the territories of south-eastern France that the Italian Army occupied during the Second World War. This case study aims to provide new insights into Fascist Italy’s rationale for refusing to hand over Jews to the Nazis for extermination between 1940 and 1943, despite persecuting Jews domestically and being Nazi Germany’s chief ally.

My second research (and book) project is a ramification of his doctoral research and looks at Fascist violence against non-military enemies across the Mediterranean between 1940 and 1943. The book will explore the interaction of ideology and local circumstances in shaping the Italian use of violence against perceived non-military enemies in different conflict zones across the Mediterranean. In so doing, this research seeks to shed new light on how the Fascist leaders envisioned their New Order.

Finally, I am working on a journal article that investigates Jewish rescue strategies in Axis-occupied France. The article explores, in particular, the rescue efforts of the Nice-based Jewish committee of boulevard Dubouchage and reflects on the committee’s participation in carrying out the anti-Jewish measures of the Italian occupation authorities as a way to rescue Jews from Nazi extermination.