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Jacqueline Vansant

Senior Fellow (11/2017–05/2018)

 

The Extraordinary Correspondence of Jewish-Austrian Classmates 1938-1953

 

VANSANTAfter the National Socialists assumed power in Austria in March 1938, a group of 15- and 16-year-old Jewish schoolboys stood on a bridge in Vienna and said goodbye to each other ‘forever’, not knowing what would become of them or where they would finally land: They promised one another that whatever else happened they would do their best to maintain ties. The boys’ original promise resulted in a group correspondence, or Rundbrief as they called it, that stretched over more than a decade and criss-crossed three continents. This correspondence, which consists of 106 round letters or a total of 675 individual letters, has been housed in the Archive of the History of Austrian Sociology in Graz since 1994.

 

Published letters between friends of that age, who experienced the Anschluß, exile, and adjustment to a new environment as teenagers and young adults are rare. The edition of the correspondence will provide readers a unique opportunity to share the experiences and thoughts of this age group, the challenges they faced, and their growth over time. Moreover, the longevity of the correspondence, remarkable in itself, allows us to consider the extent to which the different experiences and environments shaped the boys/young men and their sense of identity.

 

The planned edition of these letters will contribute significantly to exile, Holocaust, and migration studies, demonstrating how maintaining contact with a peer group from a shared cultural background aided the boys in enduring the trauma of exile and transition from exile to émigré.

 

Jacqueline Vansant is Professor of German at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Her publications on Austrian literature and culture after 1945 and in exile include: Against the Horizon. Feminism and Postwar Austrian Women Writers and Reclaiming ‘Heimat’: Trauma and Mourning in Memoirs by Jewish Austrian Réemigrés. Her latest publication in the field of exile studies is Cohesive Epistolary Networks in Exile, in: Helga Schreckenberger (ed.), Networks of Refugees from Nazi Germany. Continuities, Reorientations, and Collaborations in Exile.

 

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