"This summer, I conducted a large-scale oral history project for Professor Omer Bartov’s upcoming publication, 'Remaking the Past: Israel, Palestine, a Personal Political History.' My research asked how German volunteers in Israel between 1960 and 1980 perceived the relationship of Israeli Jews and Palestinians to the place. How were the perspectives of the 13 German individuals I spoke with shaped by their identity as post-Holocaust Germans? And how did their experiences in Israel reshape their self-perception as second generation post-Holocaust Germans?
In essence, my work consisted of speaking to elderly people about transformative experiences in their younger years. While a three hour conversation can cover a lot of ground, the people I spoke to have taken lifetimes to reflect on the topic at hand – living in Israel in the early years of the state’s existence as German children of parents who each had violent entanglements with the Third Reich. Their stories shed light on the positionality of post-war children and post-Holocaust Christian Germans; the psychology and workings of guilt, atonement, expectations, bias, and personal ideological change, and generational effects on these; the relationship to ‘home’ and the perception of belonging, family, and friendship, and how these change across time and space; the personal experience of national and international politics; the experience of being an inside-outsider, one who finds themselves closely involved in the everyday of a foreign place; and the life of memory.
Their stories ranged from lonely to frustrated and from ebullient to disillusioned. Most of the people I spoke with have not often if ever been asked about their experiences many decades ago by someone born in the 21st century, making the project meaningful on multiple fronts, the scientific-historical and the personal.
Doing this research was truly a joy and an honor, and a profound lesson in the importance of taking the time to sit, talk, and listen."