Family Networks and Surviving the Holocaust in Eastern Europe

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Seeking to explain the survival of her children and grandchildren, Esther Stermer of Borszczów declared in her memoir: “Our family in particular would not let the Germans have their way easily. We had vigor, ingenuity, and determination to survive. Above all our family would stand together. When one of us was in danger, the others could not cower to escape. They proved their personal strength and character, time and again”. But what role did family solidarity actually play in their survival? And what were the limits of it in the survival strategies that other Jews in Eastern Galicia employed? Based on testimonies, diaries, memoirs and oral interviews, this lecture considers the family networks which could increase individual and group survival. It examines how family members managed to evade capture and deportation by relying on the intervention and support of close, distant and surrogate relatives. While focusing on survival, it points to the limited agency that Jews seeking rescue had when engaging in these social networks for both “low-level,” ad hoc survival measures and the more organized, though often clandestine, modes, to epic rescue operations. Limited agency pertains not only to the exceptional nature of survival. It also helps us understand the psychological economy of hiding and surviving in Eastern Europe.

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