Spending part of last week inside the University of Luxembourg’s imposing steel skyscraper, situated next door to an even more imposing former steel manufacturing facility was a little eerie. Persistently gray and rainy skies rounded out the steely gray landscape. But the engaging group of historians at the conference The Way Out: Microhistories of Flight from Nazi Germany kept me in good spirits and the feverish work of the translators (English, French, German) kept me entertained whenever there was a dull moment. My presentation about the German Jewish citizenship experience went well and a few attendees even asked to be notified when my book A Place They Called Home comes out.
The other 23 presentations at the conference focused on the pre- and post-war experiences of refugees in Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Riga, the No Man’s Land, and many other places. I wasn’t sure how well my more contemporary focus on “the way back” through reclaimed German citizenship would fit into the conference theme. But I felt reassured when Bob Moore, the historian who gave the closing remarks, commented on how extensively the Holocaust has been studied and how important it is for micro-historians to couch their work in a broader framework.
I’m not a micro-historian (or even a historian), but I agree that we can expand knowledge by studying choices made at the individual level, choices that can illuminate “the space of the possible.” Examining the personal histories of re-naturalized German citizens will, I hope, give insight into how descendants of Jewish families who fled the Nazis are forming new connections to contemporary German and European society.