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Old/New Histories that Continue to Matter: M.A. History Students use Leiden Austria Centre programming as they study the Holocaust in Central and Eastern Europe

Nearly eight decades after the liberation of Auschwitz, we continue to learn more about how the Holocaust “happened” in central and eastern Europe. In Prof. dr. Sarah Cramsey’s History MA Research Seminar “New Approaches to the Holocaust in Central and Eastern Europe,” a dozen Leiden students read what are considered to be “classic” histories about the Holocaust alongside newer books, articles and dissertations published within the last few years.

Besides crafting a unique syllabus, Cramsey expanded her “traditional” seminar classroom to include group outings to larger events sponsored by the Austria Centre, like the “Book Lauch” of her own book “Uprooting the Diaspora,” the keynote panel of the Leiden Jewish Studies Association’s confernce “Jews at Home: From Creation to Corona,” a lunch-time talk about confessionalism in southeastern Europe with Dr. Lena Sadovski and, lastly, a final seminar/borrel held in the ambient Bilderdijk room at the Faculty Club.

Reflecting on the extra-curricular events tied to the class, MA History Student Lotte Groenendijk said that these unique opportunities “broadened (her) perception of academics” and pushed her to consider “pursuing an academic career of (her) own.”  Another MA History Student, Stijn Berger described the additional group events as a “highly insightful complement to the standard academic curriculum. Engaging in these activities not only broadened and contextualized the knowledge acquired during seminars on an intellectual level but also provided a glimpse into the realm within which this knowledge originates, evolves, and is practically applied.” Public events which focused on the Jewish experience more broadly, Berger noted, “foster(ed) a more comprehensive understanding of Judaism, its societal implications, and the scientific endeavors associated with it.” In sum, he added that “this supplementary exposure made a positive contribution to (his) comprehension of the Holocaust and its historiography.”

When asked about their personal interest in Central European studies and specifically the study of the Holocaust therein, Groenendijk noted that “this course really elaborated on what’s taught during Leiden’s History Bachelor degree” by shifting the focus away from “Western Europe.” This shift in geographical outlook resonated with other students as well. Berger took the course, in part, because of his "interest in the Eastern Elbe region” as well as his broader curiosity in central Europe, eastern Europe and Russia more generally.  The historical event which comes to be known as the Holocaust continues to be an excellent access point to broader histories of central and eastern Europe, questions of coexistence more broadly and studies which explore how violence erupts in various forms.

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