We about us
Founded in 1982, the Center for Research on Antisemitism at the TU Berlin is one of the world’s most important institutions of its kind. The core of its work is basic interdisciplinary research on antisemitism in all its various causes, manifestations and effects, past and present. This has always been complemented by other, related themes. Extensive research on, for example, the history of the Holocaust, German-Jewish history, other manifestations of racism and violence or the experiences of minorities in Germany give proof to this conceptual and thematic range. Institutionally, this thematic breadth is reflected in such projects as the Arbeitsstelle für Jugendgewalt und Rechtsextremismus  (Task Force on Youth Violence and Right-Wing Extremism), initiated at the ZfA in 1999. The Center has expanded the geographical reach of its work, as well: Originally limited to Germany for the most part, the work of the Center relates increasingly to European and non-European contexts, as seen in the Forschungskollegs zum Antisemitismus in Europa  (Research Forum on Antisemitism in Europe). Since 2012, the ZfA has also been part of the international research network International Consortium for Research on Antisemitism and Racism (ICRAR) , which coordinates joint research initiatives of the participating institutes. Also since that time, the director of the ZfA represents the TU on the board of the Selma Stern Zentrum jüdische Studien Berlin-Brandenburg  (Selma Stern Center for Jewish Studies Berlin-Brandenburg). The ZfA’s research activities also encompass a variety of academic events such as conferences, lectures or regularly scheduled Forschungskolloquium  (research colloquium).
In addition to research, the ZfA is involved in three other areas of activity: Its staff regularly offers courses as well as training at the TU Berlin. A Master’s Program in “Interdisciplinary Antisemitism Research” was introduced in 2014/15. In addition, the ZfA plays an advisory role in scholarly, educational and political committees, participates in exhibitions, readings and book presentations, and thus generally supports civic education.
The ZfA began its public activity in November 1983 with a study day on the theme of “Countering Anti-Semitism” – together with the New York Research Foundation for Jewish Immigration – in which both local and international researchers took part. Six additional study days followed through 1989, dedicated to the Holocaust, the right to asylum for refugees, prejudice research, anti-Jewish violence and current political issues vis-à-vis “foreigners.” At the same time, the ZfA held several public lecture series featuring well-known researchers from Germany and abroad, dealing with antisemitism (1983); the image of “Jews and Judaism in Literature” (1984); “The Holocaust and Science” (1985); “German-Jewish Biographies” (1987); “Modern Antisemitism” (1988); and in 1989 with the emigration of scholars (“Persecution, Expulsion, New Life: Scholars in emigration after 1933”). Eight years later came a series of lectures again picking up on the theme of “Persecution and Discrimination Against Minorities in the 20th Century: Germany’s Role.” The round of academic conferences opened in 1983 with an event on “Antisemitism Today” – jointly with the Aspen-Institute Berlin – followed in 1998 by a conference on antisemitism in political culture after 1945. The conference in 1990 was dedicated to the “history of blood libel accusations against Jews.”
With the fall of the Berlin Wall and end of the division of Europe, ZfA turned its sights on East Central Europe, where old structures of prejudice found – and continue to find – fertile ground in current crisis situations. Anti-Jewish sentiments and problems faced by Jews today were the subject of conferences focusing on specific countries: Latvia (1994), Lithuania (1996), Slovakia (1997), Poland (1998), Romania (1999) and Hungary (2003, 2012). But as early as 1992 the ZfA examined the problem in Europe as a whole; together with the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism and the Institute of Jewish Affairs London, the ZfA played a leading role in organizing a major international conference on “Antisemitism in Europe.” This was followed by a collaboration with the Institute of History of the University of Salzburg in organizing a conference comparing the processing of Nazism, antisemitism and the Holocaust in Austria, the Federal Republic of Germany and East Germany. The comparative approach was taken again in 2009 with a symposium on responses by European Jews to emerging antisemitism; one year later, a conference was held on the emergence and development of antisemitism as a political movement in Europe from 1879 to 1914.
