Tara Zahra

Tara Zahra
pas labex
pas Eurias

dates de séjour

01/02/2010 - 30/06/2010


Histoire contemporaine

Fonction actuelle


Institution actuelle

Université de Chicago (États-Unis)

pays d'origine


projet de recherche

Lost Children: Displacement and the Family in Twentieth-Century Europe

After the Second World War, millions of people roamed Europe in search of lost family members.  The problem of missing children (and of missing parents) was particularly grave. Whether due to bombings, military service, evacuation, deportation, forced labor, ethnic cleansing, or murder, an unprecedented number of children were separated from their families during World War II. The International Tracing Service, founded in 1944, had registered 343,057 missing children in Europe by 1956.   Uniting families was far more than a challenging logistical and humanitarian problem, however. So-called “lost children” held a special grip on the postwar imagination, as symbols of European societies and families in disarray. They stood at the center of bitter political and social conflicts, as military authorities, German foster parents, social workers, Jewish agencies, East European Communists, and Displaced Persons (DPs) themselves competed to determine their fates. These battles were linked, in turn, to emerging ideals of human rights, the family, democracy, child welfare, and the reconstruction of European civilization at large. In the words of Vinita A. Lewis, a social worker with the International Refugee Organization (IRO) in Germany, “The lost identity of individual children is the Social Problem of the day on the continent of Europe…. Even if his future destiny lies in a country other than that of his origin, he [the displaced child] is entitled to the basic Human Right of full knowledge of his background and origin.”


I am interested in transnational and comparative approaches to the history of Modern Europe. The focus of my research and teaching is Eastern and Central Europe, but I also look westward to Germany and France, in an effort to integrate East European history into broader histories of Europe and the world. I am particularly interested in the history of nationalism (and indifference to nationalism); childhood, gender, and the family; migration; humanitarianism; and the history of war and occupation. My first book, entitled Kidnapped Souls: National Indifference and the Battle for Children in the Bohemian Lands, 1900-1948, is a study of German and Czech nationalist mobilization around children from the Habsburg Empire to the Nazi Occupation. This book focuses on bilingualism, national ambiguity, and indifference to nationalism as driving forces behind escalating nationalist tensions in the Bohemian Lands. I also situate Nazi Germanization policies in Eastern Europe in a longer local history of Czech-German nationalist agitation. Kidnapped Souls was awarded the Hans Rosenberg Prize of the Conference Group for Central European History, the Barbara Jelavich Prize of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, and the Czechoslovak Studies Association Book Prize. My current project is a history of displacement and the family in Europe between 1918-1951. Focusing on international activism around displaced and refugee children after the Second World War, the book explores how wartime and postwar displacement were linked to the reconstruction of Europe, emerging Cold War conflicts, and to the development of new ideals of democracy, human rights, and family in post-fascist Europe.