The 1939 Society


Since its establishment in 1993, the UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies has presented high quality academic programming in Holocaust studies through support from the 1939 Society, a community of survivors, their relatives, and friends.

Between 2007 and 2010, the Center was the home for a major award from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.  Beginning with a focus on understandings and representations of the Holocaust in American literature and culture the UCLA/Mellon Program on the Holocaust in American and World Culture, supported a significantly broader array of activities, including:

  • Comparative literary and cultural approaches to the Holocaust
  • The evolution of knowledge of, and disciplinary approaches to, the Holocaust
  • The near destruction and revival of Yiddish language, literature and historiography
  • The “universalization” of the Holocaust and its relation to other instances of genocide

The Center remains deeply committed to continuing a critical engagement of the manifold dimensions of genocide and Holocaust studies through first-rate research, teaching, programming, library holdings and service learning.

1939 Society

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Holocaust Events 2018-2019


The Holocaust and North Africa

November 27, 2018
This event celebrated the release of The Holocaust and North Africa, edited by Leve Center faculty Professors Aomar Boum and Sarah Abrevaya Stein. The Holocaust is usually understood as a European story. Yet, this pivotal episode unfolded across North Africa and reverberated through politics, literature, memoir, and memory—Muslim as well as Jewish—in the post-war years. The Holocaust and North Africa offers the first English-language study of the unfolding events in North Africa, pushing at the boundaries of Holocaust Studies and North African Studies, and suggesting, powerfully, that neither is complete without the other. The essays in this volume reconstruct the implementation of race laws and forced labor across the Maghrib during World War II and consider the Holocaust as a North African local affair, which took diverse form from town to town and city to city. They explore how the Holocaust ruptured Muslim–Jewish relations, setting the stage for an entirely new post-war reality. Commentaries by leading scholars of Holocaust history complete the picture, reflecting on why the history of the Holocaust and North Africa has been so widely ignored—and what we have to gain by understanding it in all its nuances.
Talk by Aomar Boum (UCLA) and Sarah Abrevaya Stein (UCLA)
With support from the 1939 Society and the Maurice Amado Program in Sephardic Studies

Michael Rothberg

Unexpected Itineraries: Holocaust Testimony beyond Borders

March 14, 2019
This talk will discuss the trajectories of three women who survived the Holocaust and went on to bear witness to their experiences in various media: from oral and written testimonies to film and music. Charlotte Delbo, Marceline Loridan-Ivens, and Esther Bejarano came from different backgrounds and led very different lives, but they all followed “unexpected itineraries” that took them across borders and put them in touch with some of the burning social and political issues of the postwar world. In considering these women’s acts of witness, this account will emphasize the creativity and resilience that characterize their lives after Auschwitz.
Talk by Michael Rothberg (UCLA)
With support from the 1939 Society. Event marking the installation of the 1939 Society Samuel Goetz Chair in Holocaust Studies

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Hannah Arendt’s Message of Ill-Tidings

April 4, 2019
‘It was not only their own misfortunes that the refugees carried with them from land to land, from continent to continent,’ Hannah Arendt wrote, ‘but the great misfortune of the whole world.’ Shortly before her death, Arendt said that the real story of her generation of Jewish refugees from Nazism had yet to be fully understood. This lecture will return to Arendt’s refugee years to show how her influential theories about rights, the human condition, and political life were forged through her understanding of statelessness as an existential condition.
Talk by Lyndsey Stonebridge (University of Birmingham)
With support from the 1939 Society

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Global Itineraries of Holocaust Memory: The Jewish Caribbean and Nazi Persecution in Literature and Art

May 2, 2019
During World War II, the Caribbean provided safe haven to Jewish refugees from the Nazis. Meanwhile, Caribbean expatriates living in Europe found themselves caught up in the war and, in some cases, imprisoned. This talk revisits these entangled wartime histories through the lens of art and literature. Caribbean artists and writers trace wartime journeys between Suriname and Belgium, Poland and Haiti, to reveal unexpected intersections between Jewish and African diaspora experience. In their work, the Caribbean emerges as a site where not only Black and Jewish but also Sephardic and Ashkenazi memories and identities converge.
Talk by Sarah Phillips Casteel (Carleton University)
Arnold Band Distinguished Lecture in Jewish Studies, with the support of Sheila and Milt Hyman

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South African Jews, the Holocaust, and Apartheid