Several conferences in the 1990s were dedicated to German-Jewish history: In 1993 the ZfA joined with the Wurzburg-based Gesellschaft für Exilforschung (Society for Exile Research) to offer a conference on the theme of “German-Jewish Exile – The End of Assimilation?” In 1995 a conference took place on the theme of “After Auschwitz: Jewish life and identity in Germany,” followed later that year by a conference on “Anti-Zionism in the GDR.” One year later, the ZfA and the Leo Baeck Institute London in Oxford co-organized a conference on “Jews in the Weimar Republic.” In 1998 and 2001, two conferences on the rescue and survival of Jews in National Socialist Germany from 1933-1945 were organized in conjunction with a major documentation project. In 1998 two scholarly conferences were dedicated respectively to the expulsion of Jews from Poland during the anti-Zionist campaign of 1968, and the “November Pogroms of 1938.”
An important task of the ZfA is to observe – using the empirical methods of social sciences – current trends regarding antisemitism, xenophobia and extremism in Germany, both in public perception and political action. Since the early 1990s, the center has dealt with the topics of xenophobia, antisemitism and right-wing violence at various conferences, such as the 1993 “Workshop on Violence, Right-wing Extremism and Antisemitism.” This main focus was firmly established in 1999 through the ZfA’s creation of the coordinator position on Youth Violence and Right-Wing Extremism, with the aim of applying the findings of academic research to the development of strategies for combating xenophobic youth violence. A conference on right-wing extremism and youth violence in Berlin and Brandenburg was held in November 1999, and was followed in 2003 by another conference (“Stolz ein Deutscher zu sein” – “Proud to be German”). In April 2005, in response to electoral gains by the far-right NPD party in Germany, the party’s antisemitism was examined in a conference.
A series of additional conferences were dedicated to hostile attitudes towards minorities in Germany and Europe overall. Anti-Jewish sentiments among Muslims, a theme that has gained increased attention in public and academic arenas since 2001, was discussed at an international conference in 2000 on the “development of the ‘enemy concept’ in the Middle East conflict”; this was followed in December 2005 by a conference on Islamic extremist anti-Judaism. Three years later, a conference on “Feindbild Muslim-Feindbild Jude” (The Muslim Enemy, the Jewish Enemy) triggered public debates on the comparability of antisemitism and Islamophobia, or hatred of Muslims. Hostility against Sinti and Roma in Europe, also on the rise in recent years, was the theme of a conference in 2007 – “Roma Children in Europe: Between Isolation and Integration” – jointly organized with UNICEF and the German Bundestag. In 2010, a further conference was dedicated to the subject of “Antiziganism.” The extent to which traditional images and stereotypes of “foreigners” have also made their way into children’s literature was discussed at a conference in 2009. Another subject of national and international conferences – organized by the ZfA alone or in cooperation with other institutions – has been the conceptual development of antisemitism research. On its 20th anniversary celebration in 2002, the ZfA hosted a conference at which leading experts took stock of research on antisemitism over recent decades. In 2009, a conference dealt with the importance of the view of historical events in modern antisemitism. In 2012, in cooperation with the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and the Leo Baeck Institute in London, the ZfA organized an international conference dealing with the relationship between emotion and modern antisemitism.
The history of the National Socialist persecution of Jews was not only the subject of conferences on the East-Central European countries in the 1990s and on the region of Transnistria in 2008, both of which focused extensively on the Holocaust; it was also the subject of several conferences dealing with Jewish emigration and exile. In rapid succession, there were conferences on refugees to Australia (2001); the “Kindertransport” which brought children from the “Third Reich” to Great Britain in 1938/39 (2002); and in July 2008 a conference was held on the 1939 Evian Conference and the refusal or rejection of refugees. The multi-year research and publication project “Der Ort des Terrors” (Site of Terror) concluded in September 2010 with a conference on the history of the National Socialist concentration camps.
The ZfA has always viewed its function as imparting knowledge, an amalgam of theory and practice. The center’s five “summer universities against antisemitism” are a major contribution on that score: The inaugural event was held in 2006, followed by “Anti-Zionism, Israel hostility and Islamist Jew-hatred” (2007); in 2008, “Prejudices against minorities in everyday life”; in 2009, “Extremism or the center of society? Dimensions and manifestations of antisemitism today”; in 2010, “From religious prejudice to secular resentment.” The wandering exhibit titled “Antisemitism? Anti-Zionism? Criticism of Israel?”, which was shown in several venues in Germany starting in 2007 and was accompanied by lectures and training programs, also aimed at increasing public awareness of various forms of antisemitism. In 2011 the summer university focused on opportunities, activities and desiderata in preventing and combatting antisemitism.
