Learning from the Holocaust
Submitting InstitutionRoyal Holloway, University of London
Unit of AssessmentHistory
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Law and Legal Studies: Law
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
This case study describes how David Cesarani's research on modern
Jewish history and the Holocaust has informed Holocaust education in the
UK and influenced policy debates around Holocaust memorialisation and
post-Holocaust issues domestically and internationally. It illustrates how
Cesarani, research professor in History and director of the Holocaust
Research Centre (HRC), has engaged with research users through his role as
first a Trustee of and more recently Historical Consultant to the
Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, a consultant to the Holocaust Educational
Trust, an adviser to the Foreign Office, and by his contribution of
research expertise to television programmes seen in the UK and around the
Since arriving at Royal Holloway in 2004 Cesarani's research has moved
from the origins and implementation of genocide against Europe's Jews to
post-1945 responses, and relations between ethnic identity, memory and
politics. His involvement in policy issues related to Holocaust memory has
made him a `participant observer' and his publications both reflect, and
reflect on, this record of public service in policy-related Holocaust
research, education and commemoration.
The basis for his examination of responses to the Holocaust was laid in
the final chapters of his prize-winning Adolf Eichmann: his life
and crimes (London, 2004). Here he explored the dynamic
relationship between ideology, contingency, and human choice amongst the
`perpetrators'. The study also shed fresh light on the pursuit of Nazi war
criminals, relating the awareness of wartime Jewish suffering to
investment in judicial retribution. It showed how Eichmann's trial built
on research that was underappreciated in subsequent historiography, while
the trial itself had a mixed impact on popular consciousness,
jurisprudence, and history writing.
In his introduction to his edited collection, After Eichmann.
Collective Memory and the Holocaust Since 1960
(London, 2005), and his own contribution, Cesarani explained the
burgeoning of `Holocaust consciousness' from the mid-1980s in terms of
contemporary events (end of the cold war/recurrence of genocide in Europe)
rather than any consciousness-raising campaign by Jews. His research
challenged the assumption that `the Holocaust' was unknown, mystified or
shrouded in silence until the late 1960s when it was allegedly constructed
as a discrete historical event and a `morality tale' by American Jews for
their benefit and on behalf of Israel, then driven up the public agenda
using political influence.
Cesarani became one of a group of scholars and practitioners concerned
with `aftermath issues' who cooperate in a sustained, international
collaborative research effort. The Holocaust Research Centre has served as
an armature for many of his collaborative activities. Through the Centre
Cesarani, in collaboration with partners at Wolverhampton University,
Birkbeck College and the Imperial War Museum, initiated a series of
international conferences entitled `Beyond Camps and Forced Labour'. In
addition to engaging with museums, galleries and survivor groups, these
conferences have produced a number of outputs that shed new light on the
late 1940s and 1950s: Survivors of Nazi Persecution in Europe After
the Second World War (London, 2010); Justice and Memory
in Europe After the Second World War (London, 2011).
In his most recent collaborative volume, After the Holocaust:
Challenging the Myth of Silence (London/New York,
2011), Cesarani suggests an entirely new paradigm for understanding early
global responses to the Jewish catastrophe. This research absorbs the
methodology and insights of studies that purport to explain the
`globalization' of Holocaust memory since the 1990s, applying it to a
period several decades earlier in order to expose as false the claims that
`globalization' is new, unprecedented, or the product of a specific effort
to instrumentalise the past for a human rights agenda or to disseminate
References to the research
1. Adolf Eichmann: his life and crimes (Heinemann: London, 2004;
Vintage: New York, 2006). US National Jewish Book Award for History, 2006;
short-listed for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, 2004. Translated
into German, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Italian, Hungarian,
Polish, Czech, and French. Review: Christopher Browning, Central
European History, 40, 3 : 527).
2. Ed. After Eichmann. Collective Memory and the Holocaust Since 1960
(Routledge: London, 2005).
3. Ed. w/ Eric Sundquist ed., After the Holocaust: Challenging the
Myth of Silence (Routledge: London, 2011). (The book is cited in the
call for papers for a conference on the `myth of silence', convened by the
Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies, Vienna, November 2012.
Cesarani was asked to deliver the keynote lecture. Review: New
Statesman, 23 January 2012.)
4. Ed. w/ S Bardgett, J Reinisch and J-D Steinart, Landscapes after
Battle, vol. 1, Survivors of Nazi Persecution in Europe After
the Second World War (Vallentine Mitchell: London, 2010) and vol. 2,
Justice and Memory in Europe After the Second World War (Vallentine
Mitchell: London, 2011). (These two volumes collect the best research from
the 2009 `Beyond Camps and Forced Labour' conference.) Review, Bob Moore,
Central European History, 45, 4 (2012): 798- 799.
5. `A new look at some old memoirs : early narratives of Nazi persecution
and genocide', in D Cesarani, S Bardgett, J Reinisch and J-D Steinert,
eds., Landscapes after Battle, vol. 2, Memory and Justice in
Europe After the Second World War (Vallentine Mitchell: London,
6. `How Post-war Britain Reflected on the Nazi Persecution and Mass
Murder of Europe's Jews: A Reassessment of Early Responses', Jewish
Culture and History, 12, 1&2 (Summer/Autumn 2010): 95-130.
