My work examines the society in the camps, Jewish social and political elites, issues of nationalism and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, and also the Jewish Councils. In this context, I have been working on the last Elder of the Jews of Terezín, Benjamin Murmelstein.
What is everyday life, and what does it consist of? And in what ways is everyday life affected by the life in extremis? These questions animate my work. My book manuscript, The Last Ghetto: An Everyday History of Theresienstadt, which was awarded the Irma Rosenberg and Herbert Steiner Prizes, focused on the everyday history of the Holocaust, using the Terezín transit ghetto as a springboard to examine larger issues of human behavior under extreme stress. My work examines the society in the camps, Jewish social and political elites, issues of nationalism and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, queer history, and the Jewish Councils.
I am interested in how people in 20th century Central and Eastern Europe arranged their lives, both during the state of exception and after, transitioning to a new kind of everyday life. I am also interested in questions of how groups emerge and interact and what roles gender, ethnicity, and culture played in these processes. Whether I focus on the transnational kaleidoscope of Terezín or the Central European Communist mid-functionaries, I wish to connect critical analysis of long-term developments with close attention to details. It is my strong sense that when we look at everyday life against the grain, we find many examples that both complicate and enhance our understanding.
I have embarked on a larger project Boundaries of the Narratable: Transgressive Sexuality and the Holocaust. Why were certain stories connected to sexuality of the Holocaust victims, such as people who engaged in same sex conduct, never told? My work explores the intersection of sexuality and violence in the Holocaust, and the erasure of certain sexualities from what has become the Holocaust canon. I examine the narrative erasure of lesbians and gays who were deported as Jews, homophobia of the victim society, sex barter, Jewish functionaries often marked as sexually deviant, mothers who abandonded their children, and also Jewish informers. In examining cases of what I term “transgressive sexuality,” I contribute to our understanding of gender and sexual violence, consent, normative behavior during the Holocaust, and the politics of Holocaust archives. This work is explicitly political, and so I present my work in English, German, and Czech media. If you are looking for a good primer into sexuality and Holocaust, check out this blog entry at OUP. Here you can find a bibliography on the topic. Currently, I am writing a trade book on a concentration camp guard Anneliese Kohlmann, who engaged in a same sex relationship with a woman prisoner.
My other next project, Dreamers of a New Day: Building Socialism in Central Europe, 1930-1970, is a long-durée study of a cohort of leftist intellectuals who built socialism in Czechoslovakia, Poland, and (East) Germany. I follow their lives from their university studies to the point of their politicization; to the war, and to their postwar quest to build a better, just society. I trace them further through their work in the Stalinist 1950s and into the next decade, culminating in their contribution to the notion of socialism with a human face. I am interested in two central questions: first, what is ideology and second, how is it lived.
Herbert Steiner Prize, Irma Rosenberg Prize, Catharine Stimpson Prize for outstanding feminist scholarship