When the ZfA began its work in the early 1980s, it was able to initiate several comprehensive research projects in rapid succession: Starting in 1984, the DFG and the VW Foundation supported a project on “Images of Jews and Judaism in German Folk Culture” in the first half of the 19th century. One year later, the project on “The Impact of Emigration of German-speaking Scientists after 1933,” looking at the fields of medicine, physics and political science, was likewise supported by the VW Foundation; from 1987-88 this was complemented by the DFG-funded sub-project on the emigration of Jewish studies. In 2000, the subject of academic emigration and exile was continued through other projects. That year, with the support of the German Research Foundation, in cooperation with the Institute for Musicology of the Technical University of Berlin and the “musica reanimata” association, a project on the theme of “German-speaking musicians in exile in Australia” was launched. The study focused on all German composers, musicians and musicologists who fled or were deported from Germany to Australia between 1933 and 1945. The subject of exile in Sweden is the focus of an ongoing project launched with support from the DFG in 2010. In 1987 the ZfA joined with the Allensbach Institute for Public Opinion Research to carry out a representative survey funded by the New York-based Anti-Defamation League on “the extent and forms of contemporary antisemitism in the Federal Republic.” February 2013 saw the launch of a project on “antisemitism in Berlin 2010-2013,” funded by the Berlin State Commission against Violence.
The history of National Socialism and the Holocaust has always held a prominent place in the work of the Center for Research on Antisemitism, and continues to do so. For example, the results of the research project on “Solidarity and Assistance to Jews from 1933-1945,” about the rescue efforts by non-Jews in Nazi-controlled Europe, was published in seven volumes from 1998 to 2004. Two additional series, which collected the results of a large-scale project on concentration camp historiography, were the “History of the Concentration Camps,” whose first volume on the earliest camps came out in December 2001 and was followed by 13 additional volumes through 2011; and the series on “Places of Terror,” brought out in cooperation with the C. H. Beck publishing company, whose nine volumes cover the history of the National Socialist concentration and extermination camps.
In connection with these projects, the previously little-known history of the Minsk Ghetto and the Maly Trostinez Extermination Camp was researched in the project “persecution of Jews in Belarus,” from 2005 to 2007, with support from the Fritz-Thyssen Foundation. Also funded by the Fritz-Thyssen Foundation, and later with additional funding (from the Foundation for Remembrance, Responsibility and Future, the Hans Boeckler Foundation and others) was a project dealing with the question of “what the German people knew about the crimes against the Jews, and what attitudes did they take”: “German Society and the murder of European Jewry: knowledge and attitudes of the population 1941-1945.” Since 2009, an ongoing project financed by the Technical University Berlin has been focusing on the TU’s exclusion and expulsion of scientists and students as well as its deprivation of academic degrees from 1933 to 1945.
Starting in 2013, the history of Jewish shareholders in the Berlin Zoo during the Nazi era has been the focus of project funded by the Berlin Zoological Garden. Since 1997, a research project on the “Rescue of Jews in National Socialist Germany” – born of an initiative from the association “Against Forgetting - For Democracy” – has enjoyed the support of the Robert Bosch Foundation and the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach Foundation as well as the Donors' Association for German Science. In the framework of this project, a sophisticated database was created to facilitate analysis and documentation of help for and rescue of Jews by non-Jewish Germans, especially in and around Berlin. An important goal of the project is to create the basis for the inclusion of rescue efforts by Germans in the broad debate about resistance during the “Third Reich” (the project has been continued at the Memorial to German Resistance in Berlin). In 2008, a thematically related project dealt with biography of the Berlin painter Franz Heckendorf and his help for fleeing Jews. An ongoing project supported by the DFG focuses on another form of opposition to Hitler, namely the plans by opponents in the Foreign Affairs/Defense office to overthrow the government and develop a new system in 1938/39.
