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Why a New Academic Discipline of Post-Holocaust Studies Should Be Established and What Its Content Should Be

Filed under: Antisemitism, Post-Holocaust, World Jewry
Publication: Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism

No 119, 26 Shvat 5777


  • The Holocaust has greatly influenced post-Holocaust societies. Yet without a defined area of study – post-Holocaust studies – that influence dissipates within Holocaust studies and hinders further understanding of the post-Holocaust impact of the Holocaust. Holocaust studies are dominated by mass murders, victims, perpetrators, and bystanders. In this bloody overall scene, the multiple aspects of post-Holocaust studies do not emerge clearly.
  • Among the prominent multidisciplinary subjects to be included in post-Holocaust studies are survivors, the many aspects of memorialization, and restitution.
  • Post-Holocaust studies should encompass a large number of disciplines. These include, for instance, history, politics, law, theology, philosophy, ethics, medicine, sociology, archaeology, social affairs, literature, architecture, art, and genetics.
  • The next step in post-Holocaust studies should be the launching of an inventory of articles and books in each of the disciplines mentioned in this essay. Only after post-Holocaust studies is established as a professional field at a number of universities will the interaction between the various disciplines within it begin to appear. We will then see that there is a need for an encyclopedia of the post-Holocaust field as well.

Scholarship about the Holocaust has come a long way since Gerhard Reitlinger wrote in 1953The Final Solution: The Attempt to Exterminate the Jews of Europe, 1939-19452 and since Raul Hilberg wrote his 1961 seminal book The Destruction of the European Jews.3

It took several decades after the end of World War II until scholars realized that there was a need for a new multidisciplinary area of study called Holocaust studies or Holocaust research. By now this scholarly field has been consolidated for at least twenty-five years. Previously there had been individual publications on various aspects of the Holocaust in several disciplines. These included history, politics, theology, law, ethics, psychology, literature, and many others. However, for many years the study of the Holocaust was not viewed as a single multidisciplinary area.

Describing and analyzing the Holocaust, a unique genocide, requires many disciplines. A full understanding of how to interpret the events of the Holocaust, however, is obtainable only when these studies are combined into a single field of scholarship. Nowadays, whether standing alone or combined with genocide studies, Holocaust research is a well-established international field of study, most certainly among its practitioners. It has become an academic discipline in itself.

Impact on Postwar Societies

There is also a wide range of books and studies in many fields on the impact of the Holocaust on postwar societies. Some of these are considered part of Holocaust studies, others not necessarily. It is my recommendation here that post-Holocaust studies become a new field of research.

There are also very significant individual impacts of the Holocaust in the post-Holocaust era. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a direct result of the Holocaust4as is the United Nations Genocide Convention.5

Admittedly the two areas of Holocaust studies and post-Holocaust studies are linked and somewhat interwoven. Their overlap, however, is far smaller than what separates them. Presenting an overview of post-Holocaust studies is at this stage impossible. The best one can do is offer a synopsis of issues that could be included in the post-Holocaust field. The hope is that such an approach will help initiate the systematic study of the area.

Furthermore, due to the huge number of more or less isolated publications in the field of post-Holocaust studies, any article on the overall subject at this stage is likely to be fragmented as well as very incomplete. Nor can it pretend to be a critical analysis. That will require many years of focused research.


One prominent multidisciplinary subject that belongs to post-Holocaust studies concerns survivors and their experience in postwar societies. The wartime history of survivors is part of Holocaust studies. Yet their postwar migration, how survivors were accepted in the societies they returned to or where they lived as immigrants, the way in which they rebuilt their lives, the degree to which they came back from the abyss, their contribution to these societies, the treatment of their traumas, and the description of the organizations that collect their testimonies are all topics whose place is in post-Holocaust studies.

Other topics in this broad category include the study of child survivors. These – and I am one of them – have become the last witnesses of Nazi persecution. Many of the pupils of postwar Jewish schools in countries occupied by the Germans were child survivors. As a result, it is likely that the atmosphere in Jewish schools in the postwar period differed significantly from other schools in those countries – even more so than in the case of Jewish schools before the war.

Children who lived in German camps for Displaced Persons had a very different youth from German children. It is somewhat ironic that children in DP camps went to an entirely Jewish school when outside these camps hardly any Jews remained in Germany.

Another related topic concerns organizations that have been established to provide support for second-generation Holocaust survivors. An example is the Sons and Daughters of Jewish Deportees established by French lawyer Serge Klarsfeld.6 Comparable organizations exist in several other countries. Yet is what Elie Wiesel said about the second generation true – that by listening to witnesses one becomes a witness?7 And if so, are some memories of child survivors what they lived through or what they heard?

The grandchildren of Holocaust survivors have also become a subject of study. In some cases traumas remain in the third generation. Others see themselves as those who must carry on the memory of the Holocaust.8 Another topic of study is how survivors’ experiences in the diaspora differ from those in Israel. The patterns of postwar migration of survivors differ from those of general Jewish migration.9 In much of the analysis of the survivor complex, psychology plays an important role.

The Holocaust Influenced the Lives of Survivors

Holocaust survivors have become a developing field of research. In this century a series of five conferences on the subject of survivors have been held in the United Kingdom.10

The Holocaust greatly influenced the postwar lives of survivors in many ways. From my family background I can add yet another post-Holocaust issue. While hiding during the war, my late father made a vow that if he survived the German occupation he would devote the remainder of his active life to the Jewish community. After the war he headed the Amsterdam Jewish community’s Department of Social Work.