Details of the impact
The main beneficiaries of the research have been NGOs engaged in
Holocaust remembrance and education, government bodies dealing with
Holocaust-era issues, museums, archives, the media, and the British Jewish
community. The main impact has been to increase public knowledge of past
genocides and atrocity, and to raise awareness of the danger posed to
democracy, civil and human rights by racism and anti-semitism. In 2008,
the Jewish Chronicle placed Cesarani 48 out of 100 in its
`countdown of those who exert the greatest influence within British
From 2006 to 2012 Cesarani was a Trustee of the Holocaust Memorial Day
Trust with special responsibility for relating current scholarship to its
publications, its all-year educational activity, and the script of the
annual national memorial event on 27 January. On HMD 2012, there were
1,400 memorial events across the country. The Trust distributed 7,525
campaign packs to event organisers, local government agencies, schools,
and individuals. 3,100 were downloaded electronically. It distributed
100,000 booklets on remembrance and the lessons of genocide. Over 35,500
people signed the pledge `to speak up, speak out' against prejudice and
discrimination. Cesarani was routinely consulted on the content of the
campaign packs and web-based material. The Trust's website recorded
203,000 visits in 2012. After completing the maximum term as a Trustee he
was asked to become the Trust's Historical Consultant and supervised
revision of the historical content of its on-line resources.
Cesarani is also historical consultant to the Holocaust Educational Trust
(HET). His booklet The Holocaust. A Guide for Students and Teachers,
commissioned by HET (2nd edn. 2008), is distributed to all participants in
the government funded `Lessons from Auschwitz' programme. Up to 2012,
3,000 teachers and students have taken part in this programme.
Cesarani advised the Swedish government prior to the 2000 Stockholm
International Forum that gave birth to the Stockholm Declaration which has
been adopted by over 40 countries, leading to the institution of Holocaust
memorial days, a policy of unfettered research into the Nazi era and open
access to relevant archives, Holocaust education programmes,
teacher-training and curriculum development. He participated in the UK
delegation to the Intergovernmental Taskforce for Holocaust Education,
Remembrance, and Research (now the International Holocaust Remembrance
Alliance), the UK vehicle for implementing the declaration, until March
2008, shaping policy through its academic working group. As an member of
the academic working group he currently advises the UK Envoy for Post
Holocaust Issues. In 2010 the Swedish government acknowledged his part in
bringing about the 2000 Stockholm Declaration.
As a member of the UK stakeholder group concerning the future of the Red
Cross International Tracing Service archive at Bad Arolsen he worked with
the FCO to secure the transfer of a digital copy of the archive to the
Weiner Library, London. He currently sits on the ITS Oversight Committee.
Cesarani cooperates closely with the Imperial War Museum in a range of
educational activities building on the permanent Holocaust exhibition.
This relationship began when he served on the Advisory Board for the
development of the exhibition which now has approximately 250,000 visitors
per year. Visitor comments testify to the impact the exhibition has on
shaping attitudes to the past and raising awareness of the threat from the
far right, anti-semitism, racism, and homophobia. In partnership with the
head of research, since 2008 he has organised six associated workshops and
conferences at the Museum, each attended by 50-150 academics, students and
members of the public.
He is also on the steering committee for the triennial conference `Beyond
Camps and Forced Labour', held at the IWM (2009, 2012) in conjunction with
Wolverhampton University and Birkbeck. Since their inception, over one
thousand researchers and practitioners have attended these events which
have resulted in four major publications that have informed research,
teaching, archive policy, museum and gallery practice.
In 2010 Cesarani secured a grant from the Pears Foundation that enabled
the HRC to become the sole UK partner to the USC Shoah Foundation Visual
History Archive, Los Angeles. This partnership made Royal Holloway the
unique point of access in the UK to a digital video archive of 52,000
testimonies by Holocaust survivors and generated strong public interest as
well as expressions of gratitude by survivors and their children who can
now access the collection from a local portal.
Cesarani is the only European member of the Academic Advisory Board of
the Allocations Committee of the Conference for Jewish Material Claims
Against Germany Inc. In this capacity he assess grant applications worth
millions of dollars by archives, museums, galleries, universities, and
Cesarani has transferred his knowledge of the Nazi era into numerous TV
documentaries. Most recently he was historical consultant/associate
producer on `Death Camp Treblinka', Aeon Productions for BBC4, broadcast
15 August 2012 to an audience of 750,000.
Sources to corroborate the impact
- Stockholm Principles 10th anniversary symposium, 26
January 2010, corroborating influence of the principles and Cesarani's
- UK Envoy for Post-Holocaust Issues : to corroborate Cesarani's
contribution to obtaining the Red Cross International Tracing Service
(ITS) archive and role in International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance
(formerly International Task Force for Intergovernmental Cooperation for
Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research).
- For corroboration of Cesarani's influence on Holocaust
memorialisation and education through the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust
activities: CEO, Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.
- Corroboration of influence on Anglo-Jewish affairs, Jewish
Chronicle, 2 May 2008, p. 4.
- Cesarani's work was selected as an exemplary impact study by the
British Academy: Past Present and Future. The Public Value of the
Humanities and Social Sciences (British Academy, 2010), 28-2: http://www.britac.ac.uk/news/news.cfm/newsid/364
- For reports of the partnership with the Shoah Foundation and its
significance: Evening Standard, 26 January 2010; Observer,
29 January 2012.
- Commissioning Editor, History and Business Programming, BBC : to
corroborate viewing figures and audience response for `Death Camp
Treblinka: the survivors' story.
- Head of Research, Imperial War Museum : to corroborate extent and
impact of partnership activity with IWM.