Child Survivors and Holocaust Memory
Dr Rebecca Clifford, an Associate Professor in the Department of History at Swansea University, is working on a research fellowship – worth £39,297 – which takes the history of children in war in new and exciting directions. The fellowship was awarded by the Leverhulme Trust.
Current debates around children in and after World War II focus almost exclusively on how children were perceived by the adults who cared for them; the voices of children as historical agents in their own rights are screamingly absent from much of this literature. This project focuses not only on children as agents of memory, but on the trajectories of this agency as children develop into adults, arguing that children have unique, and often uniquely subversive, ways of remembering the trauma of war and genocide, with significant lasting consequences for both intimate and public memory.
Dr Clifford also argues that recent work on early Holocaust memory, so influential in refuting the idea of the ‘silence’ of the late 1940s and 1950s, nonetheless tells us more about political attempts to shape public opinion than about how it felt to remember such devastating loss in the raw wake of the war. Her work takes a different and original approach, foregrounding emotions and bodies, tracing the contours of a Holocaust memory that hinged not only on (adults’) attempts to curtail (children’s) emotions and memories, but on the failure of these attempts over time. She argues that if we focus on the emotions of memory rather than on memory politics, then ordinary people emerge as far more powerful agents in the messy, entangled processes that drive the construction of collective memory.
Dr Clifford is a historian of contemporary Europe, whose principal interest is the memory of the Second World War in the post-war period. She is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and the Higher Education Academy. She completed a DPhil in Modern History at the University of Oxford in 2008, and held a Junior Research Fellowship at Worcester College, Oxford, before joining the department in 2009.