David Slucki

‘Here-ness, there-ness, and everywhere-ness: Doikeit and the dispersion of the Bund after the Holocaust’

My thesis challenges the traditional assumptions that claim the Bund perished in the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto, a claim that originated in the very early writings on the Bund and is present in more contemporary historiography. That the once-influential movement died at the hands of the Nazis, alongside the majority of its adherents and the millions of Jewish victims of the Holocaust, is a widespread misconception, perpetuated even by those historians who write sympathetically of the Bund. It is true, that in the aftermath of the war, the Bund was severely weakened, and the Polish Bund’s liquidation in 1948 was the final breath of a party that had been terminally ill for nearly a decade. But the Bund survived, albeit in a new format and in a new context. The party reinvented itself, and although it would never reach the lofty heights it had within the Polish Jewish community, Bund organizations and Bundists around the world played important roles in post-Holocaust Jewish life. The story of the post-war rebuilding of the Bund began during the war, with the realization by many Bundists of the extent of the Nazi genocide and its impact on the Polish Bund. The awareness that the greatest organizational strength within the movement was no longer in Poland, but in New York, where leaders such as Emanuel Szerer, Jacob Pat and Emanuel Nowogrodski had fled at the outbreak of the war. In 1947, after years of debate, the movement officially became—for the first time in its 50-year history—an international organization. The idea of Bund groups around the world was not new. They had existed in Western Europe almost since the very establishment of the party, as well as places as far away as Buenos Aires and Melbourne from the early decades of the 20th century. The difference now however, was that instead of acting as support groups for the activities of the Polish Bund, these now-formalized organizations would have a mission to develop Jewish life in whatever context and space they found themselves, be it New York, Paris, Mexico City, or even Israel, where the Bund had branches throughout the country after its creation there in 1951. This philosophy, know in Bundist terminology as doikeit (literally ‘here-ness’), is the departure point for my dissertation. My central research question will be twofold: first, how did the Bund adapt to its new conditions in the wake of such destruction? Secondly, by focussing on the notion of doikeit, I will look at the continuing relevance of the Bund’s post-war transformation to contemporary Jewish discourse. How does the post-war Bund’s self-understanding inform the newly emerged, and still-evolving diaspora discourse? I will argue that it was the post-war Bund’s contribution to Jewish discourse that is most significant, even if it has been almost totally ignored by scholars. Through my research, I will explore the way the Bund continued its work after the war in different and contrasting environments by implementing their notion of doikeit. As well as the aforementioned focus on ideas, I will also look at Bundist cultural work and the way doikeit operated in practical. By doing so, I will demonstrate the continuity between the pre-war and post-war Bund organizations. My thesis will challenge the tendency in Jewish historical research to focus on the rupture that the Holocaust created and to ignore the important continuities that allowed Jewish life to rebuild and flourish in the second half of the twentieth century. Fundamentally, I wish to highlight the diversity of Jewish experience which were present even in the decades following the Holocaust, so often ignored in Jewish historical writing.
My thesis will look at the way in which Bundism has been reconstructed in various cities outside and within Europe. The transnational elements of post-war Bundism—largely absent from Bund ideas in its first half-century—are of particular interest, especially with the recent emergence of transnational theory and studies of diaspora discourse. I will discuss not only the organizations within various cities, but the way they interacted as a transnational movement. By looking at cities with four different host languages, I am interested in the way Yiddish, as the main common language that connected Bund activists around the world, became a vehicle of Bundist transnationalism. I will also look at how Bundists reconciled their ideas with the establishment of Israel and the existence of a Jewish state. Focusing in particular on five cities: Melbourne, New York, Paris, Tel-Aviv and Buenos Aires, my research will highlight the global dimension of the Bund. Through looking at these particular cities I will show the varying contexts in which the post-war Bund sought to re-establish itself, and the ways in which different environments affected Bundist self-understanding. The post-war history of the Bund was characterized by the search for a new doikeit, which developed in different ways depending on the local circumstances of each organization. Nonetheless, the movement continued to function as a transnational network of Bund organizations. During my candidature, I hope to conduct research in the Bund Archives at the YIVO Institute in New York. My main source will be Bundist publications, mainly journals, newspapers and books, but I will also explore archival materials such as personal and official correspondences, minutes and position papers. As well as my archival research, I hope to conduct oral histories with veteran Bundists who were active in the post-war Bund, as well as those in younger generations who still maintain a connection—be it materially or spiritually—to the Bund. A final element in my oral history research will be to interview those who grew up within the Bund community but who are no longer affiliated. The purpose of these interviews would be to explore reasons the Bund did not attract younger members and regenerate, and also to find out whether or not an early involvement in the Bund has had a lasting impact and those former members, be they former members of the Bund or any of its auxiliary organizations.
Ultimately, my thesis has three major aims: to examine a heretofore under-researched element in Jewish history; to demonstrate the ongoing presence of Bundism, and especially doikeit, in Jewish discourse; to universalise Jewish history and understand it as a paradigm for universal history and theory.