This research examines differences in identity formation among generations of Czech, Slovak, French and Luxembourgish Jews who grew up either under communism or in liberal Western Europe. By gathering data, the aim is to create an international virtual library and cloud storage not only for professional educators, but also for the public. My focus is on the differences and similarities within and between generations, and on the changing historical and political circumstances of both state communism and established liberal democracy that have shaped individuals’ consciousness and identity.
Cultural and educational activities of the Jewish minority in Czechoslovakia, Luxembourg and Alsace-Lorraine
When traumatic historical events and transformations coincide, the personal and historical significance of life-course transitions is intensified. Regardless of their assimilation, Jews are affected by continuous pressure, and their experience depends on whether they agree to accept a new order imposed on them by a state system.
This paper addresses a broad series of questions about the formation of Jewish identity during political upheavals, assimilation, secularisation and modernity.
My research attempts to find answers: Who are Jews? Is it possible to define a modern Jewish identity? How are Jewish identity and education transmitted through generations? How does Jewish cultural heritage change based on different historical contexts? All these questions have emerged in recent years, and only extensive research drawing on both statistical and archival data will provide us with answers.
The project also explores the official and unofficial transmission of Holocaust memories and the role of Jewish youth groups in selected areas. Historical sources reveal attitudes toward a new Jewish state and the impact of the collapse of democracy in the eastern part of Europe.
My research looks at individual examples of Jewish society using different methods of quantitative and qualitative analysis together with oral history methodologies. I have adopted an interdisciplinary approach, combining historical research with a variety of social factors based on individual biographies and the formation of ethnic identity.
Investigations of archival sources and focus group discussions aim to create a coherent picture of the life stories of people widely known as the “second generation” and their attitude to the current perception of the Jewish identity. Based on Alena Heitlinger’s analysis, the research will examine whether new forms of Jewish identity can secure the long-term survival of Jewish communities in the areas under study.
New digital research methods
Using advanced digital tools, it is possible to record valuable first-hand accounts from Jews in the second and third post-war generations. One-to-one interviews and semi-structured questionnaires represent unique data sets which enable researchers to shed light on a range of periods by collecting new data even if the literature is sparse or non-existent.
In terms of methodology, a sample of different Jews has been chosen in order to provide us with new perspectives of self-identification (Czech, French, Slovak, emigrants/immigrants, etc.).
Priceless recordings capture the life stories of Jews born in the aftermath of the Second World War who came of age in the 1960s. At that time, Czechoslovak Jews were living through the era of de-Stalinisation, and their accounts offer new insights and perspectives on this segment of Jewish history that differ from those of Jews living in liberal European states. Some of them also had to live alongside a wave of Jewish immigrants coming from overseas, and witnesses suggest that the arrival of these newcomers often raised difficulties.
In general, this academic research will shed light on the difficulties of religious life under communism, including the infamous anti-Zionist trials, while also providing information about the tensions between Jewish communities and right-wing extremists in Western Europe from the 1950s to the 1980s.