Recent Projects and Submissions
the Journal of contemporary archival studies
Vol. 5, Article 14.
An earlier version of this paper received the Carrol Award Honorable Mention for Best Graduate Student Paper from the Society for Military History at the 61st Annual Missouri Valley History Conference.
Lessons from The Treblinka Archive: Transnational Collections and their Implications for historical Research
In work for his 1979 book The Death Camp Treblinka, Alexander Donat began the process of locating survivors of the camp and recording their histories. In a telling testament to the lethality of this place, he could identify only sixty-eight survivors. Analysis of Donat’s early findings—emerging six years prior to the publication of any major academic monograph on the subject—offers a window into the difficulties of conducting research on this Nazi extermination camp and its widely-scattered witnesses.
Treblinka’s disembarkation ramp was effectively the eye of a transnational needle through which so many passed and so few emerged. Victims of this camp arrived from at least ten European states, while its survivors fled or immigrated to at least as many countries during and after the war. The origins of these people, their later movements, and the international justice process in the years after World War II created a paper trail that forms the nucleus of the Treblinka archive. From the late-1970s until the death of Treblinka’s last known survivor, Samuel Willenberg, in 2016, historians, museum professionals, and others have conducted interviews and drafted works that added to this body of sources.
As a tragedy of human criminality that disregarded international borders, Treblinka requires wide-ranging research to reconstruct its history. This paper enters ongoing discussions about the difficulties and importance of transnational historical research as it highlights the birth of the far-flung Treblinka archive and poses questions about the skills, resources, and tools required to do such work. The commentary and suggestions presented here have meaning not only for the history of Treblinka, but also for the process of doing cross-border historical research more generally.
war in society
university of wisconsin-madison
An earlier version of this paper received the “Best PhD Student Paper Award” at the 10th Annual Northern Illinois University History Graduate Student Conference, DeKalb, Illinois, November 2017.
finding the few:
toward a new accounting of survival at treblinka
During its eleven months of operations the Nazis murdered between 800,000 and 925,000 people at Treblinka. The August 2, 1943 prisoner revolt burned much of the camp’s infrastructure and enabled the escape of as many as three hundred Jews. Of these, it is currently accepted that only some sixty-eight individuals made it through the rest of the war. Alexander Donat compiled the existing list of survivors for his 1979 book The Death Camp Treblinka. The Polish state museum at Treblinka today uses Donat’s list with only one amendment.
After forty years of extensive oral history collection, memoir publications, and new research, however, there is cause to revisit Donat’s list. The existence of an accepted list of survivors requires that any work seeking to update the original must grapple with what qualifies an individual for inclusion.
The Nazi death factory system at Treblinka meant that individuals entering the camp almost never survived more than a few hours. No more than approximately one thousand slave laborers ever inhabited the camp at once, making selection for work a statistical impossibility. Given these realities, should the status of Treblinka survivor depend on any duration of stay requirements? While experiential differences certainly exist between those who escaped earlier and those who fought in the revolt, both endured the overwhelming lethality of arrival at Treblinka. This paper addresses these issues and others while adding new names to Donat’s list and offering a taxonomy of survival at Treblinka. The results include a new working enumeration of Treblinka survivors and a clearer picture of how each individual emerged alive.
Paul J. Schrag Prize in German Jewish History
Department of History, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Musicology, Holocaust Historiography, and Treblinka:
Toward an Interdisciplinary Discourse on Music as Torture, Perseverance, and Resistance
The Department of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison selected my paper “Musicology, Holocaust History, and Treblinka: Toward an Interdisciplinary Discourse on Music as Torture, Perseverance, and Resistance” for the 2018-2019 Paul J. Schrag Prize in German Jewish History. I thank the committee for their selection of my work and look forward to continuing this project.