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>  News Releases >   2001 >   April

Town's forgotten history revived by research of Guggenheim Fellowship winner Marianne Hirsch

Posted 04/20/01

Editor's Note: Two members of the Dartmouth Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Marianne Hirsch and Bruce Randall Donald, have been awarded Guggenheim Fellowships for 2001. Donald is Professor of Computer Science. Hirsch is Professor of French and Italian Languages and Literatures and of Comparative Literature.

"A Guggenheim Fellowship is very selective and distinguished. It's one of the most prestigious awards that an academic can receive," said Edward Berger, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation awards the fellowships annually on the basis of distinguished achievement in the past and exceptional promise for future accomplishment. Decisions are based on recommendations from hundreds of expert advisors and are approved by the foundation's Board of Trustees.

The year 2001 Fellowship winners include 183 artists, scholars and scientists selected from among more than 2,700 applicants for awards totaling more than $6.5 million. Since 1925, the foundation has granted more than $198 million in fellowships to nearly 15,000 individuals. Recipients have included such well-known figures as Ansel Adams, Aaron Copland, Martha Graham, Langston Hughes, Henry Kissinger, Vladimir Nabokov, Isamu Noguchi, Linus Pauling, Philip Roth, Paul Samuelson, Derek Walcott, James Watson and Eudora Welty. Numerous Dartmouth faculty members have won Guggenheim Fellowships.

Marianne Hirsch, Professor of French and Italian and Comparative Literature at Dartmouth College, has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to support completion of Czernowitz Album, a collaborative book that follows the varied fates of four Jewish families from the same eastern European town through the Holocaust and beyond.

Hirsch and her co-author, Leo Spitzer, the Kathe Tappe Vernon Professor of History, also earned a joint grant from the American Council of Learned Societies for the project.

"I am thrilled, of course, to have some release time to work on this book, and I am immensely pleased that the importance of this project has been affirmed by the Guggenheim Foundation and the ACLS," said Hirsch.

Although Guggenheim fellowships are a sign of distinguished achievement, Czernowitz Album is more than just an academic exercise for Hirsch. Her parents, Lotte and Carl Hirsch, grew up in Czernowitz (now called Cernivtsi and located in modern-day Ukraine) before World War II and were married there inside the Jewish ghetto in 1941. They fled their hometown in 1945, returning for the first time in 1998. Professors Hirsch and Spitzer accompanied the elder Hirschs on the trip.

"What we undertook was a journey in space and time - for my parents, it was a journey back home, but also to the totally foreign country of Ukraine. It was the place where they spent happy childhoods, but also where they suffered antisemitism, persecution and ghettoization," said Hirsch. "We were all nervous about what we would find, but the fact that we were there to listen to my parents' stories made the trip not only possible, but necessary, compelling."

From this visit, Hirsch and Spitzer conceived the idea of Czernowitz Album. Now two years into the project, they have collected nearly 100 hours of oral history from survivors and their descendants and have done research in the Ukraine, Rumania, Israel, Germany, Austria, France and the United States. The project also relies on family photos, archival records, letters and works of literature.

Part of what makes the project so compelling for Hirsch is the contrast between the city's pre- and post-war Jewish culture. During its heyday in the early 1900s, Czernowitz boasted a multi-ethnic population of 180,000 - including 70,000 Jews - and was described as the "Vienna of the East." The city at one time was part of the Austro-Habsburg empire, so German culture influenced all aspects of life, and was widely embraced by the city's diverse population. The city's Jewish citizens were among those who accepted Austro-German social and cultural standards, which led to the development of a vibrant German-Jewish culture.

However, fewer than half of Czernowitz's Jews survived the war, and many who did survive left the city. The town's German-Jewish culture vanished in the space of a few years, according to Hirsch. By the late 1990s, when Hirsch and Spitzer first visited the town, they discovered that few residents had any memory of the pre-war Jewish community, and the city's two large and numerous smaller synagogues had been given over to other functions.

"There was a vibrant, productive and unique German-Jewish culture amidst a truly multi-cultural society that now survives only in the memory of former inhabitants and their children and grandchildren who are dispersed all over the world. What interests us is how the 'idea' of this city has been preserved in this diaspora and how its memory has been handed down," Hirsch said.

The four Jewish families Hirsch and Spitzer focus on in the book shared similar social backgrounds, but followed completely different paths during and after World War II. While the Hirschs were officially authorized to stay in the Czernowitz ghetto and later back in their own homes through much of the war, other families followed the retreating Soviet Army in 1941 to escape fascist rule and others were forced into labor camps. Today, the descendants of the book's four families live in Rumania, France, the United States and Israel, with only one family still living in Czernowitz.

"Rumanian Jews, and particularly the Jews of this border region, had very different experiences during the Holocaust than Jews from other European countries," said Hirsch. "We want to describe the small element of choice that they had, as well as the particularities of the ghettos and camps in the region to which some were deported, and which can only begin to be studied now with the opening of Soviet archives. We are also interested in how memory is shaped and reshaped in the very different post-war locations that these families inhabited."

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