Atina Grossmann is Professor of History in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Cooper Union in New York City. Publications include Jews, Germans, and Allies: Close Encounters in Occupied Germany (2007, German 2012), Wege in der Fremde: Deutsch-jüdische Begegnungsgeschichte zwischen New York, Berlin und Teheran (2012), and Reforming Sex: The German Movement for Birth Control and Abortion Reform, 1920-1950 (1995); co-edited volumes on Crimes of War: Guilt and Denial in the Twentieth Century 2002) and After the Nazi Racial State: Difference and Democracy in Germany and Europe (2009), as well as Shelter from the Holocaust: Rethinking Jewish Survival in the Soviet Union (2017, with M.Edele and S. Fitzpatrick) and The JDC at 100 (with A Patt, L. Levi, M. Maud, forthcoming 2018). She is working, together with Dorota Glowacka, on a brief summary volume (Bloomsbury) on Gender and the Holocaust and her current research focuses on “Remapping Survival: Jewish Refugees and Lost Memories of Displacement, Trauma, and Rescue in the Soviet Union, Iran, and India,” as well as the entanglements of family memoir and historical scholarship.
Presented Lecture: “Persian Gulf Command: Jewish Refugees in Wartime Iran”
This paper situates Iran as a key – and understudied – multinational political, military, and humanitarian site between 1941 and 1945. A center of rescue and relief efforts for European Jews, Teheran offered shelter for a small group of Central European refugees who found exotic adventure and precarious safety in the Persian “Orient,” and served as the headquarters of major aid operations by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency for East European Jews struggling to survive the war in Central Asia. Iran was the transit point for the “Teheran Children” on their way to Palestine from Uzbekistan and for General Anders’ Polish Exile Army moving from the Soviet Union through the Middle East to the European front.
The strategically located monarchy negotiating semi-colonial Allied occupation and partial “western” modernization emerges as integral to the history of Zionism and the state of Israel, the rescue efforts of the JDC during the Holocaust, the contested politics of the Polish Government in Exile, and the general Allied war effort. After the 1941 Anglo-Soviet occupation and the entry of American troops, Iran was the headquarters of the Persian Gulf Command and the Lend-Lease aid mission for the Soviet Union, arguably one of the most crucial — albeit non-combat — theaters of the Second World War. This largely forgotten history contributes to a remapping of the contours of Jewish persecution, survival, relief and rescue before, during and after World War II within a global context of war and displacement.
The paper also focuses in on the intensely ambivalent and paradoxical experiences, sensibilities, and emotions of bourgeois Jews who found refuge in Tehran after 1933. Always shadowed by the emerging European catastrophe, these uprooted Jews navigated complex and unfamiliar terrain, privileged as adventurous Europeans in an exotic non-western, semi-colonial society but also homeless, stateless, and with only an inchoate anxious sense of their families’ fate or what their future held. On the margins of their collapsing Jewish European world, they lived as hybrids, themselves on the margins, expat, emigré and refugee, expelled from the “West” but never really leaving it behind.
In Iran, under dual occupation by the British (and US) and the Soviets after August 1941 and claimed by the British as part of their sphere of influence well before then, Central European Jews found refuge and employment during the forcibly modernizing reign of Reza Shah Pahlavi (and then in occupied Iran), and in another “East/West” encounter, confronted desperate Polish refugees escaping from the Soviet Union (especially the “Teheran Children”) with the Polish Government in Exile’s Anders Army. Tehran served as the headquarters of major aid operations by the JDC and the Jewish Agency for East European Jews struggling to survive the war in Central Asia. The strategically located monarchy emerges as integral to the history of Zionism and the state of Israel, the rescue efforts of the JDC during the Holocaust, the contested politics of the Polish Government in Exile, the Allied war effort, and imperial crisis.
Drawing on archival sources, memoirs and letters, fiction, and an extensive collection of family correspondence and memorabilia (1935-1947), the paper probes refugees’ understanding of their own unstable position, the changing geopolitical situation, and their efforts to come to terms with emerging revelations about the destruction of European Jewry.
Selective List of Publications
- “Where Did All “Our” Jews Go? Germans and Jews in Post-Nazi Germany,” in The Germans and the Holocaust: Popular Responses to the Persecution and murder of the Jews, eds. Susanna Schrafstetter and Alan E. Steinweiss (New York: Berghahn, 2016).
- “Rabbi Steven Schwarzschild’s Reports from Berlin, 1948-1950,” Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook 2015, Introduction to annotated special section reprinting the original reports, 1-6.
- “Vishniac and the Surviving Remnant,” with Avinoam Patt, in Roman Vishniac Redisovered, ed. Maya Benton (New York: International Center of Photography, 2015), 205-210.
- Jews, Germans, and Allies: Close Encounters in Occupied Germany 1945-1949 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007). German edition Juden, Deutsche, und Allierte: Begegnungen im besetzten Deutschland (Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2012).
- Wege in der Fremde: Deutsch-jüdische Begegnungsgeschichte zwischen New York, Berlin und Teheran. (Göttingen, Wallstein Verlag, 2012).
- Geschichte der Juden in Deutschland von 1945 bis zur Gegenwart: Politik, Kultur, und Gesellschaft, ed. Michael Brenner, with D. Diner, N. Frei, L. Gorelik, C. Goschler, A. Kauders, T. Lewinsky,and Y.Weiss (Munich: Beck, 2012).
- After the Racial State: Difference and Democracy in Germany and Europe, with Rita Chin, Heide Fehrenbach, and Geoff Eley. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009).
- “Remapping Relief and Rescue: Flight, Displacement, and International Aid for Jewish Refugees during World War II.” New German Critique 117 (Fall 2012).
- “Family Files: Emotions and Stories of (Non-) Restitution.” German Historical Institute London Bulletin 34:1 (May 2012).
- “Grams, Calories, and Food: Languages of Victimization, Entitlement, and Human Rights in Occupied Germany.” Central European History 44: 1 (2011), in special issue on “Utopia, Human Rights, and Gender,” edited by and with introduction by Atina Grossmann and Carola Sachse, March 2011. Revised in The Human Rights Revolution: An International History, ed. Akira Iriye, Petra Goedde, William I. Hitchcock (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).
- “The ‘Big Rape’: Sex and Sexual Violence, War, and Occupation in Post-World War II Memory and Imagination.” In Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones: From the Ancient World to the Era of Human Rights, ed. Elizabeth D. Heineman (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2011).