To do this effectively my father had to invent solutions that did not exist elsewhere in Dutch society. The Netherlands is a country in which over 70 percent of the Jews were murdered. He realized that loneliness was a crucial characteristic of the many elderly survivors who had lost all or almost all of their family members. This led him to create clubs where survivors could meet, participate in activities, and establish social contacts.

He also organized group tourism including international travel for people who could not have traveled alone. Such activities served a specific need of Jewish survivors that was very different from those of most people in Dutch society at large. Financial assistance was arranged for those who did not have the money for such travel.11

Beyond Academic Research

Post-Holocaust studies should not be limited to academia. Many personal memories have been published that deal not only with the Holocaust experience of survivors, but also with how the Holocaust influenced their life after the war.

The impact of some survivors on society was also very different than it would have been without their wartime past. For example, what impact would Elie Wiesel have made on the world if he had not drawn very specific conclusions from his Holocaust experience? The same is true for Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal or for American congressman Tom Lantos.12

Yet the reverse is also true. The last head of the Jewish Council in the Theresienstadt ghetto was Rabbi Benjamin Murmelstein. He emerges from Claude Lanzmann’s film, The Last of the Unjust, as a man of great potential.13 Had there not been a war and had he not been seen as a Nazi collaborator by many survivors, he might have gone far in the Jewish world.14 Similarly, without the impact of the war nobody would have thought of murdering Hungarian Jewish leader Rudolf Israel Kastner.

The Shoah and what preceded it has influenced millions of others. In the postwar Dutch Jewish community I grew up in, Zionism and the desire to leave the Netherlands became far more pronounced than it had been before the war. What would my life have been had my parents not had to leave Vienna in1938 after the Anschluss and had we not gone into hiding in Amsterdam during the latter part of the war?

One conclusion I have drawn from that period is: the one treasure you can surely keep as long as you are conscious is the knowledge in your head.

Postwar Migration and the Reestablishment of Jewish Communities

After the Holocaust major migrations of Jewish survivors took place. Almost all Jews who survived the camps left Germany. Many Jews who had fled from Poland to Asian Russia returned to their native country. However, many of them and other Polish Jews fled the country after the 1946 Kielce pogrom. In another important migration movement, many people tried to reach Palestine. A little-known issue is that Swiss authorities made a major effort to force foreign Jews who had found refuge in their country during the war to leave after the war.15

In 2014 Françoise Ouzan and I edited a book titled Postwar Jewish Displacement and Rebirth 1945-1967.16 It discusses various migration patterns and phenomena that occurred after the war. It also explores a second subject within post-Holocaust studies: the reestablishment of Jewish communities after the war.

My article in that book deals with the reestablishment of the postwar Jewish community of the Netherlands. As mentioned, more than 70 percent of the 140,000 Jewish citizens of the Netherlands were murdered. Due to a greatly reduced population, the Jewish institutions now had to centralize many tasks that would have been handled by a much larger number of people and organizations before the war.

Another relevant book among many on the reestablishment of Jewish communities is Alex Grobman’s Rekindling the Flame: American Jewish Chaplains and the Survivors of European Jewry, 1944-1948.17

Memory and Memorializing

Another complex topic that has elements of both Holocaust and post-Holocaust studies is the use and abuse of memory. The subject of memory concerns what happened during the Holocaust. Analyzing that history belongs to Holocaust studies. The books people have written about their Holocaust memories, such as Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz,18 belong to both Holocaust and post-Holocaust issues.

How what happened is remembered and memorialized is a post-Holocaust issue. On the 2017 International Holocaust Remembrance Day, U.S. President Donald Trump said, “It is with a heavy heart and somber mind that we remember and honor the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust.” He made no mention whatsoever of the Jewish people.19 In 2016 newly elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also issued a statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day that left out any mention of Jews. He corrected the omission later.20

Sergio Minerbi has pointed out that when Pope John Paul II visited Auschwitz in 1979, he called it “the Golgotha of the modern world,” an extremely ambiguous– or more accurately, distorting– comparison. The pope also spoke of “six million Poles who lost their lives during the war.”21Three million of these were Jews who should have been mentioned separately as they were a German extermination target in a way that gentile Poles were not.


Holocaust Monuments

Holocaust monuments were initially often placed within Jewish environments – synagogues, institutions, and cemeteries. The study of this phenomenon is a post-Holocaust issue. So is the Communist approach of not singling out Jews as specific victims of World War II. The nature of memorial ceremonies is another post-Holocaust subject. Here an important question is: what do Jews memorialize and what does society at large memorialize?

The emergence of the German right-wing party AfD has led to a debate on whether Germany should continue to give attention to its wartime guilt. At the beginning of 2017 Bjorn Hoecke, the AfD leader in the federal state of Thuringia, said Germans were the “only people in the world who planted a memorial of disgrace in the heart of their capital.”22 He was referring to the stone-slabs memorial in Berlin. It opened in 2005 and commemorates the six million Jews of Europe murdered by Germans and their collaborators. The AfD in the federal state of Baden-Württemberg wanted to stop the state’s subsidy for the French memorial site of the Gurs internment camp, to which the Jews of Baden-Württemberg were initially deported.23 In 1998 author Martin Walser had already distanced himself from the Holocaust remembrance culture in a much publicized lecture in St. Paul’s Church in Frankfurt. In 2015, however, he expressed his regret about doing so.24

