Dealing with Jewish Refugees during World War II: Conflicts and Cooperation - 14.-15.11.2018

International Workshop

Refugee Camp Varambé (Geneva), 1942

In her 1943 published essay «We Refugees» Hannah Arendt pointed to the different notions of the term «refugee» and that Jews did not necessarily consider themselves as such. From an inner-Jewish perception, she suggested different terms like «newcomers» or «immigrants». Other actors such as public authorities and (Jewish) relief organisations adopted one or the other notion according to their agendas. The Swiss Federal Department of Justice and Police, for example, deliberately referred to them until 1944 as «immigrants» avoiding the term «political refugees» and thus being able to send them back to the places they had come from. At the same time, Jewish relief organisations, whose goal was to rescue Jews, worked with terms such as «Halutzim» (pioneers), «immigrants», «migrants» or «refugees» – depending on the organisation’s tasks, their Jewish applicants and the moment. All these organisations not only talked about refugees but dealt with them and faced multiple challenges: In the Swiss case, the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities had to adopt the official Swiss policy which meant that «immigrants» as referred to in the previous paragraph could only stay for a short time – if at all. Otherwise, the communities felt responsible for their co-religionists and therefore organised their emigration or took care of those who stayed in the country. In doing so, they cooperated both with state officials, and (Jewish) relief organisations on a global scale. Such national and international relief organisations, however, did not act out of pure altruism. Rather, they had to make concessions, accept limitations and suffered conflicts. In short, they sometimes cooperated and sometimes were in competition with each other. In 1940, the Swiss government accepted its responsibility and established camps to provide the refugees with food, shelter and the possibility for religious practice. For the government, this was also an instrument to keep the refugees under control. The Association of Swiss Jewish Refugee Aid and Welfare Organisations approved this policy and thereby reduced its own financial burden. Providing many refugees with all the goods needed, preserving a system of camps and allowing a Jewish life in refugee camps were the challenges the Swiss government faced together with the Swiss Jewish communities.

During this workshop we would like to pay special attention to the different local, national and transnational actors who dealt with Jewish refugees during World War II. Besides Switzerland as one country where questions of relief were discussed, the geographical focus of this workshop will be open. In addition to existing research on Jewish refugee’s experiences we wish to add new perspectives on the topic of Jewish flight and exile in order to encourage a more profound discussion of the relevant discourses and dynamics. Therefore, we want to address the following themes and key questions:

• Dealing with Jewish refugees in general: Who defined their needs and interests? How were those met? Who was responsible for the well-being of Jewish refugees and how were they treated?

• Refugee camps as temporary solutions and places of transit: How were they experienced by the refugees and viewed by the government and the relief organisations?

• Relief organisations, Jewish and otherwise, (such as JDC, HIAS-HICEM, Jewish Agency/Palestine Office, International Red Cross etc.): Which organisation was relevant and in what context? What did the relationships between them look like? What were their agendas and ideologies? Who were the personnel who ran these organisations – what were their mindsets, what roles did they play and how did they define their scope of action?

We aim to bring together doctoral students and early career researchers working on the fields of Jewish history, the history of relief organisations/committees and (military/DP/«alien enemy») refugee camps as well as researchers of migration, refugee and exile studies to discuss and exchange their ideas and perspectives.

Organised by members of the Basel Graduate School of History: Barbara Häne, Sarah Hagmann, Catrina Langenegger, Olga Pollack

Supported by the "Basel Graduate School of History" (BGSH) and the "Freiwillige Akademische Gesellschaft Basel" (FAG)

When and where

Wednesday, 14 November 2018, 13:00-19:30

Thursday, 15 November 2018, 09:00-16:00

Venue: Regenzzimmer 111, Kollegienhaus - Petersplatz, Basel



a detailed program of the workshop can be found here!