May 9, 2019
South Africa’s system of Apartheid (‘apartness’ in Afrikaans) was formalized in 1948, just three years after the end of the Holocaust. For South African Jews, the recent genocide served as powerful currency in the debate about how to relate to local racist practices and ideas. In this talk, Shirli Gilbert will explore the diverse and sometimes unexpected ways in which the history of Jewish persecution, and especially the Holocaust, shaped Jews’ attitudes to racism both during apartheid (1948-1994) and after the transition to democracy.
Talk by Shirli Gilbert (University of Southampton)
With support from the 1939 Society

Holocaust Events 2016-2017


Wounds of History: The Polish Underground and the Jews during World War II

November 17, 2016
Discussing one of the central problems in the history of Polish-Jewish relations: the attitude and behavior of the Polish Underground toward the Jews during World War II. Presenting archival documents, testimonies, and memoirs, Zimmerman recasts the entire debate by concluding that the reaction of the Polish Underground to the catastrophe that befell European Jewry was immensely varied—sometimes killing and other times helping the Jews who also participated in the anti-Nazi struggle.
Talk by Joshua Zimmerman (Yeshiva University)
With support from the 1939 Society


Book Launch and Symposium: Probing the Ethics of Holocaust Culture

January 19, 2017
This half-day symposium and book launch celebrated the publication of Probing the Ethics of Holocaust Culture (Harvard University Press, 2016), edited by Claudio Fogu, Wulf Kansteiner, and Todd Presner. Conceived as a sequel to the 1992 volume Probing the Limits of Representation, edited by Saul Friedländer, the new book is a searching reappraisal of the debates and controversies that have shaped Holocaust studies over a quarter century.
With support from the 1939 Society


Jewish Identity in Question: The Legacy of Irène Némirovsky

January 26, 2017
Irène Némirovsky (1903-1942), a Russian Jewish immigrant to France, achieved a brilliant career as a novelist during the 1930s but was deported as a “foreign Jew” in 1942 and died in Auschwitz. Némirovsky’s tragic fate mirrors that of many assimilated Jews in Europe who had abandoned Jewish religious practice (sometimes to the point of conversion to Christianity), only to be treated like all other Jews by the Nazis.
Talk by Susan Suleiman (Harvard University)
With support from the Naftulin Family


Memory and Continuity of the Southern Italian Jewish Legacy

March 16, 2017
Italian scholar Fabrizio Lelli studies the history of Apulian Jewish culture and its major intellectual achievements in the late Middle Ages and also concentrates on written and oral testimonies of former Jewish refugees, who at the very end of WWII resided in the United Nations transit camps that were established in the region of Apulia.
Lecture by Fabrizio Lelli (University of Salento, Lecce)
With support from the Viterbi Family


The Yiddish Historians of the Holocaust and the Prewar Tradition of Yiddish Historical Scholarship

April 25, 2017 • 306 Royce Hall • 12PM
The first Jewish historians of the Holocaust pioneered the study of the Holocaust from the perspective of Jewish experience. They also redefined the concept of Jewish resistance. Overlooked, argues Mark Smith, is that the works of these historians are united by a shared commitment to writing in Yiddish and to a research agenda arising from the prewar traditions of Yiddish historical scholarship. Talk by Mark L. Smith (UCLA) With support from the Michael and Irene Ross Fund


After Auschwitz: The Stories of Six Women

April 26, 2017 • 1200 Rolfe Hall • 6:30PM
In Jon Kean’s 2007 documentary Swimming in Auschwitz, six women—from different countries and diverse backgrounds—shared their unforgettable stories of surviving Auschwitz. After Auschwitz brings us into the next chapters of these remarkable women’s lives. Ultimately, each woman had to find her own answer to the question, “Why did I survive?” Film Screening

Holocaust Events 2015-2016


On the Margins of the Holocaust

November 15-16, 2015
Immediately following the end of the Second World War, the emerging Western scholarship on the Holocaust focused on the major historical actors and, to a somewhat lesser degree, the impact of the Holocaust on European Jewish communities. Until recently, little work has been done on what might be termed the “margins” of the Holocaust. The international conference examined new research on the Second World War’s impact on Jews and Muslims in North Africa. While mass murder did not occur there, Vichy-style antisemitic legislation was imposed, labor camps were set up, and the threat of annihilation loomed over the heads of the region’s Jews. Starting in November of 1942, the Allies began to liberate North Africa and thus spared the Jewish population from the decimation encountered in Europe. With support from the 1939 Society.


