This volume tells the largely unknown story of Holocaust survivors who founded Jewish historical commissions and documentation centers in Europe immediately after World War II. Amidst political turmoil and extreme privation, physically exhausted and traumatized women and men who had survived ghettos, camps, hiding, or life under false identities sought to chronicle the catastrophe. They collected thousands of Nazi documents along with more than 18,000 testimonies, some 8,000 questionnaires, and large numbers of memoirs, diaries, songs, poems, and artifacts of Jewish victims. The activists found documenting the Holocaust to be a moral imperative after the war, the obligation of the dead to the living, and a means to understand and process their recent trauma and loss. They deemed historical documentation vital in the pursuit of postwar justice and essential in counteracting the Nazis' wartime efforts to erase the evidence of their crimes.
These Jewish documentation initiatives pioneered the development of a Holocaust historiography that used both victim and perpetrator sources to describe the social, economic, and cultural aspects of the everyday life and death of European Jews under the Nazi regime, while placing the experiences of Jews at the center of the story. These groundbreaking efforts of survivors to study the Nazi regime's genocide of European Jews was ignored by subsequent generations of Holocaust scholars. With a comparative analysis, Jockusch focuses on France, Poland, Germany, Austria, and Italy to illuminate the transnational nature of Jewish efforts to write the history of the Holocaust in its immediate aftermath. The book explores the motivations and rationales that guided survivors in chronicling the destruction they had witnessed, their research techniques, archival collections, and historical publications. As the first comprehensive study on the subject, this book serves as an important complement to the literature on survivor testimony, Holocaust memory, and the rebuilding of Jewish life in postwar Europe.