Thursday, December 7, 2023

Q&A with Robin Judd




Robin Judd is the author of the new book Between Two Worlds: Jewish War Brides after the Holocaust. She is an associate professor of history at The Ohio State University.


Q: What impact did your own family history have on your decision to write Between Two Worlds


A: Since I was a child, I was interested in the fact that my grandparents met in Czechoslovakia immediately after the war. When they first encountered one another, my grandmother was a Holocaust survivor and my grandfather was an American GI.


When I began teaching the History of the Holocaust as a newly minted Ph.D., I realized that my grandparents were not unique; there had been many Holocaust survivors who had married military personnel. 


I wanted to learn more about this history of the Holocaust, and Between Two Worlds is my attempt to uncover the history of these couples. 


Q: How did you research the book, and what did you learn that especially surprised you? 


A: This book took me to seven countries and dozens of cities. I found the Jewish war brides by looking to a wide range of sources including chaplaincy reports, wedding announcements, military memos, memoirs, and ship newsletters. I placed ads in Jewish war veteran magazines and reached out to war bride clubs.


I was so fortunate to interview several war brides, their spouses, and even a nurse who had staffed a few of the war bride ships.    


Perhaps what surprised me most was the sheer number of these marriages. There were many Holocaust survivors who married military personnel. Indeed, every time I turned around, I seemed to discover the existence of a new couple.


This just happened last week. I was speaking at our local JCC, and, at the conclusion of my talk, one of the audience members told me that her cousin had been an American GI who married a survivor at the end of the war.  

Q: The scholar Jonathan D. Sarna said of the book, “Written by a master historian-storyteller whose own grandmother was a war bride, the volume illuminates the extraordinary complexities confronting soldiers and Holocaust survivors who fell in love and married.” What do you think of that description, and how would you describe the complexities? 


A: It is so incredibly flattering to have had Jonathan D. Sarna, a historian whose work has so fundamentally shape my own, offer such a generous blurb. 


And, happily, he put his finger on what I had hoped would be a throughline in the book: the messiness of history and the human condition.


Between Two Worlds looks to five moments in particular: liberation, encounter, courtship and marriage, immigration, and arrival, and shows how the war brides and their spouses moved in and out of several different communities. They often felt as if they did not fully belong to any one place or group.


I hope, too, that the book highlights the complexity of rebuilding one’s life and creating lasting relationships in the aftermath of trauma. 


Q: Can you say more about what you hope readers take away from the book? 


A: I hope readers come away from Between Two Worlds thinking that the book offered them a new way to think about the history of the Holocaust, of migration, and of marriage.  I also hope that they think deeply and differently about the rebuilding of one’s life after trauma. 


Q: What are you working on now? 


A: I am working on a few things at once. I have started a new book project: an intertwined biography of two couples whose stories offer a lens on 20th century Jewish history.


All four were born during or immediately after World War I and became politicized during the interwar period. They had radically different experiences during the Holocaust, but then shared several commonalities during the Global Cold War.


Their lives diverged again in the 1960s and 1970s, and I would hope to follow them until their deaths in the late 20th century.  


I also am working on two articles: a study of the childhood illnesses on the war bride ships and a deep dive into the emotions that the war brides named when they reflected back on meeting their spouses for the first time. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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