Rethinking Liberation

March 31, 2016
Seventy years after the end of the Second World War, the liberation of the campus is still relatively understudied by historians. Drawing on archival sources and eyewitness testimonies, this lecture provided an overview of the complex challenges liberated victims faced and the daunting tasks their liberators undertook to help them reclaim their shattered lives. Talk by Dan Stone (University of London)


Holocaust Events 2014-2015


How to Accept German Reparations

October 23, 2014
In a landmark process after the Holocaust, Germany created the largest sustained redress program in history, amounting to more than $60 billion. When human rights violations are presented primarily in material terms, acknowledging an indemnity claim becomes one way for a victim to be recognized. At the same time, indemnifications provoke difficult questions about how suffering and loss can be measured. Slyomovics, daughter of a survivor, maintains that we can use the legacies of German reparations to reconsider approaches to reparations in the future.
Talk by Susan Slyomovics (UCLA)


For the Good of Tomorrow, Preserve Yesterday

November 20, 2014
Twenty years ago, the International Auschwitz Council confronted this harsh reality: the ravages of time were devouring every barracks, building, shoe and suitcase remaining from the twisted world that was Auschwitz-Birkenau under the Nazis. Join Piotr Cywiński, a historian with a background in inter-religious dialogue, for a stimulating and provocative presentation of how the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Museum, a pilgrimage destination for 1.5 million visitors from around the world, functions in contemporary Poland, and what is needed to maintain it.


It Did Happen Here: Anti-Nazi Activism in Los Angeles

November 25, 2014
Hitler’s ascent to power in Germany in 1933 gave rise to a wave of shocking, public displays of anti-Semitism in Los Angeles and the formation of several local fascist organizations, including the German American Bund. While some responded to these developments with indifference, Jewish residents actively mobilized their community, forming new organizations to combat both Hitler’s murderous campaign abroad and his local supporters. Historians Laura Rosenzweig and Caroline Luce will discuss their forthcoming digital exhibit on this little known chapter in Los Angeles history.

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The Holocaust in Farsi

January 13, 2015
The Holocaust has not been taught in schools in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Indeed, in recent years, some Holocaust revisionist history and even neo-Nazi ideology has been offered to university-level students. Holocaust, the first Farsi-language nonfiction work on the subject, describes the rise of Nazism in Germany to the final days of World War II in three volumes, featuring graphic photographs from the era as well as U.S. and European government documents. The fourth volume chronicles other 20th century genocides.
With support from the 1939 Society

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Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields

March 12, 2015
Wendy Lower’s stunning account of the role of German women on the World War II Nazi eastern front powerfully revises history, proving that we have ignored the reality of women’s participation in the Holocaust, including as brutal killers. Drawing on twenty years of research that included access to post-Soviet documents and interviews with German witnesses, Lower makes an incisive case for the massive complicity, and worse, of the 500,000 young German women she places, for the first time, directly in the killing fields of the expanding Reich.
With support from the 1939 Society


UCLA Faculty Working in Holocaust Studies

Saul P. Friedländer

Distinguished Emeritus Professor of History, a winner of the 2014 Dan David Prize, is author of Nazi Germany and the Jews, vol. 2: The Years of Extermination (2007) and Nazi Germany and the Jews, vol. 1: The Years of Persecution, 1933-1939 (1997).

David N. Myers

Professor and Chair of History, partnered with Prof. Richard Hovannisian to edit Enlightenment and Diaspora: The Armenian and Jewish Cases (1999).

Todd Presner

Director of the UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies and Professor of Germanic Languages and Comparative Literature, is author of Mobile Modernity: Germans, Jews, Trains (2007) and A Message in a Bottle: Holocaust Writing on the Edge of Death (in progress).

Michael Rothberg

Professor of English and 1939 Society Samuel Goetz Chair in Holocaust Studies. His latest book is Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization (2009). He is also the author of Traumatic Realism: The Demands of Holocaust Representation (2000), and has co-edited The Holocaust: Theoretical Readings (2003) and special issues of the journals Criticism, Interventions, Occasion, and Yale French Studies.

Susan Slyomovics

Professor of Anthropology and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, is the author of How to Accept German Reparations (2014).

Sarah Abrevaya Stein

Professor of History, is the author of Saharan Jews and the Fate of French Algeria (2014) and co-editor of Sephardi Lives: A Documentary History, 1700-1950 (2014).

Graduate Studies

Today, graduate students across the Social Sciences and Humanities Divisions are engaged in researching the Holocaust and genocide in an innovative and interdisciplinary manner, one that is not limited by any singular perspective. Departments with Ph.D. candidates doing Holocaust research include Comparative Literature, English and Italian as well as History.

Recent Dissertations in Holocaust Studies

Germanic Languages

Marc T. Voss, Preventing Auschwitz from Happening Again: A Multinational

Empirical Study on the Contribution of Literature, Poetry, and Film in Representing the Holocaust. 2010.


