Learning from the Holocaust

Submitting Institution

Royal Holloway, University of London

Unit of Assessment


Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Law and Legal Studies: Law
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies

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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 world.

Underpinning research

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 `American values'.

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 [2007]: 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, 2010): 121-168.

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 Jewry'.

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 doctoral fellowships.

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

  1. Stockholm Principles 10th anniversary symposium, 26 January 2010, corroborating influence of the principles and Cesarani's contribution, http://www.levandehistoria.se/node/2859
  2. 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).
  3. For corroboration of Cesarani's influence on Holocaust memorialisation and education through the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust activities: CEO, Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.
  4. Corroboration of influence on Anglo-Jewish affairs, Jewish Chronicle, 2 May 2008, p. 4.
  5. 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
  6. For reports of the partnership with the Shoah Foundation and its significance: Evening Standard, 26 January 2010; Observer, 29 January 2012.
  7. Commissioning Editor, History and Business Programming, BBC : to corroborate viewing figures and audience response for `Death Camp Treblinka: the survivors' story.
  8. Head of Research, Imperial War Museum : to corroborate extent and impact of partnership activity with IWM.