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The Bonnart Trust Newsletter

March 2021
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Welcome to the Bonnart Trust Newsletter!

In this, our very first edition, we begin with contributions from two of the current Bonnart scholars; Jennifer Putnam, who started her PhD in September 2020, talks about her research into the graffiti at Auschwitz, while Jahan Foster (2018) writes about the issues involved in conducting research during the pandemic. We introduce Shereen Hunte and Oliver Trowell, the first Masters students supported by the trust, and we hear from Dr Jan Davison of the Pears Institute at Birkbeck, University of London, our partners in the programme

Our plan is to produce the newsletter at termly intervals. In future editions we will hear more from our scholars, and from invited guests who share the belief in our mission. Looking ahead, we are developing a new website, which we plan will go live in May. As soon as circumstances allow we will resume our seminar programme, and we are planning ahead for an event in Summer 2022, to mark the twentieth anniversary of the trust. Watch this space!

We hope you will enjoy reading what our contributors have to say, and we hope that you may feel inspired to contribute yourself. If so, or if you have any comments about the newsletter, please get in touch with me, or with our Editor, Kerry-Ann Francis, whose contact details you will find below.

Anthony Tomei.  Acting Chair. 
Holocaust graffiti as valuable historical resource

Jennifer Putnam is a PhD student in History at Birkbeck, University of London. Her research focuses on contemporary graffiti in sites of the Holocaust. She writes:

I am constantly asked why I would choose to research graffiti from sites of Nazi concentration camps and ghettos. The answer is simple, really; here we have an untapped resource, an undiscovered archive of voices that were silenced, hidden, and yet remain, calling out from the past.

It is a tragedy that these rich sources of testimony are slowly fading away, being painted over or destroyed during renovations, and have been largely ignored and overlooked. They must be recognised for their inherent value, significance, and untapped potential. It is imperative that these graffiti be integrated into our understanding of the Holocaust and Nazi persecution, and that we use them to further our knowledge of prisoner experiences of these sites.

Combining my background in linguistics and history and a passion for archaeology, I will be uncovering and recording thousands of graffiti in Theresienstadt ghetto, the Auschwitz complex, Sachsenhausen concentration camp, and Groß-Rosen concentration camp, ensuring that their significance is acknowledged and the archives at each site are built up to further enhance our knowledge of how prisoners interacted with the oppressive built environment around them. When visiting these sites, it is easy for many, particularly students, to look at the staggering figures of those imprisoned and killed during the Holocaust and feel disconnected from the event; incorporating graffiti into tours and online resources will help to provide direct and tangible evidence of deeply human, individual experiences that everyone, especially students, can relate to. It is my sincerest hope that this project will encourage heritage sites and museums to preserve and exhibit these previously silenced voices, incorporating them into exhibits in tours.
Conducting research during a pandemic

Jahan Foster is a PhD candidate in Geography, Environment and Development Studies at Birbeck, University of London.

Her research examines the social reproduction strategies of Latin American transnational families living in London, with a view to understanding how the work of social reproduction is organised around inequalities of class, race, gender and migration status. The research is situated within a wider context of austerity politics and the impact of austerity on migrant families and migrant children.
 
The Covid pandemic and the introduction of the first lockdown in March 2020 coincided almost exactly with the start of my data collection. Interviews that I had planned to do in-person, observations that I was hoping to carry out in people’s homes and travelling overseas were all out of the question. Adapting to that was certainly a challenge and at times, it felt like the very essence of my PhD had to change. I spent the first couple months of the pandemic reviewing my literature and methodology, maintaining possible interview connections and continuing to volunteer with a local community organisation in Brixton. I eventually begun conducting interviews online, which was a challenging experience initially especially when trying to figure out how to develop trust and rapport with someone over a screen. But as the world became more used to this way of life, I soon found myself ‘meeting’ more and more people. The snowball effect I had hoped for kicked in, and online interviews became a way to speak with people I might not have had the chance to before, simply because of how much easier it is to join a Zoom call while your kids are having a nap.

Doing a PhD entirely online this way has certainly been isolating, and it has been imperative for me to stay connected with other PhD students going through the same range of emotions! However, it has also brought into focus important questions about the different ways researchers can engage with and reach participants and the real benefits of doing so.
 
Introducing our new Master's studentships

The Trust is very pleased to announce the recipients of our first Master's studentships at Birbeck, University of London; Shereen Hunte and Oliver Trowell

Shereen is an MA student in Culture, Diaspora and Ethnicity. Her research will examine the relationship between the Black British Community and the British Jewry. Currently, she works at the Jewish Museum London and is responsible for the museum’s Black History Programme, community-based exhibitions and delivering school workshops on Judaism, Jewish History and the Holocaust.

Oliver is studying for an MSc in International Development. He presently works in public affairs for the real estate sector, which involves lobbying local politicians, MPs and community groups, and supporting the planning application process on behalf of large-scale property developers.

The Bonnart Trust offers two studentships each year to support part-time Master’s students whose work involves them in the major themes of concern to the Trust: social cohesion, conflict resolution and racial, ethnic and religious justice.

For more information about the Master's Studentship programme, visit our website. 
Shereen Hunte
Oliver Trowell
A successful partnership for postgraduate study

The Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism is the Trust’s academic partner at Birkbeck, University of London. The Institute is located in the School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy. Birkbeck is a leading research and teaching university and students can study antisemitism, racialization, racial and religious intolerance, ethnicity and identity across disciplines.

Funded Bonnart studentships are offered to Masters and PhD students in Birkbeck’s School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy and in the School of Law. Six students currently benefit from the support of the Bonnart Trust and three more will receive funding from September 2021. 
 
The Pears Institute is known internationally for its innovative approach to research and teaching. It contributes to public debate and understanding on antisemitism and provides expertise and advice to public and political institutions in the UK, Europe and globally.

The Institute’s founding principle is that the study of antisemitism is vital to understanding racialization, racism and religious intolerance. This approach complements the mission of the Bonnart Trust and the intent of its founder, Freddy Bonnart-Braunthal, which is to explore the nature of racial, religious and cultural intolerance and find a means to combat it. Freddy was an Austrian-Jewish émigré who came to Britain in 1935 to escape rising antisemitism in Europe.

This shared vision has enabled the Pears Institute and Bonnart Trust to work together over the last six years to encourage and support postgraduate research at Birkbeck that seeks to understand and tackle the causes and consequences of intolerance.

Dr Jan Davison is Manager and Head of Communications at the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism. For more information, please visit the Pears Institute website.
Contact the Editor

Please contact the Bonnart Trust’s Editor, Kerry-Ann Francis, for any comments or queries about the trust, its newsletter and website, or if you would like to contribute to the newsletter.
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