The Difficulties of Writing Family History
A lecture series organised by the Leo Baeck Institute London in cooperation with the German Historical Institute London.
This season’s topic intends to discuss the challenges which arise when writing a European-Jewish family history set in the historically and politically charged period of the late 19th to the mid-20th century. What scholarly problems does a writer encounter, what emotional difficulties does an author face – especially in terms of allowing the public access to one’s own personal history, and how can these challenges be dealt with?
Martin Doerry (Der Spiegel, Germany) – Lifting a Taboo: The Story of a Holocaust victim which has never been told before
After the death of German politician Gerhard Jahn in 1998, his four sisters found hundreds of letters in his house, which they had written during the war to their Jewish mother Lilli, who had been detained in a labour camp and, finally, killed in Auschwitz in 1944. Fifty years of silence had followed, but now, for the first time, the family was able to talk about Lilli once again. But should the letters be published? Lilli’s grandson Martin Doerry undertook the tasks of both convincing his family that they should, and conducting the necessary research, thus finding himself in the dual role of family member and professional historian simultaneously.
Martin Doerry is an editor of Der Spiegel in Hamburg, Germany. From 1998 until 2014 he was deputy editor-in-chief of the German news magazine. He studied History and German Literature in Tübingen and Zürich and received his PhD in 1986 with a thesis on the political mentality of the generation of Emperor Wilhelm II. In 2002, he published My Wounded Heart. The Life of Lilli Jahn, 1900-1944, the story of his Jewish grandmother who was killed in Auschwitz. The book was translated into 19 languages.
Welcome by Dr Daniel Wildmann (Director, LBI):
Introduction by Professor Andreas Gestrich (Director, GHIL):