When Communist governments ruled in Eastern Europe, they did not allow special monuments for Jews in the public domain. They considered that there should be no differentiation between those killed, even though only Jews were specifically targeted for extermination. Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center notes that in Lithuania, local officials opposed the inclusion of the phrase “and their local accomplices” on a memorial monument at Ponar (Paneriai), the site of the mass murder of the Jews of Vilnius. Instead it attributed the killings only to the Nazis and ignored their Lithuanian helpers.25

In the Netherlands the situation has been awkward in a different way. The first Holocaust-related monument in Amsterdam reflected the distorted attitude of Dutch society in those years. This monument, established in 1950, recognized the gentiles who had helped Jews during the war. The surviving Jews had apparently been told by the authorities that it would be desirable to erect such a monument.26

Even worse: the Amsterdam authorities opposed the establishment of a monument for the murdered Jews in the main square of the destroyed Jewish Quarter.27 This monument would have been dedicated to the majority of the Dutch Jews, who had been murdered with direct Dutch assistance in arresting, transporting, and guarding them.

To add insult to injury, a monument called the “Dockworker” was erected in that square in 1952, in memory of the two-day solidarity strike with the persecuted Jews by the Amsterdam population in February 1941. After those two days, almost all strikers left the Jews to their fate. When the “Dockworker” was put up, M.H. Gans, then editor of the Dutch Jewish weekly NIW, wrote: “It is like a monument to anti-aircraft defense on the grave of those who were killed by the bombardment.”28

In 2017, more than seventy years after the war, it is planned to erect a monument in Amsterdam with the names of the 102,000 Dutch Jews and other citizens murdered in the Holocaust.29 In many Dutch towns whose Jews were killed, Holocaust monuments have finally gone up in recent years, and some additional ones are planned. 

An important private initiative that has developed into an international Holocaust memorial project is that of the “stumbling blocks” (Stolpersteine). It was developed by the German sculptor Gunter Demnig. The project consists of brass-covered stones placed in pavements in front of buildings where people who were murdered by the Nazis had lived. Most of these are in memory of Jews, but there are “stumbling blocks” for others as well. Many thousands have been installed in Germany and the project has now been expanded to include other countries as well. The text on a typical brass-covered stone includes the name of the person remembered, his/her birthdate and, if known, the date of death.

Memorial Days

Although less permanent and tangible, memorial days and ceremonies have also been a point of contention, and often used as occasions to make political statements. Under Muslim influence, the local council of the British town of Bolton did not hold Holocaust Memorial Day in 2007, and replaced it with a Genocide Memorial Day.30 The following year they marked both.

One might call memorializing Kristallnacht “pre-Holocaust memorialization.” These ceremonies have frequently been occasions for distortions. In 2010 Frankfurt’s then Christian Democrat mayor, Petra Roth, invited Holocaust survivor Alfred Grosser to deliver a dubious Kristallnacht speech in St. Paul’s Church. This German-born French Jewish intellectual is a notorious anti-Israel hate-monger and has maintained that Israel’s policies are the reason for anti-Semitism.31

In Helsingborg, Sweden, the Jewish community refused to participate in the 2012 Kristallnacht memorial ceremony. The local paper Helsingborgs Dagblad noted that the community’s leader, Jussi Tyger, said the memorial had been organized by left-wing parties and Muslims, who are known to be the most racist toward Jews.32 It may well be that Kristallnacht ceremonies lend themselves better to distortion than the Holocaust at large because they concern an event that took place within a single day.

The revival of neo-Nazism in various countries and of the Ustasha in Croatia are post-Holocaust phenomena that should be investigated in the framework of post-Holocaust studies. This revival has no place in Holocaust studies because the underlying trends take place in post-Holocaust society even if they are clearly linked to what happened during World War II.

Abuse of Holocaust Memory

In this context another complex issue is the abuse of Holocaust memory. This subject is the focus of my book The Abuse of Holocaust Memory: Distortions and Responses.33 The phenomenon of Holocaust denial must have a place in post-Holocaust studies, along with other distortions of the Holocaust.

Deborah Lipstadt’s book Denying the Holocaust34 became well-known when denier David Irving took her and her publisher to court in London. The court ruled against Irving. Lipstadt wrote another book about the trial, History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier.35 The 2106 movie Denial deals with the trial.

Many believe that denial is the main issue of Holocaust distortion. Yet Holocaust inversion – the claim that Israel is a Nazi state – is far worse. Variants of inversion are that Israel is carrying out a Holocaust-like genocide of the Palestinians or that Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians. At least 150 million citizens of the European Union agreed with the absurd claim that Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians.36

The abuse of the Holocaust manifests itself in many ways. Holocaust equivalence is a growing distortion. By googling one finds comparisons of former U.S President Barack Obama to Hitler.37 Donald Trump had only been in office as president a few days when the mayor of Madrid compared him to Hitler.38 Such comparisons were already made during the election campaign.39

Universalization is another mode of Holocaust distortion. One well-known aspect is the dejudaization of Anne Frank and minimizing of the fact that she was persecuted because she was Jewish.

Yet another distortion is Holocaust trivialization as in terminology such as “abortion Holocaust” and “animal Holocaust.” Such expressions reflect the fact that the Holocaust has become the symbol of absolute evil in society. Using terms such as “holocaust” or “Hitler” has become a way to attract attention.

