International conference Contesting Jewish Loyalties: The First World War and Beyond

Jewish Museum Berlin, 15-17 December, 2016


International conference organized by:

The Centre for German-Jewish Studies, University of Sussex

The Centre for Research on Antisemitism, TU Berlin

The Institute for the History of the German Jews, Hamburg

The Pears Institute for the study of Antisemitism, University of London  

Jewish Museum Berlin


Just decades after intense persecution and the struggle for recognition that marked the second half of the 19th century, Jewish leaders and ordinary Jews found themselves at an unprecedented social and political crossroads. The frenzied military, social, and cultural mobilisation of European societies from 1914 onwards, along with the outbreak of revolution in Russia and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East had a profound impact on Jewish communities worldwide. From the outset, the First World War was seen as a watershed in Jewish history. Early in 1917, the Hebrew language daily newspaper ‘Hatzfira’, published in Warsaw, expounded to its readers: “the Great Commonwealth War that confused the world had put the Jewish world under one star. From the time the Hebrew people went into exile there was no one single historical event which could include and encompass the entire Jewish people in all places of dispersion, as this global war did.” One of the most fascinating findings to emerge from seeing the Great War as a turning point in Jewish history is the question of Jewish loyalties. The nature of Jewish allegiance was not only questioned from the outside, but was an omnipresent problem for Jewish individuals, families and communities that struggled to reconcile what appeared to be divided loyalties.  At the end of the war these dilemmas continued to trouble Jews in Europe and elsewhere. Self-determination was now perceived to be a guiding principle for redrawing European and world maps - providing new hope for a more ‘just’ world order and an enduring peace. This intensified the struggle over Jewish self-definition in a rapidly changing world. The interbellum saw the emergence of right-wing nationalist movements and new violence born out of political reshuffling and economic turmoil. The emergence of the Jewish polity in Mandatory Palestine and the complete reconfiguration of the map of Eastern Europe radically transformed Jewish lives. As fighting raged for many years in the successor states, Jews often found themselves caught between the lines with their allegiances challenged and redefined in terms of religion, ethnicity, nationality and modern citizenship.

The aim of this conference is to explore the multifaceted question of Jewish loyalties. Starting from the Dreyfus affair, we seek papers that consider the degree to which individual Jews and Jewish communities in Europe, the US and elsewhere engaged with the question of loyalty before, during and after the First World War, in a broad interdisciplinary and transnational context. Papers showing comparative elements in analysing questions of loyalty confronted by other national, religious or ethnic groups are particularly welcome.

In bringing together junior and established scholars from a range of different disciplines, the conference aims to provide the setting for in-depth discussion on the place and multifaceted meanings of a crucial question for modern societies that will significantly improve our understanding of the Jewish experience in modern times.

The organizers invite proposals for 20-minute papers that engage with these and related themes.

Abstracts should be no more than 200 words and be submitted alongside a brief biography (including professional affiliation and contact details) by 26 February 2016 to the email addresses at the foot of this page.

Successful candidates will be notified by the end of March 2016.

Limited budget might be available to support travel expenses, but participants will be encouraged to cover travel costs with their own funds.

For further enquiries please contact:

Gideon Reuveni:

Kim Wünschmann:

Contact Info: 

Kim Wünschmann

Centre for German-Jewish Studies
Arts B, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton BN1 9QN

Contact Email: 
15 December 2016 - 17 December 2016