Jacques Picard

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Remain, return, remember? Kurt Hirschfeld in Exile in Zurich during the post-war period

At first glance, it seems that Kurt Hirschfeld never considered leaving Switzerland for a moment, even as the Second World War ended and many of his culturally active contemporaries that had once found refuge in Switzlerland as “Exiles” returned to Germany or emigrated to other countries. The sources show, however, that he was ambivalent about offers from his former homeland, which had driven him into exile, and his sister in New York and friends in Berlin warned him against returning to a Germany they viewed as still deeply anti-Semitic. The fact that he attended one of the Frankfurt “Auschwitz Trials,” sought reparations (so-called “Wiedergutmachungsgelder), and worked to ensure his parents’ grave site was cared for shows that he was a person who was very conscious of memory at a time when most people in Switzerland and elsewhere touted the beneficial effects of forgetting and silence about the war and the suffering of persecution and extermination according to the peace-oriented political paridigm of the day. Hirschfeld, who was never naturalized as a Swiss citizen and thus maintained the status of an “Exile” during the post-war period, enjoyed growing recognition for his work from Swiss and foreign friends and other persons, which lives on to some extent today. In this way, Hirschfeld assumed a transformative function as a public figure between forgetting, repression, and remembering. This paper will also examine the extent to which these categories are suitable for the description of Kurt Hirschfeld in the post-war period.

Panel – Kurt Hirschfeld – New Beginning and Romanticization –