In Israel the Holocaust emerges frequently in the public discourse. This occurs also in connection with political issues. Sometimes it constitutes abuse. The comparisons of Israel’s late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to Hitler are a well-known example.40


Words and expressions relating to the Holocaust have entered everyday language. Besides the word Holocaust itself, “Never again” is an example. A common expression from hate songs over many years on the Dutch soccer fields is “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas.”


Some aspects often included in Holocaust studies largely concern the present and the future. Holocaust education is an example of a discipline that encompasses both Holocaust and post-Holocaust studies. While such education draws material from the Holocaust, it is used in the post-Holocaust era with the aim of guiding people toward the future. 

For instance, two British Christian brothers, Stephen D. and James Smith, founded the Beth Shalom Holocaust Centre near Nottingham, which opened in 1995. Although it is a museum, its main focus is on extended educational meetings as well as group training.41


The multidisciplinary issue of postwar restitution is yet another example of a complex subject belonging to post-Holocaust studies. It involves two stages, postwar restitution and the second round of restitution at the end of the 20th century. Whereas an analysis of assets owned by Jews before the Holocaust belongs to Holocaust studies, restitution itself is a post-Holocaust subject. Sidney Zabludoff has calculated that “less than 20 percent of the value of Jewish assets stolen by the Nazis and their collaborators has been restored.”42 Many benefited from the stolen property.

Within the broader field of restitution, subfields have developed. One is restitution of art. The return of works of art is still regularly reported in the media.43 Problems regarding insurance claims are another specific issue outside the mainstream one.44

Parts of the restitution story have already been a subject of historical analysis. Ronald Zweig, for instance, wrote a history of the Claims Conference titled German Reparations and the Jewish World.45 Stuart Eizenstat’s Imperfect Justice provides an overview of the second round of restitution.46 My book Judging the Netherlands deals with the second round of restitution in the Netherlands.47

There are many legal issues concerning restitution. Furthermore, there can hardly be a major debate on restitution without evoking the issue of guilt. Sometimes a paradox occurs: the guilty feel innocent and the innocent feel responsible. Restitution also provides an incentive for debating the topic of apologies.

Between Holocaust and Post-Holocaust Studies

Some issues are both part of Holocaust studies and post-Holocaust studies. The Historikerstreit was a German intellectual and political controversy in the late 1980s about how best to remember the Nazi era in Germany.48 It belongs to Holocaust studies, but it equally belongs to post-Holocaust studies because the controversy itself became a much-discussed event in the postwar history of Germany.

The same is true of the debate about Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s bestselling book Hitler’s Willing Executioners.49 In it Goldhagen maintained that a century before Hitler’s rise to power German anti-Semitism had been more virulent (“eliminationist”) than that of other European countries.50

A 1995 German exhibition about the role of the German army, the Wehrmacht, in the mass murders of Jews belongs to Holocaust issues. The huge protest against the exhibition, and the debate about its remake – after mistakes were discovered – are post-Holocaust events and should be studied in that context.51

Eichmann’s actions during the war are part of Holocaust studies. How Eichmann was captured in Buenos Aires is a post-Holocaust issue. The story is told in Isser Harel’s The House on Garibaldi Street.52 Similarly the way in which the trial was structured and conducted is a post-Holocaust issue. The debate about Hannah Arendt’s book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil can be considered partly a post-Holocaust issue.53

Historian Jan Grosz has accused Poles of substantial involvement in the Holocaust. If the Polish authorities bring him before a court, the discussion about the facts he will present will concern the Holocaust. But the debate about a possible proceeding against Grosz is part of post-Holocaust issues.54

Examples of Disciplines

As so many books and studies on post-Holocaust issues exist, I can only briefly enumerate some disciplines whose specific post-Holocaust aspects should be incorporated into post-Holocaust studies. For each of them I will mention one or more books as examples. In this way I aim to show that there is a convincing case for developing the discipline of post-Holocaust studies. I will also show that there is already a great deal of material that should be included.

Legal Issues

The Holocaust has had a great impact on international law. The Nuremberg processes are essential to this impact, but there are many more aspects. Michael Bazyler and Frank Tuerkheimer point this out in a book titled Forgotten Trials of the Holocaust.55

As previously stated, the process of capturing, bringing to due process, and sentencing Adolf Eichmann has had a profound impact on Israeli society and Jews in general. It also led to debates in the world at large. Another legal issue is the political justice that was implemented in the months immediately after the liberation of some of the formerly occupied countries.

In order to prosecute war criminals one first has to identify and find them. The name of Simon Wiesenthal is intimately connected with these searches.56 So is the name of Efraim Zuroff.57

The many legal aspects related to the Holocaust cannot be listed here. One is the battle over the custody of hidden Jewish children who lost their parents during the war. This became a major issue in several countries.

Philosophy of the Holocaust

Emil Fackenheim was the leading philosopher of the Holocaust. An important work he is known for is To Mend the World.58 His 614th commandment was “to survive as Jews, lest the Jewish people perish.” French philosopher and sociologist of religion Shmuel Trigano analyzes in detail how the duty to remember in France has led to a distorted perception of Jews in French society.59

Theological Issues

Theological issues play a major role in post-Holocaust studies. The Catholic Church radically changed its position on the Jews’ guilt for the death of Jesus. The declaration – Nostra Aetate – was initiated by Pope John XXII and brought to completion by Pope Paul VI in 1965.60 The title translates as “in our time” and announces a new theological approach to Jews and Judaism by Roman Catholicism. Various popes have spoken very differently about Jews in the last fifty years than their prewar predecessors did.