Wednesday, 14.11.2018

13:00 - 13:30 Welcome and Introduction


13:30 - 15:30 Panel I: Individuals and International Organizations in Switzerland

Chair: Patrik Süess (Basel)

Barbara Häne (Basel): "The VSJF assisted these emigrants 100%, which (...) would not have been possible without the generous help of AJDC." - The relationship between the Association of Swiss Jewish Refugee Aid and Welfare Organisation (VSJF) and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC) during World War 2

Andrea Kirchner (Frankfurt/Jerusalem): Richard Lichtheim (Jewish Agency/Geneva) and the Jewish refugee problem

Anne Lepper (Berlin): "Fire extinguisher and a Jewish Red Cross" - Adolf Silberschein`s RELICO and the Jewish Relief and Rescue activities in Switzerland during the Shoah

Respondent: Prof. Dr. Erik Petry (Basel)


15:30 - 16:00 Coffee Break


16:00 - 18:00 Panel II: International Organizations between Asia and Europe

Chair: Olga Pollack (Basel)

Sarah Hagmann (Basel): "Then he can emigrate to the Far East at his own risk": Cooperation between the Far Eastern Jewish Central Information Bureau in Harbin and the Hilfsverein der deutschen Juden in Berlin, 1938-1939

Dr. Katharina Friedla (Jerusalem/Warsaw): Lithuania - Japan - Shanghai: Jewish Refugees Trajectories of Survival and Rescue during the Second World War

Amelia Allsop (London): "Shanghai`s problem is Hong Kong`s concern also": Baghdadi Jews and the Hong Kong Jewish Refugee Society, 1938-1940

Respondent: Dr. Gabriele Anderl (Vienna)


18:00 - 18:30 Coffee Break


18:30 - 19:30 Key Note Lecture

Dr. Marc Perrenoud (Neuchâtel): 1938, 1948. Two crucial moments for the Jewish Refugees and for Switzerland??


20:00 Workshop Dinner: For invited speakers, disscussants and chairs. Registration mandatory. Venue: Restaurant Za Zaa, Petersgraben 15, 4051 Basel


Thursday, 15.11.2018

09:00 - 10:30 Panel III: Arriving in New Countries

Chair: Rhea Rieben (Basel)

Dr. Joseph Cronin (London): "I do not trust her protestations of life-long admiration for the British": The rhetoric of visa application, affidavits and responses to Jews seeking refuge in colonial India, 1938-1941

Dr. Philipp Strobl (Innsbruck/Melbourne): From "Dago" to "Reffo" - Ambivalent Experiences of Encounter of Jewish refugees in Australia (1938-1942)

Respondent: Dr. Stefanie Mahrer (Basel)


10:30 - 11:00 Coffee Break


11:00 - 13:00 Panel IV: Camps

Chair: Lisa-Marie Zoller-Blundell (Basel)

Catrina Langenegger (Basel): "Housing in an Institution like this is in itself Humiliating for the Refugees." Reception Camps in Switzerland 1942-1945

Katrin Sippel (Vienna): Jewish Refugees in Portugal 1938-1945

Dr. András Szécsényi (Budapest): The Liberated Hungarian Deportees of Bergen-Belsen in Sweden (1945-1946)

Respondent: Dr. Simon Erlanger (Lucerne)


13:00 - 14:00 Lunch Break


14:00 - 15:30 Roundtable Discussion

Moderation: Dr. Stefanie Mahrer (Basel)

Dr. Gabriele Anderl (Vienna)

PD Dr. Susanne Heim (Berlin)

Dr. Christian Höschler (Bad Arolsen)

Dr. Simon Erlanger (Lucerne)

Dr. Marc Perrenoud (Neuchâtel)



All participants are invited to register no later than 15 October 2018 via this form.

PhD students of the University of Basel who would like to receive 1 credit point must register additionally via MOnA no later than 15 October 2018.


Barbara Häne <>

Sarah Hagmann <>

Catrina Langenegger <>

Olga Pollack <>