Kierra Crago-Schneider, Jewish ‘Shtetls’ in Postwar Germany: An Analysis of Interactions among Jewish Displaced Persons, Germans, and Americans between 1945 and 1957 in Bavaria. 2013.

Rachel Deblinger, “In a World Still Trembling”: American Jewish Philanthropy and the Shaping of Holocaust Survivor Narratives in Postwar America (1945-1953). 2014

Mark Lewis, International Legal Movements against War Crimes, Terrorism, and Genocide, 1919-1948. 2009.

Slavic Languages & Literatures

Naya Lekht, Narratives of Return: Babii Iar and Holocaust Literature in the Soviet Union. 2013.

Undergraduate Service Learning

Over the past five years, Professor Todd Presner has developed an innovative service learning course in which undergraduate students work closely with survivors on a project to facilitate public knowledge of the Holocaust. The class represents a partnership with the Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles’ Café Europa, the 1939 Society, the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, and Hillel at UCLA.

In 2012 and 2013, students in Between History & Memory: Interviewing Holocaust Survivors in the Digital Age created audio tours and digital maps that tell powerful stories of lives uprooted in Europe and reinvented in the U.S. Their final projects allowed the students to become stewards of the survivors’ stories and are now part of the permanent exhibit at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. Students described the class as “a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Undergraduate students may also apply for the Sarah & Eugene Zinn Memorial Scholarship for Holocaust Studies which supports programs of study, internships or research projects that apply the knowledge of the Jewish experience, and especially the lessons of the Holocaust, to contemporary society and social justice issues.

Major Holocaust Programming

In addition to high-caliber seminars, colloquia and the annual 1939 Society Distinguished Lecture in Holocaust Studies, the Center regularly hosts international conferences on the Holocaust, and brings major exhibitions to UCLA. The impact of these programs is great, as all are open to students, faculty and the wider Los Angeles community.


ShanghaiJewish Refugees in Shanghai (1933-1941)

(October 2013)

UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies, UCLA Hillel, and Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum; cosponsored by UCLA Confucius Institute, UCLA Center for Chinese Studies and Shanghai Foreign Affairs Office of Hongkou District; with the support of the UCLA Departments of History, Germanic Languages and Ethnomusicology; the UCLA Library, Facing History and Ourselves, the Goldrich Family Foundation, the German Consulate General in Los Angeles, the 1939 Society, Stephen O. Lesser and the Natalie Limonick Fund. (Click image to view program pdf)


ForbiddenArtFORBIDDEN ART: Camp Art from the Collections of the Auschwitz Memorial

(Jan. 2013)
UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies and UCLA Hillel; cosponsored by St. Alban’s Episcopal Church; the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland; the German Consulate General in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, the UCLA Department of Germanic Languages and the UCLA Department of History; with the support of The “1939” Club, the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation, the Goldrich Family Foundation and Mimi and Werner Wolfen. (Click image to view program pdf)


BulgariaBulgaria and the Holocaust: The Fragility of Goodness

(November 2012)
UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies and Hillel at UCLA; cosponsored by UCLA Center for European and Eurasian Studies, UCLA Department of History, UCLA Mickey Katz Chair in Jewish Music and the Consulate General of Bulgaria in Los Angeles; with support of the Bulgarian Jewish Heritage Alliance of America and The “1939” Club. (Click image to view program pdf)


HistoryUnlimitedHistory Unlimited: Probing the Ethics of Holocaust Culture

(April 2012)
UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies and UCLA Department of History  UCLA Department of History with support from the ‘1939’ Club, and UC Humanities Research Institute. (Click image to view program pdf)



RecoveredVoicesRecovered Voices: Staging Suppressed Opera of the Early 20th Century

(April 2010)
UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies and the OREL Foundation. (Click image to view poster)




AestheticsAesthetics after the Holocaust: Exploring the Problem of Aesthetic Reactions to the Holocaust

(February 2010)
UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies and UCLA/Mellon Program on the Holocaust in American and World Culture. (Click image to view program pdf)



Jews and Judaism in the Work and Biography of Franz Werfel

(October 2010)
UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies, Department of Germanic Languages and UCLA Center for European and Eurasian Studies



mythThe Myth of Silence: Who Spoke about the Holocaust and When

(October 2009)
UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies, the ‘1939’ Club, and the UCLA/Mellon Program on the Holocaust in American and World Culture. (Click image to view program pdf)



FrenchJewishThe Jewish Question in French Philosophy after the Holocaust

(December 2008)
UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies and the UCLA/Mellon Program on the Holocaust in American and World Culture. (Click image to view program pdf)