Pope Francis, for instance, has declared that “since the Second Vatican Council we have rediscovered that the Jewish People are still for us the holy roots that produced Jesus.” He also wrote that “God never abandoned his covenant with Israel, and notwithstanding their terrible suffering over the centuries, the Jewish People have kept their faith. For this, we will never be sufficiently grateful to them as a Church, but also as human beings.”61

Another topic that encompasses both Holocaust and post-Holocaust studies is the possible declaration of holiness of Pope Pius XII. At issue is his behavior during the war and the subsequent debate on whether he is fit to be declared a saint as have the two popes who have transformed teachings about the Jews, John XXIII and John Paul II. This issue concerns not only Catholics but Jews as well.62

A major book on the Holocaust’s impact on Christian theology was written by the Dutch scholar Hans Jansen. Unfortunately this book, whose title translates as Theology after Auschwitz, is only available in Dutch.63

Jews have also searched for theological explanations, asking how the Holocaust could have happened or how God could have let it happen. Some Jewish thinkers have sought the answers in the Jewish tradition’s attitude to suffering. Biblical models have also been adduced.64 Eliezer Berkovits was one of those who discussed Jewish faith after the Holocaust.65 Richard Rubenstein’s After Auschwitz sparked much controversy.66

There are other religious issues, such as the conversion to Christianity of Jews hidden by Christians during the war. One very well-known example is Rome’s former Chief Rabbi Israel Zolli. Yet another topic is the postwar return to Jewish life of people whose Jewishness was suppressed during the Holocaust, or the loss to the Jewish people of people who decided to conceal their Jewish identity from others and sometimes even from their family.

Ethical Issues

The Holocaust raises many ethical questions and issues. How does one convert a thoroughly criminal, dictatorial state such as Germany into a democratic one? Many people had been members of Nazi parties or helped the Nazis. It was impossible to rebuild democratic Germany and exclude in the process all those who had been Nazi members or collaborators.

Israeli psychologist Nathan Durst commented about Jewish restitution demands from Germany:

Survivors were frequently subjected to humiliating interrogations in which German doctors with a Nazi background investigated them. In the 1950s West Germany was trying to rebuild itself. To do this, it needed a professionally staffed medical and judicial system. The doctors who were old enough to assume responsible positions had been Nazis, either willingly or for professional reasons. Since there was no one else suitable for such positions in postwar Germany, key positions in the medical and judicial systems were routinely filled with ex-Nazis.67

How did a Nazi doctor or judge react to a Jew complaining of a dysfunction resulting from the Nazi past? By admitting such a claim, the investigator accused himself. How could one live with that? To escape this psychological bind, the former Nazis made it extremely difficult for the victims to prove that the cause of their complaint originated from their Holocaust experiences. For the survivor, the person who decided whether to give him money was identified with the ones who had hurt him. This was extremely painful.68

The problem did not only concern medical doctors. Many high-ranking postwar German politicians and officials had Nazi or, at least, suspicious pasts. One of these was one of Adenauer’s closest collaborators, Hans Globke. He was under-secretary of state and chief of staff of the German Chancellery in West Germany from 1953 to 1963.69

The Christian Democrat Georg Kiesinger became a member of the Nazi Party after Hitler came to power in 1933.70 He served as West Germany’s chancellor from 1966 to 1969. Walter Scheel, West Germany’s president from 1974 to 1979, had been a member of the Nazi Party. So was his successor as president from 1979 to 1984, Karl Carstens.71 In 1957 77 percent of the senior officials of the Ministry of Justice were former Nazi Party members.72 It was far easier for such former party members to make a career in the postwar Foreign Ministry than for those who had opposed the Nazis or been dismissed by them.73

In Austria Socialist Chancellor Bruno Kreisky, who was Jewish, appointed ex-Nazis as ministers in his government.74 When former UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim, who had not been a Nazi but had obfuscated parts of his wartime past, became Austria’s president, it led to an international scandal.75

Another area of post-Holocaust study is the analysis of Nazi ethics, which led to the Holocaust, and the implications for postwar societies. This is one of the topics dealt with in Peter Haas’ book Morality after Auschwitz.76

One key issue to research is the ethics of obedience. Many Nazi criminals claimed that they were only following orders.77 What indeed makes people willing to obey highly unethical orders from their superiors?78


Political Issues

There are many political issues concerning the Holocaust. One of them is: do governments acknowledge or even apologize for the role of their predecessors in the Holocaust?

Why is it that the government of the Netherlands has never acknowledged the failures toward the Jews of the Dutch wartime government in exile in London, let alone apologized for them?79 The Netherlands is the only occupied West European country that has never told the truth about its wartime government’s neglect of the persecution of the Jews. Such lack of apologies usually goes hand in hand with distorting and whitewashing the past.

Some churches in European countries have apologized; others should. The Dutch Railways has apologized. The French railways has expressed regret for its wartime policies.80

When in 2003 a motion to boycott Israeli academics was presented at a Paris university philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy remarked, “The French university is the only major institution that has not repented its mistakes under the Vichy regime. In this context the boycott [of Israeli universities] by Paris 6 seems even more shameful.”81

Historical Issues

The books about the history of the Holocaust belong largely to Holocaust studies. Yet a book about the battle between German historians over Holocaust history– known as the Historikerstreit as noted earlier – belongs to post-Holocaust studies. So does the rewriting of history to whitewash the past of several countries.

