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The Holocaust and Asia: Refugees, Memory, and Material Culture

Research Workshop

The Holocaust and Asia: Refugees, Memory, and Material Culture

Monday, March 28–Wednesday, April 6, 2022 The application deadline has passed.

The Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum invites applications for a research workshop entitled The Holocaust and Asia: Refugees, Memory, and Material Culture. The Mandel Center will co-convene this workshop with Kimberly Cheng, Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, New York University, and Ran Zwigenberg, Asian Studies, History and Jewish Studies,  Pennsylvania State University. The workshop will take place at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s David and Fela Shapell Family Collections, Conservation and Research Center. 

The workshop is scheduled for March 28–April 6, 2022. In the event that it is impossible to convene during those dates due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the workshop will be held in a hybrid format consisting of a series of short online sessions in advance of an in-person program convened at the Museum to be scheduled in the Summer of 2022.

In recent decades, the Holocaust has occupied an increasingly prominent place in Asian cultures of memory. Chinese intellectuals have called the Cultural Revolution their “Holocaust,” and both China and Japan have found and commemorated their own “Schindlers” (Ho Feng-Shan and Sugihara Chiune). Partition refugees in India/Pakistan have compared themselves to Jewish refugees, and memory activists across Asia have invoked Holocaust analogies in the region’s never-ending history wars. Yet the Holocaust’s impact on Asia was not just cultural. Many Asians witnessed the Holocaust firsthand, and tens of thousands of Jewish refugees fled through Asia. In Asia, these Jewish refugees appeared as poor white Europeans, challenging Asians’ conceptions both of the figure of the Jew and of the white man; both for Jews and Asians, their encounters with one another as racial others brought stark questions of identity, race, racism, gender, class, and colonial entanglements to the fore. Whether in the realm of exchange between refugees and local populations, or in mutual learning about the place of artifacts in commemoration, the circulation of material culture only served to deepen these divides.

Surveying the Holocaust-related myths and historical realities in Asia writ large (from China and Japan through Central Asia to Iran), this workshop explores Jewish and Asian involvement in the Holocaust and its memory. Our workshop examines the limits of the term “Holocaust” and its applicability across histories and cultures to account for the multifaceted ways the tragedy has reverberated beyond Europe. In doing so, we intend to delimit the existence of an Asian sub-field or an “Asian turn” within Holocaust studies.

To identify the main lines of inquiry of this burgeoning field, the workshop will consist of presentations and roundtable discussions led by participants along three thematic tracks: 1) the experiences of refugees, 2) Asian cultures of memory, and 3) material culture. Daily sessions will be led by participants, as well as discussions with Museum staff and research in the Museum’s collections. The workshop will be conducted in English.

Museum Resources

The Museum’s National Institute for Holocaust Documentation houses an unparalleled repository of Holocaust evidence that documents the fate of victims, survivors, rescuers, liberators, and others. The Museum’s resources include approximately 110 million pages of Holocaust-related archival documentation; library resources in over 60 languages; hundreds of thousands of oral history, film, photo, art, artifacts, and memoir collections; and the Holocaust Survivors and Victims Database, which contains about 11.5 million name records and over 44,000 list records. In addition, the Museum possesses the holdings of the International Tracing Service (ITS), which contains more than 200 million digitized pages with information on the fates of 17.5 million people who were subject to incarceration, forced labor, and displacement as a result of World War II. Many of these records have not been examined by scholars, offering unprecedented opportunities to advance the field of Holocaust and genocide studies.

The Museum’s Asia-related collections include:

Participants will have access to both the Museum’s downtown campus and the David and Fela Shapell Family Collections, Conservation and Research Center. To search the Museum’s collections, please visit the collections catalog.

For More Information

Direct questions to Krista Hegburg, PhD, Senior Program Officer, International Academic Programs Division, Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, at