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The University of Southampton
HistoryPart of Humanities

Museums and the Holocaust

Professors Neil Gregor and Tony Kushner are working with curators, heritage and community engagement officers on the design of installations, exhibitions and activities at key sites of Holocaust education and commemoration. Their input has helped these institutions replace simplistic master narratives of perpetrators and liberators, integrating victim and survivor perspectives firmly into their accounts, and placing the Holocaust within wider narratives of German, Jewish, European and global history.

Supported by grants from the Humboldt Foundation, British Academy, Leverhulme Trust and the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service), Gregor was the first to produce a comprehensive monograph on the city of Nuremberg’s postwar attempts to deal with the city’s painful associations with the Nazi past: the Nuremberg Party Rally Grounds, the Nuremberg Laws, the Nuremberg Trials. Haunted City: Nuremberg and the Nazi Past after 1945 won the 2008 Fraenkel Prize for Contemporary History. When Nuremberg City Council and the German government embarked upon an €80m conservation project in 2015 to preserve the iconic components of the rally grounds, Professor Gregor was the obvious choice for historical advisor.

Nuremberg interior

Professor Tony Kushner’s ongoing research on the history of British responses to the Holocaust addresses both the Establishment and public's reactions since 1945, exploring the ways in which the British have come to script themselves as heroic liberators in self-serving accounts. He has published extensively on British government responses to Holocaust, the liberation of Belsen, representations of Anne Frank in Britain, challenging the view either that Britain had no connection to the Holocaust or that its role was only as rescuer and liberator. As a curator at London’s Imperial War Museum put it, when it came to planning the redesign of their Holocaust Gallery Kushner’s “peerless work on questions of both the ethics of representation and Britain's relationship to the history” made him their natural partner. You can find out more about these collaborations by clicking on “Media”, above.

By 2015 the Zeppelin Tribune and the Zeppelin Field in Nuremberg were crumbling ruins. While consideration of how to stabilize and interpret the site remained the focus of a contested national debate, demographic change meant that for many of those who lived nearby this debate appeared remote. Workshops with the city of Nuremberg’s Culture Office team and local curators at the Rally Grounds’ Documentation Centre saw Professor Gregor encourage stakeholders to think about the shifting nature of local publics and acknowledge both a need to update existing exhibition displays to reflect contemporary historical knowledge and to place the histories of violence described in their wider historical contexts.

Gregor’s advice on artefacts and displays featured in a report on the Future of the Nazi Party Rally Grounds submitted in late 2018, put to public consultation the following year. In July 2019 Gregor was appointed to the Academic Advisory Committee of the Documentation Centre. His advocacy for the “Europeanisation” of the argument of the museum led to an invitation to address an audience at the Bavarian Mission to Brussels in March 2019, under the aegis of the city’s application to be European City of Culture in 2025.

 

Jewish Museum

 

Alongside his ongoing work as member of the Imperial War Museum’s Advisory Board for the new Holocaust Galleries, Professor Kushner is also serving the Manchester Jewish Museum in a similar capacity, advising on their £5m project “New Audiences, New Experiences”, intended to create a new visitor experience in the museum's historical Sephardi Synagogue. More than the sum of its parts, the ongoing work of Kushner and other members of the university’s Parkes Institute is shaping a new museum practice, one that links Holocaust history to wider narratives of European history, to histories of genocide and migration, which connects histories of perpetrators to histories of victims and bystanders.

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