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Gerard Daniel Cohen
Associate Professor
Associate Professor of History
Primary Department
   Department of History
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Department Affiliations
  • Department of History
  • School of Humanities
    Dr. G. Daniel Cohen

    I also served as a Resident Associate at McMurtry College

    Resident Associate Mc Murtry College, Apt. 247
    Research Areas
     Human Rights History; Migration and Forced Displacement; Philosemitism in Postwar Europe

    From Aversion to Normalization: Philosemitism in Postwar Europe 1945 to the Present


    My project investigates the emergence of “philosemitism” in Western Europe after the Second World War. Despite many ambiguities, expressions of empathy towards Jews and Jewishness have radically challenged the exceptionality of the Jewish condition in European history. Yet while the literature on antisemitism is vast, there is to this day not a single comprehensive study on the positive meanings of Jewishness in post-Holocaust Europe. In this book project, I explore the various stages and multiple functions of philosemitic discourse and sentiment from the defeat of Nazism to the 21th Century. Not merely motivated by “anti-antisemitism” or atonement, philosemitism functioned above all as a language allowing its practitioners to reconstruct European ethics through the prism of Jewishness. This movement did not prevent manifestations of anti-Jewish bias and at times reified antisemitic tropes under the cover of Judeophilia. It nonetheless laid the foundations for an unprecedented moral revolution in contemporary European history. 


    Philosemitism in Post-Holocaust Europe


    Before the Holocaust, wrote Hannah Arendt in 1946, Jews were people “in whose destiny all others thought they could remain uninterested because of the tenet that Jewish history obeys ‘exceptional laws’.” My investigation of “philosemitism” in Western European thought, culture, and politics after 1945 begins where the great German Jewish philosopher left off. Despite many ambiguities, expressions of empathy towards Jewishness after the Second World War have radically challenged the exceptionality of the Jewish condition in European history.  To be sure, favorable characterizations of Jews have always formed a quiet counterpoint to the strong anti-Judaic tradition in the West. Recent scholarship, such as the essays recently collected in Philosemitism in History (Cambridge UP, 2011), has unveiled multiple traces of support for Judaism or imputed Jewish virtues, from classical antiquity to the Enlightenment and the modern era. But even when deployed as a countervailing force against Judeophobia, pre-1945 philosemitism carried little weight against marginalization and oppression.

    The opening of the post-Holocaust era, however, is generally described as a turning point in the history of Jewish-non-Jewish relations. To erase the taint of wartime collaboration and passivity, prominent European intellectuals, churchmen and political figures harbored sympathy towards Jews. Jean Paul Sartre’s influential Réflexions sur la Question Juive (1946) is the most iconic text in this regard. The same applies to the United States where in reaction to the disappointing rescue efforts by the Roosevelt administration theologians such as Reinhold Niebuhr swayed the mainline Protestant public toward pro-Jewish sympathy and Christian Zionism. But while historians have rightly claimed that the Holocaust was pivotal in the evolution of Christian-Jewish relations, the positive image of postwar Jewishness is neither reducible to “anti-antisemitism” nor atonement. As I demonstrate, Western European philosemitism functioned above all as a language and a cultural code allowing its different practitioners to engage with the postwar world.

    I delineate this argument through a chronological narrative comprised between the liberation of Europe to the present. I start with the appearance of philosemitic humanitarian sentimentality noticeable in responses to the Jewish refugee crisis in occupied Germany. Here I focus on French, Italian and English writers for whom the image of Jewish statelessness served as a potent human rights trope. Occupied Germany, where the haunting presence of Holocaust survivors stirred up unease and antagonism, did not share in this empathy. But another Jewish refugee figure, that of the intellectual hounded out by Nazism and returning from exile, shaped the philosemitic sensitivities of a new cohort of German thinkers. As Jürgen Habermas recently recalled, his generation learned from Jewish emigrants “how to distinguish the traditions that are worthy of being continued from a corrupt intellectual heritage.”

