Why We Have to Learn About Sephardic Holocaust Stories
One of the more ambitious tasks of Holocaust research in recent years has been to enhance our understanding of the diversity and complexity of what went on during this dark period of human history. Without seeking to minimize any one specific experience, the assumption that the “typical” Holocaust account is represented by the Ashkenazi (male) experience is being adjusted, slowly but surely, by research that focuses on the war-time experiences of women and children, as well as that of other ethnic, religious or types of “minorities” subjected to the horrors of the Nazi machinery.
During a 2010 summer workshop on Sephardic Jews and the Holocaust at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, I had the opportunity to search in the archives for information on how Jewish women from North Africa (a longstanding research interest of mine) experienced this devastating historic event. I realized that through the oral testimonies collected in the U.S.C. Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive, as well as the collection at the Fortunoff Video Archive of Holocaust Testimonies housed at Yale, I would be able to locate information on this minority experience. Being a Norwegian Jew myself, I am acutely aware of the danger and tragedy of dismissing a minority narrative in favor of the majority. I have been on the receiving end of comments about how “few” Norwegian Jews there were. The implication is that in the larger scope of Holocaust history, this story is hardly central or representative to the Eastern or Central European Jewish war experience, even though nearly 50% of Norway’s approximately 1400 Jews were deported and killed, mostly in Auschwitz. Hence, with the acute awareness of and sensitivity to the dangers of occluding minority narratives in favor of majority ones, my research strives to bring other stories to light.