Each month, a researcher shares their experiences of using a particular archive. The overall aim of this section is to create a database of the different archives available to those working on French and Francophone studies that will be of help particularly to students just starting out in research.
Ashley Valanzola is a doctoral candidate in History at George Washington University. Her research considers the role of women, such as Simone Veil and Sabine Zlatin, in preserving Holocaust memory. Here she talks about using the archives of the Mémorial de la Shoah.
In the heart of Marais, the Mémorial de la Shoah is an archive that serves as much more than a repository of documents. Any researcher who has visited the site knows that the building serves as a powerful reminder of one of France’s darkest historical periods.
The archival collections at the Mémorial de la Shoah were started during the Nazi occupation by Isaac Schneersohn. In 1943, Schneersohn had the foresight to preserve records that documented the persecution and murder of European Jews during what we now know as the Holocaust.
Inaugurated in 2005, the contemporary building consists of an archive, memorial, and museum. The archives house Schneersohn’s original collections alongside other documents that have been deposited there since the war. You can find information on individuals, such as the Jewish men and women deported from France, Jewish children who were hidden during the war, or perpetrators of wartime atrocities. In the archives, you can also look into different wartime organizations such as the Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants, or research events and trials related to the Holocaust.
I have spent time at the Mémorial de la Shoah conducting research for my dissertation which focuses on Jewish women’s roles preserving Holocaust memory in France. My project examines women like Denise Baumann who was the only person from her immediate family to survive the Holocaust. In retirement, Baumann spared no energy memorializing her family members; she published memorial books, commissioned plaques, and corrected their official death records. Baumann is one of many different men and women whose archives were deposited at the Mémorial de la Shoah after their deaths.
Conducting research at the Mémorial de la Shoah is a moving experience, to say the least. After passing through security, you enter the outdoor courtyard, walking by the Le Mur des Noms which lists the names of all the Jews deported from France during the war. Once inside the building, you walk by the entrance to the museum’s permanent exhibition as well as the crypt, which serves as a symbolic tomb for Europe’s six million murdered Jews. All of these spaces are meant to commemorate loss and to teach future generations about the Holocaust.
From the perspective of the historian, the archives rank among the best. The archivists are friendly and passionate about what they do. On multiple occasions they introduced me to crucial sources I had not discovered in the finding aids. When taking a break from the reading room, it is nice to wander down to the café (aka the vending machines outside the book store), or to spend time walking through the permanent exhibition. At night, the Mémorial de la Shoah hosts special events on a regular basis. On my last research trip, I attended a book launch by David Teboul and heard the testimony of a woman who served in one of France’s Jewish Resistance organizations during the war.
Fortunately for the hungry historian, the Mémorial de la Shoah is located near some of the best falafel in Paris as well as countless amazing Jewish bakeries, many of which are located in and around the famous Rue des Rosiers.
For more information, check out their website: Mémorial de la Shoah – Musée et centre de documentation Mémorial de la Shoah (memorialdelashoah.org)
Ashley Valanzola is a doctoral candidate in History at the George Washington University (GWU) in Washington, D.C. She specializes in modern European history with a focus on the Holocaust and Gender Studies. Her dissertation, Prevail: Jewish Women and the Preservation of Holocaust Memory in France, examines the power of individual women, such as Simone Veil and Sabine Zlatin, to shape the production of Holocaust memory from 1945 to the present day. Her research was funded by the Chateaubriand Fellowship in Humanities and Social Sciences, provided by the Embassy of France in the United States.
Thank you very much for this, Ashley!