    I then explore the rhetoric of Judeo-Christian “morality”, “tradition” and “civilization” in the writings of Catholic and Protestant clergymen and theologians. The archives of the World Council of Churches (Geneva) offer a unique window into the European singularities of the Judeo-Christian movement. Although advocated as a sacred union against Nazi and Communist “paganism”, Judeo-Christianism was not merely a weapon in the cultural Cold War. It also inaugurated a new partnership between Christians and the people of the Book based on equality and historical complementarity. I further probe the depth and dilemmas of religious philosemitism in a sub-chapter on Christian humanitarianism and the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. I describe a permanent struggle between claims of justice and impartial benevolence, universal human rights and Christian Zionism, empathy for Palestinian refugees and identification with Jews as lovable symbols of persecution.

    Thinking about Judaism has also taken a positive function in postwar secular thought.  Jews occupied indeed a particular place in humanist philosophy, particularly in France in the decade following liberation. The writings of Albert Camus, Jacques Maritain and Jean Paul Sartre are indicative of their paradigmatic place in this moral framework. In several essays, Camus depicts Holocaust survivors as the epitome of powerlessness. Yet the Jewish trope served another purpose in Camus’s reaction to the Algerian war. Longing for a Mediterranean identity at equidistance between French colonialism and Algerian independence, Camus extolled North African Jewishness as a native bridge between European settlers and Arabs. The Catholic theologian Jacques Maritain, for his part, sought to restore the original kinship between Christians and Jews by integrating Judaism into his doctrine of “integral humanism” and the dignity of the human person. This radical shift in Christian-Jewish relations, he argued, amounted to no less than a “reorientation of history.” Jean-Paul Sartre used the image of the Jew very differently: as a conduit to anti-colonial resistance, Existentialist Marxism, and the redefinition of the role of the intellectual in the postwar era. As these three cases clearly show, French humanism, like its counterparts in Western Europe, constructed Jewishness as a foil repeatedly referenced.

    In a related chapter, I seek to understand how figural Jews wended their ways in European cinema in the two decades following the Holocaust, with particular attention paid to filmmakers Alain Resnais, Chris Marker, Michelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman.  Although the visual representation of Jews varied according to context and countries, Jewishness played a vital role in describing the human condition, imagining the other and constructing global ethics. This cultural development did not of course hinder the persistence or antisemitism after 1945. In Western Europe as in the United States, bias and enmity did not magically disappear to make room for unequivocal Judeophilia. But as my research demonstrates, the post-1945 discourse of dignity, human rights, inter-subjectivity and emancipation was heavily infused with Jewish frames of references.

    I then turn to the European Left and its relationship with Zionism. The new Israeli Jew exerted a deep fascination on European socialists and left-of-center Christian Democrats. I dedicate one chapter to the impressions recorded by politicians, intellectuals and trade unionists touring Israel from 1948 to the mid-1960s. In their eyes, the Jewish state represented the fulfillment of socialism, self-determination and historical agency. The writings and personal papers of François Mitterand, Willy Brandt, Olof Palme and Harold Wilson, as well as the archives of the Socialist International, similarly reveal the appeal of Israel as an oasis of utopian socialism and an inspiring model for the democratic and welfarist reconstruction of war-torn nations. During the 1950s, Europe’s first social-democratic moment neatly meshed, culturally and politically, with socialist Zionism.

    An important juncture in my project is the 1968 student revolts and their approach to the Jewish question. Although Parisian demonstrators defiantly claimed the identity of “German Jews” in support of their arrested leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit and a new Holocaust consciousness challenged prevalent memories of the Second World War, the protest movements in France and Germany marked the end of the foundational period of philosemitism. The humanist identification with Jewishness lost much of its appeal as humanism itself fell in intellectual disrepute. The anti-imperialist New Left, for its part, grew disillusioned with Zionism in the wake of the 1967 June War. Yet the 1968 counter-culture did not bring the clock of European philosemitism back to 1945. In fact, it stimulated new forms of empathy. Thanks to humanitarian activists stemming from the New Left, the Holocaust became in the 1970s the archetypal metanarrative of suffering in the north Atlantic world. The “imaginary Jew”, to quote the critical phrase coined in 1981 by the French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut, was now a powerful metaphor for trauma. Undeniably, the explosion of human rights and militant humanitarianism in the 1970s coincided with a new brand of “therapeutic” philosemitism informed by Holocaust memory. I use the archives of Amnesty International to document this shift: completely absent in its first decade of existence (1961-1971), references to the Holocaust later abound in Amnesty’s campaigns in favor of prisoners of conscience and victims of torture. Similarly, invocations of the Holocaust were central to the language and ideology embraced by the founding generation of Doctors without Borders.

