A Network of Survivors

What began as a campaign to expand Germany’s borders for greater living space (lebensraum) ended in the systematic genocide of over ten million people in what would later be termed the Holocaust. Of the nine million Jews that had formally lived in Europe prior to the Nazis’ rise to power, only three and a half million survived. As of 2016, it was reported that there are approximately 100,000 Jewish survivors still alive, and this number is only decreasing.

Castells in “Materials for an exploratory theory of the networked society” discusses how “the introduction of new information/communication technologies allows networks to keep their flexibility and adaptability”. Holocaust survivors have managed to establish their own interconnected network of communication, where the survivors within this network make collective and shared decisions. For example, when 94 year old Oskar Groening, known as the “Bookkeeper of Auschwitz” was tried in 2015 as a Nazi war criminal, survivors were asked to testify at his hearing. Many were reluctant to do so, although they were provided assurance through their collective network where a number of survivors agreed that they would testify together, so no one would have to alone.

An example of how the Holocaust survivor networks began can be attributed to the BBC special “That’s Life”, a story that I personally find incredibly beautiful and impacting. Sir Nicolas Winton was, and continues to be, a credited hero for his services in World War II when he rescued over 600 children bound for death camps from Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia. In 1988, much to his surprise, Winton was reunited with over two dozen of the children he saved.

The network of Holocaust survivors is a result of political, religious, and social implications that they experienced under the Nazi regime. In his article, Castells argues how these factors formulate and shape a network, and how they can “equally kill or kiss”. The network of Holocaust survivors today has evidently had a positive impact on the members involved, as it has provided survivors assurance in difficult times and allowed for emotional but well-deserved reunions.

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Myself and survivor Max Eisen, 2017

Although I personally have no direct ties to the Holocaust, I have been an accepted member of this network. It was through this network I was able to contact and meet Auschwitz survivor Max Eisen in 2013 and once again in 2017. I had the privilege of speaking with him when he visited my university, and something that stood out to me he said was that without the support of the other survivors he had met and maintained contact with, testifying against Nazi war criminal Reinhold Hanning in 2015 would have been incredibly difficult. To me, I see how impacting the survivor network has been with empowering survivors and providing them with assurance, stability, and closure.

This survivor network has led to the development of a number of Holocaust centres and educational programs for survivors to interact with one another, while they have also expanded their network to universities, museums, government bodies, and so on. Although the Holocaust was limited to Europe, it now transcends time and space where individuals can connect within this network from across the globe. It relies on a number of actors to operate, including but not limited to the survivors themselves, historians, translators, and universities. The survivors are the most important nodes within this network, although as Castells discusses, they all rely on one another.

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2 Comments

  1. I like how you highlight that the network itself has a positive impact on the members of the network, those being Holocaust survivors, and in turn the network as a movement leads to some sort of ‘output’, that being the development of Holocaust centres, museums, educational programs, etc.

    Castells describes the role of networks in shaping “relationships of production” in regards to capital and labour. This tangentially reminds me of the situation you are describing in the survivors’ network. Although not in terms of capitalism referred to by Castells, the ‘product’ in what you are describing is a type of ‘legacy’ that will maintain the role of the survivor network, when inevitably there are no survivors left to tell their stories. Through these institutions, further education on the Holocaust, and the lessons learned from it can continue to perpetuate the role of the network that has been established by survivors. The question remains whether these institutions will have enough influence to maintain the importance and education of the Holocaust,and whether these lessons will still have equal impact in the absence of survivors.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with Ran; I really like the discussion here that implies that networks are a source of strength and empowerment. I think it really demonstrates the importance of connections and links, even if the events which have linked them together are negative. This network of survivors reminds me of networks of actvisists. In light of recent events, we can look at the activists who participated in the Women’s March as a network – through which global connections were made. I think something interesting about these kinds of networks is the variety of connections; while they may come together from different social backgrounds and political beliefs, they are linked through causal events which directs them towards a common goal. I also think the use of technologies in these networks is worth studying: the difference between technologies through which Holocaust survivors built a network and today’s activists built networks are entirely different however they bear many similarities in their totality.

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