Jewish Soldiers in the Collective Memory of Central Europe The Remembrance of World War I from a Jewish Perspective

World War I marks a huge break in Central European Jewish history. Not only had the violent wartime events destroyed Jewish life and especially the living space of the Eastern European Jewish people, but the impacts of war, the geopolitical change and a radicalization of anti-Semitism also led to a crisis of Jewish identity. Furthermore, during the process of national self-discovery and the establishing of new states the societal position of the Jews and their relationship to the state had to be redefined. These partially violent processes, which were always accompanied by anti-Semitism, evoked Jewish and Gentile debates, in which questions about Jewish loyalty to the old and/or new states as
well as concepts of Jewish identity under the new political circumstances were negotiated. In this context, one central and contested field of discussion was the question of Jewish military service, Jewish loyalty, and the Jewish attitude towards warfare. Many Jews in all belligerent countries expected to prove their patriotism and loyalty to the state with their military service. 

About as many as 900.000 Jewish soldiers fought in the armies of the Russian Empire, Germany and the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy, and about 100.000 of them died on various battlefields. Jews as individuals and Jewish communities tried to make sense of the deaths of Jewish soldiers as well as the manifold physical and psychological injuries that had been inflicted upon them during and after the war. They did this in terms of media discourses, in public and private practices of commemoration, by erecting memorials, and in religious rituals. Commemorating the war has always been a public and political act of creating meaning and justifying the existence of the political unit, the state, the nation, for which the soldiers had died. After the collapse of the Romanov Empire and the Habsburg Monarchy as well as the transition of Germany from monarchy to a democratic republic, references to the no longer existing states became problematic. Furthermore, in Central Europe, a region of structural heterogeneity, the new states were attempting to establish homogeneous nation states. The process of making political meaning of the multitude of deaths in the war thus had to be adapted to the new political realities after 1918. 
Therefore, commemorating the war was always a place where social and national belonging and unity were negotiated. 

The Conference "Jewish Soldiers in the Collective Memory of Central Europe" opens up discussions about Jewish military service in its various forms (soldiers, prisoners of war, refugees, forced laborer, war welfare, ...) and war memories in their multifaceted formations during and after World War I. Central Europe is understood as the German Empire, the Austria-Hungarian Monarchy, the western parts of the Russian Empire, and all the successor states of these empires. Conference presentations should discuss discourses of Jewish loyalty, Jewish solidarity, Jewish identities, negotiations of the positioning of the Jews in the states and societies during World War I and afterwards. Furthermore, special attentions should be paid to the transformation of all these discourses during the pivotal years from 1918 and 1919, and the transition from the multiethnic/multinational empires to the national states that developed. Could the Jewish soldiers and Jewish military service be integrated into national and hegemonic war memories, or were they excluded, like the German "stab-in-the-back myth" did? What roles did anti-Semitism, the rise of fascism, National Socialism, communism, or bolshevism play? Are there any differences between the
different national contexts? How were Jewish milieux de memoire organized (e.g. organizations of war veterans, relief organizations for the invalids, widows and orphans), and what were their aims? Did joint Jewish and Gentile milieux de memoire exist, and are there any communalities between the Jewish and Gentile memories and meaning-making
discourses? Are there differences between discourses of loyalty, identity, and memory between the various Jewish groups (Zionists, "acculturated", religious/orthodox)? What are the manifestations of these discourses, such as memorials, commemorative plaques, commemorative rituals or literature, and publications in general? All these aspects should not only be discussed from a national point of view. The conference aims at discussing these questions also from a transnational, Centrale European perspective, as it could be exemplified by the foundation of the World Federation of the Jewish War Veterans in

The conference committee invites contributions from the Humanities (specifically Cultural Studies, Jewish Studies, History, Literary Studies and Art History). Topics may include, but are not limited to, the following: 

  • Jewish memory discourses with their political, social, cultural and religious references 
  • Agents of Jewish war memory - milieux the memoire
  • Jewish war veterans organizations
  • Media of memory: memoires, journals, newspapers, books, movies, socalled ego-documents, artwork, ...
  • Heroes cemeteries, memorials, commemorative plaques, ...
  • Jewish war memory and literature
  • Interrelations between Jewish and Gentile discourses of memory and milieux de memoire
  • Anti-Semitism
  • Transnational aspects of war memory
  • War memory and Gender
  • Pictorial perspectives: e.g. photographs, postcards, ...

Conference languages: German and English

The conference committee is trying to raise funding for assistance with travel and hotel costs.

A publication (peer reviewed) is planned.

The conference committee welcomes abstracts of max. 500 words.
Please send your abstract and a brief biography to 

The closing date for submissions is December 31, 2015.

Gerald Lamprecht

Heinrichstraße 22/III, 8010 Graz

23 May 2016 - 25 May 2016