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Julie Dawson

Fortunoff-VWI Fellow (10/2020 – 5/2021)


The Legacy of Trauma. Examining the “Crisis of Life” in Jewish Survivor Diaries of Early Postwar Romania


Web DawsonIn 2009, a series of four diaries was discovered in an abandoned synagogue in a small Transylvanian town. Containing over 800 entries, the pages stretch from 1948 to 1961 and record the postwar life of grief and the limited triumph of a young survivor of the Transnistrian Holocaust. The diaries of Blanka Lebzelter are a remarkable record of the quotidian struggles that impoverished survivors faced in the aftermath of devastation and a tremendous tool, providing multifaceted entry points for examining the experience of Jewish survivors in Romania after the war as well as for analysing manifestations of trauma in everyday life. This project examines the diaries from multiple perspectives: as a singular testimony, representing survivor narratives that have been little probed, and as a source allowing hitherto unexplored insights into social and cultural history considerations of postwar Romania. My research during the fellowship period is focussed on understanding the role of trauma in Lebzelter’s life, both in terms of the primary moments of traumatic encounter, as gathered through archival evidence and oral history narratives, and the reiterations of trauma, as expressed in her diary, in the postwar years.


Julie Dawson is a doctoral candidate at the Institute for Contemporary History at Vienna University. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Northwestern University. Dawson worked for the Leo Baeck Institute from 2010 to 2019, directing their archival survey of Transylvania and Bukovina ( from 2012 to 2019. From 2016 to 2019, she was a researcher-in-residence in Mediaș (Romania) for the EU Horizon 2020 project TRACES: Transmitting Contentious Cultural Heritages with the Arts. Her research interests include Bukovina, communist Romania, women’s history, trauma, and memory studies.


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The Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies (VWI) is funded by:


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