    The impact of the radical sixties on European philosemitism is not however limited to the entanglement of the Holocaust with new perceptions of trauma and victimhood. As several scholars have amply demonstrated, Jewish difference has also been constructed, in the writings Jacques Derrida, Jean-Francois Lyotard or Georgio Agamben, as a trope to signifying the post-modern condition. The final part of my book project follows however a more mainstream route. In a concluding chapter, which will start with a reexamination of Willy Brandt’s symbolic kneeling in front of the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial in December 1970, I plan to address the deep entanglements linking Jewishness, the Holocaust and the cosmopolitan identity promoted in the past two decades by the European Union. Alarming acts of antisemitism, often coinciding with the intensification of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, regularly make the headlines of European newspapers. And by a twist of fate, philosemitism is today dubiously appropriated by far-right and populist movements to justify xenophobia and Islamophobia.

    Teaching Areas
     Modern European History; Modern French History; Displacement and Human Rights; Antisemitism and Philosemitism
    Selected Publications

    "Refugee Relief in Dictionary of Transnational History, forthcoming 2007, Palgrave Macmillan. ." 


    ""The Human Rights Revolution at Work: Displaced Persons in Post-War Europe" in Akira Iriye, ed., History of Human Rights, submitted, Oxford University Press.." 

     Refereed articles

    Gerard Daniel Cohen "“Elusive Neutrality: Christian Humanitarianism and the Question of Palestine, 1948-1967” Volume 5, Number 2, Summer 2014, pp. 183-210.." Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism,and Development, 5 (2014) : 183-210.


    ""European Displacement and the Birth of Modern Humanitarianism in the Aftermath of World War Two" (forthcoming), Journal of Contemporary History." Submitted


    ""The Politics of Recognition: Jewish Refugees in Relief Policies and Human Rights Debates, 1945-1950", Immigrants and Minorities 24 (2), July 2006, 125-144.." 


    G. Daniel Cohen "“Toward a History of Philosemitic Europe” In EuropeNow Journal, Council of European Studies, November 2017, available at:" 


    Anna Holian and G. Daniel Cohen, "Anna Holian and G. Daniel Cohen, “Introduction”, The Refugee In the Postwar World (Special Issue), Journal of Refugee Studies Vol. 25, No. 3, 313-325, September 2012. ." 


    G. Daniel Cohen "“Tony Judt, Historian.”, French Historical Studies, Winter 2011. ." 


    G. Daniel Cohen and Anna Holian "“Refugee History: State of the Field”. Introduction to special issue of the Journal of Refugee Studies, The Refugee in the Postwar World, forthcoming June 2012, under my editorship in collaboration with Dr. Anna Holian, Arizona State University. ." In Press


    ""Regeneration through Labor: Vocational Training and the Reintegration of Deportes and Refugees, 1945-1950", Proceedings of the Western Society for French History, Volume 32, 2005." Proceedings of the Western Society for French History


    Gerard Daniel Cohen "Histories of Human Rights from Abolitionism to the Present." Wiley Blackwell, Under Contract (2016) In Progress


    Gerard Daniel Cohen "In War's Wake. Europe's Displaced Persons in the Postwar Order. Oxford University Press, 2011. ." 

     Book chapters

    G. Daniel Cohen " “Réfugiés de guerre: civils et non-combattants dans l’histoire moderne des conflits armés”, “War Refugees: Civilians and Non-Combattants in Modern Warfare) in Bruno Cabanes and Gene Tempest (eds.), Une Histoire de la Guerre. XIXe et XXe siècle (History of War 19th and 20th Centuries) Editions du Seuil: Paris, forthcoming spring 2018. ." 


