Deakin University Team Researches the Centre’s History

With the assistance of a generous grant from the Jewish Holocaust Centre (JHC), a team of researchers from Deakin University is working on a comprehensive and up-todate study of the Centre. Historians Pam Maclean and Associate Professor Michele Langfield, and museum studies specialists, Associate Professor Andrea Witcomb and Dr Linda Young, form the core of the team, together with Research Fellows Dr Bill Anderson and Dr Donna-Lee Frieze.

The Deakin team is delighted to build on a longstanding relationship with the JHC, which commenced six years ago with a major research project focusing on the Centre’s video testimony collection. The edited collection, Testifying to the Holocaust, edited by Pam Maclean, Michele Langfield and Dvir Abramovich, represents the culmination of this collaboration. Our current project will also result in the publication of a book. Not only are we exploring the achievements of the JHC, but we are considering the directions the Centre will take in the future. We are also addressing the Centre’s unique position internationally as a Holocaust institution established by survivors themselves. While publications by the Centre that commemorate its tenth and twentieth anniversaries are invaluable sources for this project, the team is undertaking substantial original research. Important sources include interviews with individuals involved in the establishment and administration of the Centre, archives, private papers and institutional records. We have discovered that a number of people have kept records documenting their involvement in the early years of the Centre.

The team has kindly been given access to these papers and believes that other important materials relevant to the Centre’s operation are in private hands. The project focuses on several themes. It explores the centrality of memory and memorialisation to the Centre’s mission. The connection between the founders’ vision of restoring connections between ‘lost worlds’ and current communities exemplifies this theme. The evolution of the Centre’s work in
the field of education, especially the role of survivor volunteers, support for survivors, and collection of archival and testimonial material, all constitute crucial areas of our research. So too does the analysis of how the organisation and contents of the museum’s permanent and temporary displays have shaped Holocaust representation. Issues arising from the Centre’s transition from an essentially volunteer organisation to one increasingly reliant on paid professionals are of vital interest to the project. The extent to which the Centre broadens its activities from focusing on the Holocaust in particular to genocide in general reflects another emerging challenge for the team to consider.

Engagement with the JHC community is critical to the success of the project. An Advisory Committee has been established consisting of representatives from the Centre and the Deakin team. Its guidance is vital for the success of the project. The first meeting was held late last year and the team looks forward very much to its continued support. The team plans to hold regular information sessions at the Centre to report on the project’s progress and to seek advice and help from the JHC community.

If you think you have any materials which may be relevant to our project, please contact Pam Maclean, as the research team is eager to look at these materials and, with permission, arrange for copying. Pam can be contacted on 5222 1127 or email maclean@deakin.edu.au.

This article was written by Pam Maclean on behalf of the Deakin University research team.