The Apartments of Jewish Tenants as Witnesses to the Holocaust: The Paris Case
with Sarah Gensburger, Isabelle Backouche, and Eric Le Bourhis

SEP
11
Conference
8–10 pm
Fridericianum, Friedrichsplatz 18, Kassel
Live stream available

Example of an administrative form (spring/summer 1944) that Parisian landlords and building owners were required to fill out detailing information on any Jewish tenants. This particular form contained details about a family that was deported to Auschwitz in May 1944. Courtesy: Archives de Paris

Auschwitz, Drancy camp near Paris, the Warsaw Ghetto: the history of Jewish persecution during the Second World War is inscribed in acknowledged locations including ghettos and extermination or transit camps. Highly symbolic, these sites only convey partial testimonies as to how such atrocities were possible. As with most genocides, the Holocaust is rooted in ordinary spaces—in cities and their streets.

In Paris, the apartments of Jewish tenants are, even today, the primary witnesses of the Holocaust. Most Parisian Jews were arrested in their homes. The common knowledge of their departure for extermination led to the looting of their personal belongings in these very same apartments. And their permanent disappearance enabled the occupation of their home by new, non-Jewish, tenants.

The conference will highlight in what way Parisian apartments bear the testimonies of the broken lives of their former Jewish inhabitants, their daily lives, and their relationship with non-Jewish neighbors.

The conference has been organized by the Rose Valland Institute, which was founded by Maria Eichhorn within the context of documenta 14 and is located in the Neue Galerie in Kassel from June 10–September 17, 2017.


Isabelle Backouche (b. 1959) is a director of studies at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences at the Center for Historical Studies (EHESS–CRH) in Paris. She is an alumna of the École normale supérieure and a professor (laureate) of history. For her dissertation, she researched the relationship between Paris and the Seine (La trace du fleuve: La Seine et Paris, 1750–1850 [Paris: EHESS, 2000 with a new edition in 2016]) and her post-doctoral thesis analyzed the transformation of the French inner cities with historical city centers in the second half of the twentieth century (Aménager la ville. Les centres urbains français entre conservation et rénovation de 1943 à nos jours [Paris: A. Colin, 2013]). Her work focuses on the history of cities, with a particular emphasis on the Paris region, and highlights the link between the city’s material changes and its shifting social composition. Her study of “Îlot 16” in the southern side of the Marais neighborhood articulates urban history and history of the Holocaust (Paris transformé: Le Marais 1900-1980: de l’îlot insalubre au secteur sauvegardé [Paris: Créaphis, 2016]). An analysis of the motivations behind this urban planning project under Vichy steered her toward the central question of housing during the occupation. Since 2014, she has engaged a broad empirical investigation on this subject with sociologist Sarah Gensburger and historian Eric Le Bourhis.

Sarah Gensburger (b. 1976) is a senior researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and a member of the Institute for Political Social Sciences at the Université Paris Nanterre. She is a sociologist of memory and a social historian of the Holocaust at the intersection of history, sociology, and political science. She has authored National Policy, Global Memory. The Commemoration of the “Righteous” from Jerusalem to Paris, 1942–2007 (New York: Berghahn Books, 2016) and Witnessing the Robbing of the Jews: A Photographic Album, Paris 1940–1944 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015), and is co-editor of Resisting Genocide: The Multiple Forms of Rescue (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011). She has curated several exhibitions and developed new forms of writing about memory.

Eric Le Bourhis (b. 1981) is a historian and author of a dissertation on the reconstruction of the city of Riga in the Soviet Union after 1945, which won a special prize for best dissertation from the French Society for Urban History in 2016. He is currently posted at the Institute for Political Social Sciences at the Université Paris-Saclay. He is an associate researcher with the Marc Bloch Center in Berlin and a postdoctoral fellow at the Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah in Paris. In 2016, he received fellowships from the Interdisciplinary Center for German Studies (CIERA, Paris) and the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure. He is currently conducting research on the spoliation of the Jews in Riga from 1941–1942 and participating in two collective research projects: on housing issues in Paris during German occupation, with Isabelle Backouche and Sarah Gensburger, and in Nazi War Crimes in the Courtroom–Central and Eastern Europe 1943–1991coordinated by Vanessa Voisin and funded by the French National Research Agency (ANR).

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