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Property, Possessions, and the Moral Materialities of Holocaust Justice

Moskowitz/Rafalowicz International Research Workshop

August 516, 2024

Application deadline: The application deadline has passed

The Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum invites applications for the 2024 Moskowitz/Rafalowicz International Research Workshop Property, Possessions, and the Moral Materialities of Holocaust Justice. The Mandel Center will co-convene this workshop with Dovilė Budrytė, Georgia Gwinnett College, and Neringa Klumbytė, Miami University. The workshop is scheduled for August 516, 2024, and will take place at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Throughout Europe, dispossession was an integral component of the mass murder of Jews and Roma during the Holocaust. Interviews with survivors, eyewitnesses, and collaborators in Eastern Europe affirm that theft was a common reason for the active participation of local populations in the mass killings known as the “Holocaust by bullets.” The personal belongings of victims ended up in the families and homes of those who conducted the killings or assisted the perpetrators. Others were redistributed to local populations or sold at auctions; locals moved into houses previously owned by their Jewish neighbors.

Despite efforts at property restitution following the 2009 Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets and Related Issues, both academic study and public awareness of the scope of the looting by local populations and the massive losses of Jewish and Romani immovable property in the Holocaust remains scant. Furthermore, it also remains unclear how attempts at property restitution are perceived by their intended recipients—the descendants of the victims. 

This workshop focuses on historical justice through the lens of things and property. Ethnographic research with families of Holocaust survivors and victims indicates that they understand justice in terms of moral materialities—that is, restitution is, for them, inextricable from recognition, the restoration of personal dignity, and inclusion into society. Their experiences lead us to ask: How do possessions and property feature in claims about identity and social belonging made by the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors and victims? How do stories of theft and appropriation raise public awareness of the material annihilation of Jewish and Romani communities? What sorts of social dynamics and historical relationships are prompted by the discovery of Jewish and Romani things and property in non-Jewish/non-Romani homes? How do  understanding of historical justice articulated in stories about possessions and property in local Jewish and Romani communities differ from conceptualizations of historical justice in national and transnational projects that focus on restitution of Jewish property?

Addressing these questions in our workshop, our goal is to develop a comprehensive approach to historical justice that accounts for the fate of possessions and property and their biographies of new “ownership,” and foregrounds articulations of  history and justice by Jewish and Romani communities in terms of moral materialities in the context of national and international perspectives on historical justice. To do so, we will consider these topics from several interrelated angles: 1) object biographies of the things and property looted during the Holocaust, including items in museum collections, 2) individual experiences in reclaiming possessions and property after the war, processes and practices related to large-scale restitution programs, and theorizations of justice through restitution, 3) public cognizance, recollection, remembrance, and/or denial of local involvement in the appropriation of possessions and property through theft, looting, redistribution, or (re)sale during the Holocaust, and 4) the stories of theft and appropriation passed down in the family realm or shared within Jewish and Romani communities. 

In addition to shedding light on the processes related to historical justice after the Holocaust, we hope to contribute to discussions about Holocaust restitution in various public spheres and expand conceptualizations of transnational and state-level justice to include the perspectives of their intended beneficiaries.

Daily sessions of the workshop will consist of presentations and roundtable discussions led by participants, as well as discussions with Museum staff and research in the Museum’s collections. The workshop will be conducted in English.

Museum Resources

The Museum's David M. Rubinstein National Institute for Holocaust Documentation houses an unparalleled repository of Holocaust evidence that documents the fate of victims, survivors, rescuers, liberators, and others. The Museum’s comprehensive collection contains millions of documents, artifacts, photos, films, books, and testimonies. The Museum’s Database of Holocaust Survivor and Victim Names contains records on people persecuted during World War II under the Nazi regime, including Jews and Roma and Sinti. In addition, the Museum possesses the holdings of the International Tracing Service (ITS), which contains more than 200 million digitized pages with information on the fates of 17.5 million people who were subject to incarceration, forced labor, and displacement as a result of World War II. Many of these records have not been examined by scholars, offering unprecedented opportunities to advance the field of Holocaust and genocide studies.

The Museum’s related collections include:

Participants will have access to both the Museum’s downtown campus and the David and Fela Shapell Family Collections, Conservation and Research Center in Bowie, MD. To search the Museum's collections, please visit

To Apply

Applications are welcome from scholars affiliated with universities, research institutions, or memorial sites and in any relevant academic discipline, including anthropology, art history, economics, genocide studies, geography, history, Jewish studies, law, literature, philosophy, political science, psychology, sociology, religion, and Romani studies, and others. Applications are encouraged from scholars at all levels of their careers, from Ph.D. candidates to senior faculty. While our focus is on Eastern Europe, we welcome applications that address these issues in Western Europe, whether in stand-alone case studies or a comparative vein. Scholars whose projects incorporate field research are especially encouraged to apply.

The Mandel Center will reimburse the costs of round-trip economy-class air tickets to/from the Washington, D.C. metro area, and related incidental expenses, up to a maximum reimbursable amount calculated by home institution location, which will be distributed within 68 weeks of the workshop’s conclusion. The Mandel Center will also provide hotel accommodation for the duration of the workshop. Participants are required to attend the full duration of the workshop and to circulate a draft paper in advance of the program. Participants must commit to attending the entire workshop.

The deadline for receipt of applications is Friday, February 2, 2024. Applications must include a short biography, a CV, a list of any related publications and/or on-going research projects, and an abstract of no more than 500 words outlining the specific project that the applicant plans to research and is prepared to present during the program. All application materials must be submitted in English online via USHMM fellowships.

Admission will be determined without regard to race, color, religion, sex, gender (sexual orientation or gender identity), national origin, age, disability, genetic information, or reprisal. The Museum also prohibits any form of workplace discrimination or harassment.

COVID-19 Safety Measures 

The health and safety of Museum guests and staff are always the Museum's top priority. The Museum takes all reasonable safety precautions but cannot guarantee the safety of any participant. Participants acknowledge that their risk of COVID-19 exposure may increase by participating in the program or by engaging in any other travel. By participating in the program, you voluntarily assume all risks related to COVID-19 exposure and release the Museum from any associated liability.  

Per guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Museum encourages all participants to stay up-to-date with COVID-19 vaccinations. The Museum’s safety measures are based on CDC COVID-19 Community Levels and will be adjusted to reflect any changes in the level. Prior to the program, the Museum will provide updates regarding the latest guidelines related to health and safety protocols. Participants agree to abide by all health and safety protocols required by the United States, the Museum, and/or the local jurisdiction rules applicable to the program.

Questions should be directed to

This workshop has been made possible through the generosity of the Moskowitz/Rafalowicz Endowment at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.