Current Research

Project 1: Middlemen minorities and Solidarity: Evidence from the Holocaust (Together with B.Frommer and J.Spenkuch).

Holocaust scholars are ambivalent about whether segregation in market-based activities helped or hindered Jews’ ability to evade deportation. On the one hand, it has been argued, that middlemen were resented by the surrounding population and that they were less likely to receive help from bystanders. On the other hand, historians have observed that Jewish traders and creditors were more likely to evade as they had strong ties with local customers. To investigate the debated relationship between market based activities and evasion, we have constructed a unique micro-level database containing information on over 292,000 Jews who were living in the Low Countries and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. This new data set will enable us to conduct the first large-scale, systematic empirical study of how Jews’ embeddedness in the local economy affected their chances to survive the Holocaust. The Low Countries and the Protectorate provide a unique opportunity to explore the relationship between occupational segregation and evasion for two reasons. First of all, Jews were relatively well integrated in these countries and employed in a wide range of professions. This creates sufficient variation on the independent variable and allows us to compare the fate of Jewish market workers with non-market workers who have a similar amount of economic resources. Second, the process of mass-extermination in both places was executed by the same strongly organized administrative apparatus, which left an astonishing paper trail that we will exploit for our research. On several points in time, the Nazis conducted systematic censuses to map the local Jewish population. The last of these surveys were conducted only a few weeks before the deportations started. As evasion of registration was extremely low, it is possible to obtain detailed information on almost all Jews in the Low Countries and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Available variables include name, date of birth, street address and occupation. Based on name, date of birth and locality it is possible to match census entries to deportation lists housed at Holocaust museums across the world. Street addresses can be utilized to get fine-grained spatial information. Taken together, this creates an opportunity to assess whether Jews active in market professions were more or less likely to evade deportation, and whether these processes depend on the structure of the local economy. If successful, this project would be the first of several to bring careful, large-scale data analysis to bear on the Holocaust. We believe that the findings of this project will also travel well beyond the borders of Holocaust studies. The fine-grained nature of our data will enable us to shed light on the processes underlying ethnic segregation and violence and help us better understand violence towards other middle-men minorities such as Muslims in South Asia, the Ibos in Nigeria, Marwari in Burma, the Chinese in the Philippines, the Lebanese in Sierra Leone or the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.

Project 2: KINDERSCHRECK: Children’s stories and the transmission of racism in 20th century Europe.

This project aims to explore the local level transmission of racism through the study of children’s stories. In 20th century Europe children’s stories often aimed to discipline children’s behavior through the inducement of fear. These so called “Kinderschreck” stories often featured rather innocent depictions of fantasy figures or animals that acted as bogeymen. In some European villages, however, bogeymen took more racist forms such as that of the “Forest Jew” or “Big black man”. Exploiting fine-grained village level data gathered by folklorists throughout the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Austria and Switzerland, this research tries to explain why stories were more prevalent in some regions than others and what consequences this had for the widespread decay of pluralism in interwar Europe.

Project 3: The Clandestine collective action dilemma: evidence from Belgian resistance movements during World War Two.

Scholarship on social movements, networks and secrecy is ambivalent about what network structure is most conducive to clandestine collective action. On the one hand, scholars suggest that dense and centralized networks are required to improve the communication and coordination of collective efforts. On the other hand, research suggests that network density and centrality reduce secrecy and increase the likelihood of infiltration. This disagreement largely derives from the fact clandestinity poses enormous obstacles for empirical investigation, hampering systematic assessment of network hypotheses. Gaining direct access to contemporary clandestine cells is next to impossible exactly because these cells need to reduce exposure in order to survive. Archival work on historical cases can alleviate this challenge because it allows us to study groups that are no longer under immediate threat, reducing the urgency of secrecy. Moreover, when political structures open and regimes change, former clandestine networks sometimes go public in order to gain recognition for their activities against past foes. This often opens up a wide array of archives and testimonies. Instead of focusing on contemporary cases, this study therefore focuses on a historical episode of clandestine collective action: armed resistance against the German occupier in World War Two Belgium. Geo-coded data on armed attacks in combination with unique networked testimonies and extensive arrest records are utilized to explore what movement networks are best at producing robust clandestine operations.