Alvin Rosenfeld maintains that the nature of the publicity given the Holocaust in recent decades has led to its diminishment. His book The End of the Holocaust warns about the possible consequences in public consciousness.82

Medical and Psychological Issues

Certain illnesses appear more among Holocaust survivors than among other groups. It is now known that they have a “greater likelihood of osteoporosis, dental problems, impaired vision, and heart issues from prolonged malnutrition in childhood and early adulthood.”83

Studying and describing the postwar psychological traumas and medical problems of survivors resulting from the Holocaust is a post-Holocaust issue.84So are psychological studies on obedience such as the well-known experiment by Stanley Milgram. At Yale University beginning in 1961, he tested how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person because he was ordered to do so by an experimental scientist.85

Victor Frankl – on the basis of his stay in the Theresienstadt and Auschwitz concentration camps – wrote a book about psychological healing that has become famous under its English title Man’s Search for Meaning.86

The Jewish experience can influence the care for today’s survivors of genocides and “ethnic cleansings.” For example, Rwandan Tutsi survivors exchanged their experiences with Holocaust survivors and learned how to cope with trauma and how to set up museums, workshops, and so on.

Organizations that deal with psychological and social problems of Holocaust survivors, such as Amcha in Israel, have now existed long enough to become subjects of study in themselves.87

Sociological Issues

The domain of sociological research includes books about postwar issues and achievements of survivors. Chana Jablonka wrote a book about Holocaust survivors in Israel whose Hebrew title translates as Alien Brothers: Holocaust Survivors in Israel 1948-1952.88

Holocaust-related postwar anti-Semitism should be included in post-Holocaust studies as well. As noted, the fact that the Holocaust occurred has led to new mutations of anti-Semitism that go far beyond Holocaust denial. An additional accusation is that Jews exploit the Holocaust. Furthermore, as a result of the Holocaust, industrial extermination camps have not only become part of Western history but have influenced its civilization.

Zygmunt Bauman pointed to sociologists’ minimal interest in the Holocaust: “When measured against the work done by historians or theologians, the bulk of academic sociology looks more like a collective exercise in forgetting and eye-closing.”89 If post-Holocaust studies had been a separate discipline, this lack of interest among sociologists would probably have received much wider attention. Among other things, Bauman’s book Modernity and the Holocaust analyzes what the fact that the Holocaust was possible tells us about European civilization.90

Bauman was not only an important sociologist but a Holocaust distorter as well. He compared the West Bank security fence to the walls of the Warsaw Ghetto.91

Social Issues

Social issues also come into play in post-Holocaust studies. For instance, survivors who were hospitalized or ill required not only medical attention but social attention as well. Various welfare agencies have focused on providing social work services to Holocaust survivors.


Holocaust literature is a fertile field. Many novels have been written about the Holocaust – for instance, Elie Wiesel’s trilogy, which includes the memoir Night and two novels, Dawn and Day.92

In France, Andre Schwarz-Bart’s novel The Last of the Just received much attention.93 Poems have also been written on the Holocaust. One of the most famous is Paul Celan’s “Todesfuge,” which is remembered for its famous words, “Death is a master from Germany.”94

Memoirs on the Holocaust include, for instance, Daniel Mendelsohn’s The Lost, which is also partly a reportage.95 Works that analyze post-war literature related to the Holocaust are also included in post-Holocaust studies. One example is Elrud Ibsch’s book about German and Dutch novelists’ works on the Shoah, Die Shoah Erzählt.96


Films have played an important role in bringing awareness of the Shoah to mass audiences.97 A notable one was the American miniseries Holocaust in 1978.98 Important films include both works of fiction such as Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List99 and documentaries such as Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah.100


An important topic concerns the architecture of monuments. A standard work is James Young’s The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning.101 The author investigates how various nations remember the Holocaust and how memorials fit architectural discourse.

Another issue is the architecture of Holocaust museums, including how they are structured and how they market themselves. Are there specific ways in which architecture can express that a building is related to the Holocaust? This appears to be true for some of the structures at the Yad Vashem site, for the Berlin Holocaust Museum, and others. Eran Neuman discusses this topic in his book Shoah Presence: Architectural Representations of the Holocaust.102

Felix Nussbaum, one of the painters murdered in the Holocaust, is memorialized by a museum in his name, the Felix Nussbaum House in Osnabruck, Germany.103 It was designed by the architect Daniel Libeskind.

Many of the paintings of the Vilna-born painter and Holocaust survivor Samuel Bak are related to the Holocaust.104 He immigrated to Israel after the war and now lives in the United States.

There are additional disciplines where aspects emerge that might be included in post-Holocaust studies. One is epigenetics, in which it is sometimes claimed that Holocaust traumas can be passed on genetically to the next generation.105 In recent years archaeological excavations are being conducted at some concentration or extermination camps. In 2014 a group of archaeologists dug up the gas chambers at Sobibor.106

Can the Holocaust Recur?

The Holocaust is not the only genocide of the last century; Those in Cambodia and Rwanda are others. Yet the fact that the Holocaust happened and could happen in supposedly civilized Europe, its technological aspects as a modern phenomenon, that it was planned to annihilate all Jews, as well as several other aspects make it unique. At the same time, we must realize that we still do not know how it could happen, whether it can happen again, and what it tells us about contemporary civilization. 

It is often assumed that the long-lasting anti-Semitic infrastructure from which the Germans and their allies built the Holocaust is well evident: many centuries of demonization of the Jews had created an atmosphere in Europe that made it possible for the Nazis to commit genocide against the Jews.

