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Ion Popa

Fortunoff Research Fellowship (02/2019–07/2019)

 

Conversion and Identity. Experiences of Jews who Converted to Christianity Before and During the Holocaust

 

POPAResearch into the attitude of churches towards Jews during the Holocaust, which has grown steadily in the last ten years, has shown the extent of Jews’ conversions as a way of avoiding persecution and death in countries such as France, Poland, Belgium, Hungary, and Romania. In Romania, for example, the country with the third-largest Jewish community before the Holocaust, a 1942 census revealed that 4631 out of 272,573 Jews were converts to Christianity. Moreover, despite a March 1941 ban on conversions, at least 2008 Jews converted from 1941 to 1943, most of them to Catholicism. In France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Poland the practice was used by both Catholic and Protestant local churches. Conversions in Catholic countries were often engulfed in controversies, as Jewish children who took shelter in monasteries or Catholic households were forcefully converted. During the Hungarian crisis of 1944, false baptismal certificates were issued as a way of helping Jews threatened with deportation. Although we now know more about the attitude of churches towards conversion and converted Jews, we still lack basic knowledge about the reaction of Jewish religious authorities on this matter and about converts’ experiences during the Holocaust. This is in part due to a lack of available post-war testimonies of Holocaust survivors who converted to Christianity. From this point of view, the Fortunoff Archive is an excellent source of documentation, as it contains over 70 testimonies of such Jews. A closer examination of these testimonies will answer some of the most stringent questions about this forgotten category of Holocaust survivors such as: How were Jewish converts treated by the Jewish community and by the Christian churches during the Holocaust? What were the identity dilemmas they faced during this period? Could they return back to Judaism and, if so, under what circumstances? The project will survey, synthesise, and compare all the relevant testimonies from the Fortunoff Archive according to this set of research questions and main objectives. It aims to identify reasons why Jews chose to convert to Christianity during the Holocaust, and place them in the context of other strategies of survival. It will also examine the identity dilemmas these people faced and provide a glance into their post-Holocaust fate. The project will result in the publication of two articles.

 

Ion Popa is a Saul Kagan Claims Conference Postdoctoral Fellow in Advanced Shoah Studies (New York) and Honorary Research Fellow of the Centre for Jewish Studies, University of Manchester. His research focus lies in the field of Jewish-Christian Relations in Eastern Europe during the Holocaust. His numerous publications include the monograph The Romanian Orthodox Church and the Holocaust and the article The 7th Rosiori Regiment and the Holocaust in Romania and the Soviet Union, the latter published in Dapim. Studies on the Holocaust in 2018.

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The Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies (VWI) is funded by:

 

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