Desecration of Jewish cemeteries is among the common acts of anti-Semitic violence in the 19th and 20th centuries. Based on a quantitative, database-supported documentation of individual cases of cemetery desecration, a project supported by the Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED Dictatorship examined the motives of perpetrators, their connections to right-wing extremist movements and the societal, political and legal approach to this problem in the two postwar German states and in unified Germany. From 2002-2005, in the context of a larger research network on the integration potential of modern societies, supported by the Federal Ministry for Education and Research, the ZfA realized the project “Fear Zones” in the former East German states, which dealt with the question of whether – and to what extent – right-wing extremist groups manage to dominate public space. The “Task Force on Youth Violence and Right-Wing Extremism” has carried out several empirical research projects on questions of right-wing extremism and violence: In cooperation with the “Brandenburg Action Group against Violence, Right-wing extremism and Xenophobia,” a case study was carried out in 2003/ 04 regarding a homicide with extreme right-wing character in the state of Brandenburg. In 2007, on behalf of the “Berlin State Commission against Violence,” the research report “Berlin Projects Against Right-wing Extremism” was submitted. This was followed in 2009 by the report “What Can be Done to Stop Right-Wing Violence,” presenting the programs aimed at reducing right-wing violence in the state of Berlin. Most recently, the task force prepared a project in 2012 on prejudice and violence prevention programs in two Berlin districts.
The ZfA has also ben engaged in several projects dealing with the experiences of other minorities. Two projects focused on Sinti and Roma: Starting in 1998, a project supported by the DFG examined the living conditions that had led Roma to flee to Berlin, and their perspectives of repatriation. Starting in 2000, another DFG-funded project explored the issue of “Gypsy” stereotypes. Starting in 2013, the ZfA has carried out an empirically representative study on “Popular attitudes towards Sinti and Roma,” financed by the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency.
“Strangers in their own land,” a project located outside Europe and supported by the VW Foundation, deals with the state's official exclusion of the indigenous majority population in the Republic of Bolivia from 1928 to 1952/53. In February 2013, a large-scale, comparative project on current forms of antisemitism and xenophobia in Germany was launched, under the auspices of the Hamburg Foundation for the Advancement of Science and Culture.
With the research project “Comparing Anti-Semitism in Germany and Italy (1880-1914),” funded by the Gerda-Henkel Foundation from 2002-2004, the ZfA was able to launch a long-term comparative analysis of modern Anti-Semitism in Europe. This project was followed (from 2006 to 2011) by the project on “Anti-Semitism in Europe 1879-1914,” an international graduate program supported by the VW Foundation, the DFG, the Fritz-Thyssen and the Cusanus foundations, that dealt with the emergence and dissemination of antisemitism in ten European countries. As of 2012, this was associated with a continuation of an ongoing research group financed by the Einstein Stiftung Berlin, in which doctoral candidates from eight countries examine the radicalization of antisemitism in Europe during World War I and the early post-war years. The goal of another large-scale publication project is to document the history of antisemitism in all its historical, geographical and thematic breadth in the “Compendium on Antisemitism.” The first five of seven volumes have been published.
Projects, Events and Material for Civic Education
The ZfA has participated in the development of a broad variety of teaching materials on antisemitism.
In 2001, the ZfA staff created a special civic education publication on the topic of “Prejudices – Stereotypes – Enemies” for the Federal Agency for Civic Education.
In cooperation with the Cornelsen Publishing Company, the staff developed educational software for schoolchildren (a DVD Rom) titled “Against Antisemitism.” The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam worked with experts from seven countries to develop teaching materials dealing with various aspects of antisemitism. The German edition of this work was developed by the ZfA in Berlin and the Fritz Bauer Institute in Frankfurt.
On behalf of the Federal Agency for Civic Education, theme papers on antisemitism were prepared for use in vocational schools; they can also be used in other classroom settings.
A joint project with the ZfA, the Berlin State Institute for School and Media and the Berlin office of the American Jewish Committee – “Shape Up for Democracy and Tolerance - Teenagers Confront Antisemitism” – was sponsored in 2006 by the Foundation Remembrance, Responsibility and Future and “entimon,” a program of the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth as well as by the Alliance for Democracy and Tolerance.
In 2012/13, the conference series “Perspective: Antisemitism in the Immigrant Community” sheds light on current analyses and discusses innovative approaches to education. Three thematically focused events in Berlin, Frankfurt/Main and Cologne provide a forum for research and educational practice. This joint project of the Foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future,” the Kreuzberg Initiative Against Anti-Semitism ( KIGA) and the ZfA in Berlin, with support from the Fritz Bauer Institute on Frankfurt/Main, is under the auspices of the federal program “PROMOTE TOLERANCE – BUILD SKILLS” of the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth.
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