German Historical Institute London

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European Leo Baeck Lecture Series London, 2017-18

The Difficulties of Writing Family History

This season’s topic intends to discuss the challenges which arise when writing a European-Jewish family history set in the historically and politically charged period of the late 19th to the mid-20th century. What scholarly problems does a writer encounter, what emotional difficulties does an author face – especially in terms of allowing the public access to one’s own personal history, and how can these challenges be dealt with?

Organised by the Leo Baeck Institute London in cooperation with the German Historical Institute London.

Lectures will be held at the German Historical Institute London. Places are strictly limited and must be reserved in advance by contacting the Leo Baeck Institute, London
Email: info(ghi)
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7882 5690

Admission is free. Lectures will begin promptly at 6.30pm. Latecomers may not be admitted.


7 December

Lisa Appignanesi (King’s College London, UK)
Losing the Dead – Before and After

Lisa Appignanesi teases out some of the hurdles she encountered researching her critically acclaimed family memoir, Losing the Dead. These extended post publication: memoir writing elicits the kinds of responses historical texts rarely do.

Lisa Appignanesi OBE is a writer and novelist. She is a Visiting Professor at King’s College, London, Chair of the Royal Society of Literature and Chair of this year’s Man Booker International Prize. Amongst her books are Mad, Bad and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors and The Memory Man.

Please note: A short 15 minute film called Ex Memoria, will also be shown. Ex Memoria is a film about memory, loss and survival; Eva Lipschitz is a survivor, but she is now locked away in the twilight world of Alzheimer’s disease. The film shows the world from Eva’s point of view, at her eye level, and how a chance encounter with a caring young nurse breaks through the barriers. Directed by Josh Appignanesi and starring Sarah Kestleman.


1 March

Thomas Harding (Journalist)
“You’re doing what?” - My family’s response to my trying to save the house stolen by the Nazis

In 2013, Thomas Harding visited his Jewish family’s old weekend house outside of Berlin. He found it shrouded in a jungle of bushes and trees, its windows broken, graffiti painted across its walls and that it was destined for demolition. When he told his family that he wanted to work with the locals to save the house they reacted with intense emotion, triggering a debate about memories, the value of history and the possibility of reconciliation.

Thomas Harding is an international bestselling author and journalist who has written for the Financial Times, Sunday Times, Washington Post, Guardian and Der Spiegel, among other publications. His books include Hanns And Rudolf, Kadian Journal, The House By The Lake and Blood On The Page. Thomas Harding is president of, an education and reconciliation charity near Berlin. On 24 June 2016, the day of Brexit, Thomas applied for the restoration of his German citizenship.

8 March

Atina Grossmann (The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art)
Trauma, Privilege and Adventure in the ‘Orient’: A Refugee Family Archive

The talk examines, through the intimate – yet also distant – lens of family history, the ambivalent and paradoxical experiences, sensibilities, and emotions of bourgeois Berlin Jews who found refuge and romance in the ‘Orient’ of Iran and India after 1933. Drawing on an extensive collection of family correspondence and memorabilia from Iran and India (1935-1947), Grossmann probes her own parents’ understanding of their unstable position as well as the perils and pleasures of writing a ‘hybrid’ border-crossing family story folded into a larger historical drama of war, Holocaust, and vulnerable Empires.

Atina Grossmann is Professor of History at the Cooper Union in New York City. Publications include Jews, Germans, and Allies: Close Encounters in Occupied Germany (2007), and Wege in der Fremde: Deutsch-jüdische Begegnungsgeschichte zwischen New York, Berlin und Teheran (2012). Her current research focuses on ‘Remapping Survival: Jewish Refugees and Lost Memories of Displacement, Trauma, and Rescue in the Soviet Union, Iran, and India’, as well as the entanglements of family memoir and historical scholarship.

12 April

Martin Doerry (Der Spiegel, Germany)
Lifting a Taboo: The story of a Holocaust victim which has never been told before

After the death of German politician Gerhard Jahn in 1998, his four sisters found hundreds of letters in his house, which they had written during the war to their Jewish mother Lilli, who had been detained in a labour camp and, finally, killed in Auschwitz in 1944. Fifty years of silence had followed, but now, for the first time, the family was able to talk about Lilli once again. But should the letters be published? Lilli’s grandson Martin Doerry undertook the tasks of both convincing his family that they should, and conducting the necessary research, thus finding himself in the dual role of family member and professional historian simultaneously.

Martin Doerry is an editor of Der Spiegel in Hamburg, Germany. From 1998 until 2014 he was deputy editor-in-chief of the German news magazine. He studied History and German Literature in Tübingen and Zürich and received his PhD in 1986 with a thesis on the political mentality of the generation of Emperor Wilhelm II. In 2002, he published My Wounded Heart. The Life of Lilli Jahn, 1900-1944, the story of his Jewish grandmother who was killed in Auschwitz. The book was translated into 19 languages.


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