The American Friends of the Documentation Center of Austrian Resistance and the Center Austria of the University of New Orleans are pleased to announce the award of first annual Radomir Luza Prize for an outstanding work in the field of Austrian and/or Czechoslovak World War II studies, particularly in the fields of diplomatic history, resistance and war studies. This prize carries a cash award of $500.00 and seeks to encourage research in the above mentioned fields focusing on the time period between the Anschluss and the end of the Second World War.
The first recipients, Ilana Offenberger, Clark University and Tara Zhara of the University of Chicago were awarded the prize during a ceremony at the Annual Meeting of the German Studies Association in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on October 6, 2012.
2012 Luza Prize Laudatio
The Lost Children: Reconstructing Europe’s Families after World War II (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011)
Tara Zahra’s The Lost Children is both a rich work of social and transnational history. Her focus is on 20th century upheavals in European families as a result of forced war-related mass migrations and the effects on displaced children. She looks on the humanitarian efforts of dozens of private and state-directed organizations such as UNRRA in saving displaced children traumatized by war and separated from their families as the “quintessential victims of war.”
She traces the effects of Nazi policies on persecuted families, the psychological trauma this had on children, and the reconstitution of families after the war as a “psychological Marshall Plan” for the continent. She locates the great importance given to children by post-World War II European nations in defining their sovereignty, identity, demography, ethnic survival and nationhood. Her remarkable insights into the effects of the war on Jewish families and children from Vienna and the ironic tergiversations of Nazi wartime ethnic cleansing among Czechs and Slovaks in Czechoslovakia during the war (Lidice!) as well as postwar Czechoslovak ethnic cleansing of Germans after the war are tours de force.
Zahra’s command of the vast literature on her topic is equally surefooted in Eastern and Western Europe. Her amazing research in dozens of archives in 7 countries and in 5 languages produces a highly impressive work of superb scholarship and mature judgment. With this book Zahra is firming up her stature among the elite historians of East-Central Europe in the English speaking world.
The Nazification of Vienna and the Response of the Viennese Jews
It was a pleasure to review Iliana’s Offenberger outstanding dissertation thesis "The Nazification of Vienna and the Response of the Viennese Jews", which she completed at the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University in 2010. On over 350 pages she examined the life of the Jews of Vienna after the Nazi takeover of Austria in 1938 avoiding however to a great extend the much explored genocidal period and focusing on their under-examined life before the “Final Solution” became a tragic reality. This made her a perfect candidate for the first annual Radomir Luza Prize in Austrian and/or Czechoslovak World War II studies.
Offenberger´s work is in every sense of superlative quality – not only because of its original arguments, but also for the extensive use of international resources and oral histories. Based on primary and secondary sources in English and German her thesis depicts how the restrictions matters, humiliation, impoverishment on one side, and the forced co-operation of the Judenrat with Nazi authorities on the other side as well as the emigration of a great part of Viennese Jews who escaped the Holocaust led practically to the disappearance Jewish Community. Concentrating on the decision-making of local Jews – applicable however on European Jewry under Nazi rule as a whole – Ms. Offenberger analyzed the collective history of Viennese Jews from the perspective of the victims. She used primary sources from Austrian, German, and American archives extensively and went further by using documentation from private archives and oral testimonies of individuals and families.
Offenberger's interest in this particular topic arose during her B.A. studies in German at the Skidmore College and especially during her exchange program in Austria where she discovered a part of her own family history. Her Viennese great-grandparents became victims of the Holocaust, while her grandfather after several life-threatening peripeteias managed to escape overseas. This Austrian experience became decisive for Offenberger. She decided to proceed with her post-graduate studies at Clark University, the only U.S. institution offering a full-fledged Ph.D. program in Holocaust Studies.
According to her dissertation adviser Deborah Dwork she was a highly committed student with an exemplary work ethic. In spite of Offenberger's personal involvement in her dissertation topic as a result of her family history, she managed to explore her research from an academic distance. Earning many distinguished fellowships (Crown Family Doctoral Research Fellowship, Strassler Family Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies Fellowship, Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany Graduate Studies Fellowship, and United State Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies Fellowship) only confirmed her stature as a young scholar.
To sum up, Iliana Offenberger more than succeeded at her ambitious project to reconstruct the everyday life of Jews in Vienna after the Anschluss and to explore their survival strategies. However, her work raised a much larger question of how and if at all can the descendants of genocide victims overcome the suffering of a permanent separation and lost. It is rare to read a dissertation thesis ready to be published as a book but "The Nazification of Vienna and the Response of the Viennese Jews" is one of them. One can only hope that winning the Radomir Luza Prize may be an additional stimulus for Ms. Offenberger to continue her academic career.