Over the course of centuries, Christianity systematically demonized the Jews. It began in Roman Catholic theology. After the Reformation, part of the Protestant world, Martin Luther and his followers in particular, also promoted extreme anti-Semitic hatred. The late Robert Wistrich, the leading academic historian of anti-Semitism of our generation, described the history of demonization of the Jews after Christianity lost its intellectual monopoly in European society. A major role was first played by Voltaire and other French Enlightenment philosophers. They were followed by German idealist and other philosophers as well as 19th– century French socialists and Karl Marx. Many others joined the hate-promotion fest in the late 19thand early 20thcenturies.107 Even after the Holocaust, Europe’s premier philosopher remained the German anti-Semite and former Nazi Party member Martin Heidegger.108

Full explanations of how the Holocaust could happen are however less simple. In 2015 Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby remarked that anti-Semitism is a complex and difficult subject, adding that it is still deeply embedded “in our history and culture in Western Europe.”109 Bauman maintains that there is an additional, far more opaque infrastructure for the Holocaust. In Modernity and the Holocaust he links this genocide to structural elements of modern society. He notes that the Holocaust was a product of men educated in the most refined culture of Western society. It was thus a product of Western civilization. In Bauman’s view the chances for a similar event are still in place.110

The question of whether a Second Holocaust is possible was the subject of a debate in 2002. American journalist and author Ron Rosenbaum claimed it was likely that sooner or later a nuclear weapon would be detonated by Arab fundamentalists in Tel Aviv.111 The American writer and critic Leon Wieseltier responded that the Jews had found both safety and strength after the war and Hitler was dead.112 Rosenbaum countered by claiming Wieseltier was fleeing into denial as there were many Hitler-like examples of demonization of the Jews in the Arab world.113

All this raises the question of what the Holocaust means for today. The above-noted views lead more to perplexities than to conclusions. In contemporary society there are many demonizers of Jews and in particular of Israel.114 This is a multilayered process. At the forefront are forces from the Muslim world. First are the Iranian rulers, who have often declared that Israel will be wiped off the map.115 Others include Muslim terror organizations such as Hamas and Hizbullah as well as many individuals. Their de facto allies include a broad range of demonizers of Israel who knowingly ignore genocidal and demonizing tendencies in the Arab world. Some examples of these are the United Nations and associated bodies, a number of NGOs, various European socialist parties, numerous pseudo-progressive academics, quite a few trade unionists, and so on. 

My Activities

Over the years I have made various efforts to begin putting post-Holocaust studies on the map. Mentioning some of those efforts here illustrates how difficult it is to draw sustained attention to this issue. I helped organize what I believe was the first specific conference on post-Holocaust studies ever, titled “Delegitimization and Moral Compensation: The Holocaust and Today.” It took place at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) in November 2001. From this conference came the idea for my subsequent book Europe’s Crumbling Myths: The Post-Holocaust Origins of Today’s Anti-Semitism.116

I have also spoken at conferences that dealt with specific aspects of the Holocaust’s impact on postwar society. One example was a conference at Yad Vashem that was entirely devoted to the new restitution issues at the end of the 20th century.

A second effort I undertook was the publication of a substantial series of essays and interviews called “Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism” at the JCPA. These concerned two different issues: post-Holocaust studies and anti-Semitism studies.


The Holocaust has had a great influence on post-Holocaust society. Yet without a defined area of study that influence dissipates within Holocaust studies, hindering our further understanding of the post-Holocaust impact of the Holocaust. Holocaust studies are dominated by mass-murders, victims, perpetrators, and bystanders. In this bloody overall scene, the multiple aspects of post-Holocaust studies can never emerge distinctly.

The next step in post-Holocaust studies should be the launching of an inventory of articles and books in each of the abovementioned disciplines. Only after post-Holocaust studies is established as a professional field at a number of universities will the interaction between the various disciplines within it begin to appear. We will then see that there is a need for an encyclopedia of the post-Holocaust field as well.

I can only hope I have made it clear that post-Holocaust studies is a huge field of study that merits becoming a defined, formal area of study.

* * *


1 The author is most grateful to Michael Berenbaum, Johannes Houwink ten Cate, and Susanne Urban for their very valuable comments. Karen Wolberger’s assistance in the research for this article is appreciated.

2 Gerhard Reitlinger, The Final Solution: The Attempt to Exterminate the Jews of Europe, 1939-1945(Lanham, MD: Jason Aronson, 1977).

3 Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews (Teaneck, NJ: Holmes & Meier, 1985).








11 Isaac Lipschits, Rafael Gerstenfeld, [1900-1976] Een man van goede Daden (Zutphen: WalburgPers, 2004).

12David M. Herszenhorn, “Tom Lantos, 80, Is Dead; Longtime Congressman,” New York Times, February 12, 2008,

13 The Last of the Unjust. Dir. Claude Lanzmann. 2013. 



16 Françoise Ouzan and Manfred Gerstenfeld, Postwar Jewish Displacement and Rebirth 1945-1967 (Leiden: Brill, 2014).

17Alex Grobman, Rekindling the Flame: American Jewish Chaplains and the Survivors of European Jewry, 1944-1948 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1992).

18 Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz (New York: Orion Press, 1953).







25 Efraim Zuroff, “Eastern Europe: Anti-Semitism in the Wake of Holocaust-Related Issues,” Jewish Political Studies Review, Vol. 17, Nos. 1–2 (Spring 2005): 63–79.


