Why did you go into Jewish Studies?

Atina Grossmann

Cooper Union

I am trained as a modern European and German historian and did not "go" or "get" into Jewish Studies via any conventional academic route; Jewish Studies captured and captivated me because that's where my research led me. My work on Jewish survivors and displaced persons in postwar occupied Germany, which initially emerged from questions about the German experience of defeat and occupation, pushed me not only to a more particular focus on Jewish history but, quite literally, into new territory, beyond the borders of Germany and German history, into Poland, the Soviet Union, Palestine/Israel, and now even toward Iran and India as I explore the experiences of European Jewish refugees during and immediately after World War II. Jewish Studies quite simply offered the transnational, border-crossing, and interdisciplinary perspectives and methodologies I needed to investigate and make sense of topics that fascinated me. Not so simply, I have found myself launched, at first slowly, almost without noticing, and now in a way that feels familiar and (almost) legitimate into a new academic universe, with different (and sometimes overlapping) conferences, seminars, colleagues, for which I am not in fact formally qualified— but which has become integral to my scholarship and, indeed, to which my own scholarship contributes. If I had only known in the 1960s that this was the path my research would take I might have paid more attention in Hebrew School and picked oranges on a Kibbutz where everyone didn't speak German, but my path into Jewish Studies speaks, I think, to a more general opening of a once tightly patrolled field that in so many ways seems peculiarly suited to address current wide-ranging scholarly and political preoccupations with cosmopolitanism, migration, displacement, multiple identities, and memory. Last but not least—and this warrants a longer complicated conversation having to do with the life cycle of the "second generation"—Jewish Studies offers a space within which I can experiment with linking family stories to collective histories.