“Much remains to be done in the field of Holocaust Studies”
Dr. Kim Wünschmann has joined the LMU to expand the cooperation between the Chair for Contemporary History and the Center for Holocaust Studies at the Institute of Contemporary History in Munich.
More than 70 years have past since the end of the Second World War, and historians of the Nazi era and the Holocaust are increasingly confronted with claims that their field has become obsolete. One of Dr. Kim Wünschmann’s goals is to refute this false assumption – in particular on the part of students who may feel that there is nothing more to find out about the events of those years. “It is important to systematically examine empirical data and to interpret them in innovative ways,” she explains. In addition, the questions that historians ask must constantly be reframed in the light of new scholarly approaches to the past – among them, the growing awareness of the gender-specific nature of historical experience.
In September 2017 Wünschmann joined the School of History at LMU as a Research Associate charged with coordinating the joint activities of the Chair for Contemporary History and the Center for Holocaust Studies at the Institute of Contemporary History (IfZ) Munich-Berlin. Having earned an M.A. in at the Free University of Berlin, she obtained her PhD in History at Birkbeck College, University of London in 2012. She then worked as a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and later served as DAAD Lecturer in Modern European History at the University of Sussex in Brighton.
In a study of “The Present Status of University Teaching on the Holocaust” published by the Free University of Berlin (FUB) in 2016, LMU’s history program scores highly. This is attributable in part to the School’s close collaboration with the Center for Holocaust Studies at the IfZ. The Center was set up in 2013. Last year the Federal and State Governments agreed to secure its long-term funding. One of the Center’s principal aims is to ensure that the origins and history of the Holocaust receive the attention they deserve at university level. Kim Wünschmann’s appointment represents a further step in that direction. Her task is to effectively incorporate new research findings and methods into the curriculum, to establish a firm basis for further studies of the Holocaust and to stimulate international research collaborations.
Unfortunately, many universities seem to share the notion that the Holocaust has already been exhaustively analyzed. “But that is an erroneous assessment,” says Wünschmann, and points to the conclusions reached by the FUB study mentioned above. Simply collecting and collating the evidence is not enough, she adds, findings must be critically discussed and widely disseminated – especially at a time when oversimplified nationalistic perceptions of the past are once again on the rise. “In my view, the creation of the position I now hold was a conscious policy decision, taken with a view to counteracting the tendency to ignore the topic, and, at the same time, uncovering new aspects of what it has to teach us.”
In the upcoming Winter Semester, together her colleagues Professor Frank Bajohr and Dr. Andrea Löw from the Center for Holocaust Studies, Wünschmann will initiate a Research Colloqium on “The Holocaust and Its Contexts”. “This new forum will deal with what I think is a very important issue: We need to situate the Holocaust within the wider context of the history of violence in the 20th century.” With the help of a Fellowship Program, the organizers hope to attract many visiting researchers from abroad. There are also plans for the publication of an annual English-language yearbook, to be launched in 2018. Dedicated Workshops and Summer Schools will particularly encourage young researchers to delve into underexposed issues.
“Knowledge of the history of antisemitism, of the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion and the role of violence in processes of social change helps us to analyze our present situation,” Wünschmann points out, “and critical thinking based on analysis of the evidence is a major bulwark of democracy.” Many areas of this story that have yet to be fully explored – for example, people’s motives to help others, she says. In other words, “much remains to be done.”