27 Frank van Vree, In de Schaduw van Auschwitz, Herinneringen, beelden, geschiedenis (Groningen: HistorischeUitgeverij, 1995), 94.

28Mozes Heiman Gans, NIW, December 19, 1952, quoted in Martin Bossenbroek, De Meelstreep: Terugkeer en Opvang na de Tweede Wereldoorlog (Amsterdam: Bert Bakker, 2001), 342.


30Amanda Smith, “Town Marks Genocide Memorial Day,” Bolton News, July 15, 2007.


32 “Inget Judiskt Deltagandenär Kristallnattenska Uppmärksammas,” Helsingborgs Dagblad, November 7, 2012.

33 Manfred Gerstenfeld, The Abuse of Holocaust Memory: Distortions and Responses (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2009).

34 Deborah Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust (New York: Plume, 1994).

35 Deborah Lipstadt, History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier (New York: Harper Perennial, 2006).





41 Stephen D. Smith, Never Again, Yet Again (Jerusalem: Gefen, 2009).

42 Sidney Zabludoff, “Restitution of Holocaust-Era Assets: Promises and Reality,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2007,



45 Ronald W. Zweig, German Reparations and the Jewish World: A History of the Claims Conference (Oxford: Routledge, 2014).

46 Stuart Eizenstat, Imperfect Justice: Looted Assets, Slave Labor, and the Unfinished Business of World War II (New York: Public Affairs, 2004).

47 Manfred Gerstenfeld, Judging the Netherlands: The Renewed Holocaust Restitution Process (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2011).

48 James Knowlton and Truett Cates, Historikerstreit: The Dispute about the Germans’ Understanding of History (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1993).

49 Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (New York: Vintage, 1997).



52 Isser Harel, The House on Garibaldi Street: The First Full Account of the Capture of Adolf Eichmann (New York: Viking Adult, 1975).

53 Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (London: Penguin, 2006).

54 Ofer Aderet, “Historian May Face Charges in Poland for Writing That Poles Killed Jews in World War II,” Haaretz, October 30, 2016, ://

55Michael Bazyler and Frank Tuerkheimer, Forgotten Trials of the Holocaust (New York: New York University Press, 2015).

56 Ben Kingsley, The Murderers Among Us: The Simon Wiesenthal Story (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967).

57 Ephraim Zuroff, Occupation: Nazi-Hunter: The Continuing Search for the Perpetrators of the Holocaust (Jersey City, NJ: Ktav, 1994).

58 Emil Fackenheim, To Mend the World (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994).

59 Shmuel Trigano, Les Frontières d’Auschwitz (Paris: Librairie General Française, 2005).

60 Austin Flannery, Nostra Aetate: Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2014).


62 Robert Wistrich, “Reassessing Pope Pius XII’s Attitudes toward the Holocaust,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2009,

63 Hans Jansen, Christelijke theologie na Auschwitz (The Hague: Boekencentrum, 1985).


65 Eliezer Berkovits, Faith after the Holocaust (Jersey City, NJ: Ktav, 1973).

66 Richard Rubenstein, After Auschwitz: History, Theology, and Contemporary Judaism (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992).



69 Daniel E. Rogers, “Restoring a German Career, 1945-1950: The Ambiguity of Being Hans Globke,” Genocide Studies Review,







76 Peter Haas, Morality after Auschwitz: The Radical Challenge of the Nazi Ethic (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1988).





81 X.T., “Claude Lanzmann appelle au ‘boycott des boycotteurs,’” Le Monde, January 6, 2003.

82 Alvin Rosenfeld, The End of the Holocaust (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011).

83, 9-10.


86Victor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984). German original: (Vienna: Verlag für Jugend und Volk, 1946).


88אחיםזרים: ניצוליהשואהבישראל 1948–1952, הוצאתידיצחקבןצבי, 1994 ,חנהיבלונקה


90 Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001).


92 Elie Wiesel, Night (London: MacGibbon&Kee) Dawn, (originally published in French by Les Editions du Seuil, Paris 1961) or

93 Andre Schwarz-Bart, The Last of the Just (New York: Overlook Press, 2000).

94 Paul Celan, “Todesfugue.” Translated into English as “Death Fugue,” 1948.

95 Daniel Mendelsohn, The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million (New York: Harper Perennial, reissue edition 2013).

96Elrud Ibsch, Die Shoah Erzählt (Berlin: Max Niemeyer, 2004).


98 Holocaust. Dir. Marvin J. Chomsky. 1978.

99 Schindler’s List. Dir. Steven Spielberg. 1993.

100 Shoah. Dir. Claude Lanzmann. 1985.

101 James Young, The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993).

102 Eran Neuman, Shoah Presence: Architectural Representations of the Holocaust  (Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2014),








110 Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989), 84ff.

111 Ron Rosenbaum, “’Second Holocaust,’ Roth’s Invention, Isn’t Novelistic,” New York Observer, April 14, 2002.

112 Leon Wieseltier, “Against the Ethnic Panic of American Jews: Hitler Is Dead,” The New Republic, May 27, 2002,

113 Ron Rosenbaum, “Can Wieseltier, D.C.’s Big Mullah, Have It Both Ways?” New York Observer,  June 10, 2002,



116 Manfred Gerstenfeld, Europe’s Crumbling Myths: The Post-Holocaust Origins of Today’s Anti-Semitism (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2003).