    Bruno Cabanes and Gene Tempest (eds.) "“Réfugiés de guerre: civils et non-combattants dans l’histoire moderne des conflits armés”, “War Refugees: Civilians and Non-Combattants in Modern Warfare), Une Histoire de la Guerre. XIXe et XXe siècle (History of War 19th and 20th Centuries) Editions du Seuil: Paris, forthcoming 2017. ." In Revision


    Simone Gigliotti and Hilary Earl (eds.), "“Jewish Displacement in War-Torn Europe 1945-1948” in Simone Gigliotti and Hilary Earl (eds.), Wiley-Blackwell Companion to the Holocaust. Status: submitted. ." Submitted


    Corine Defrance, Juliette Denis and Julia Maspéro (eds.) "“Les “DPs”: approches historiographiques” (Displaced Persons: Historiographical Approaches) in Corine Defrance, Juliette Denis and Julia Maspéro (eds.) in Personnes déplacées et guerre froide en Allemagne occupée (P.I.E Peter Lang: Brussels, 2015), 380-386. ." 


    Jean-Marc Rohrbasser and Henry Rousso (eds.), 1939-1945, une démographie dans la tourmente (1939-1945: Demographic upheavals) (Editions de l’Ined: Paris, 2015), 361-382. "“Naissance d’une nation: les personnes déplacées dans l’après-guerre européen” (Birth of a Nation: Displaced Persons in Postwar Europe) in Jean-Marc Rohrbasser and Henry Rousso (eds.), 1939-1945, une démographie dans la tourmente (1939-1945: Demographic upheavals) (Editions de l’Ined: Paris, 2015), 361-382.." Submitted


    G. Daniel Cohen "“The Holocaust and the Human Rights Revolution of the 1940s: A Reassesment” in Akira Iriye, William Hitchcock and Petra Goedde, The Human Rights Revolution. An International History, Oxford University Press, December 2011.." 


    G.D Cohen "“The Holocaust and the Human Rights Revolution of the 1940s: A Reassesment” in Akira Iriye, William Hitchcock and Petra Goedde, Human Rights in the Twentieth Century: An International History, Oxford University Press, Scheduled for publication in 2011. Status: in production. ." In Press

     Enlarging European Memory: Migration Movements in Historical Perspective

    ""Managing Displacement: Europe, 1945-1951" in Matthew Berg and Maria Mesner, eds,"After Fascism: The Democratization of Europe after 1945", forthcoming, Manchester University Press.." Submitted

     After Fascism: The Democratization of Europe after 1945
     Enlarging European Memory: Migration Movements in Historical Perspective

    ""From Omission to Resurrection: Displaced Persons in Collective Memories 1945-2000" in Rainer Ohliger (ed.), Troubled and Contested Memories, published by Francia [Forschungen zur westeuropaischen Geschichte], Stuttgart, forthcoming 2005.." 

     Book reviews

    G. Daniel Cohen "Dan Stone, The Liberation of The Camps: The End of the Holocaust and its Aftermath in H-Nationalism, August 2017. Available at: ." 


    Gerard Daniel Cohen "Review of Dalia Ofer (, Holocaust Survivors. Resettlement, Memories, Identities (New York, Berghahn Books, 2012)." Holocaust and Genocide Studies, 28 (2014) : 516-519.


    "Book Review: Carole Fink, Defending the Rights of Others: The Great Powers, the Jews, and International Minority Protection, 1878-1938, forthcoming in Holocaust and Genocide Studies.." 


    "Carole Fink, Defending the Rights of Others: The Great Powers, the Jews, and International Minority Protection, 1878-1938, forthcoming in Holocaust and Genocide Studies.." 


    "Zeev Mankowitz, Life Between Memory and Hope. The Survivors of Holocaust in Occupied Germany (2002); Ruth Gay, Safe Among the Germans. Liberated Jews After World War Two (2002), Association for Jewish Studies Review, Vol 28 (2), Nov. 2004, 378-381. ." Association for Jewish Studies Review.


    G. Daniel Cohen "“From Pariahs to Desirable Migrants? Phases of Jewish Migration in the Twentieth Century”, in Association of Jewish Studies Perspectives (online) December 2017. Available at:" 

     Conference Committee Member
     Commentator, Ecritures de soi et ¿critures de guerre: la France pendant les deux conflits mondiaux, Annual Meeting of the Society for French Historical Studies, Houston, March 15-17, 2007.
     Conference Paper

    "“Displaced Persons and Global Migration in Post-1945 Europe” , Conference on “Migration, Refugees and Asylum since the Second World War in Global Perspective", Institut für Zeitgeschichte,  Munich, 14-16 December 2016."

     Invited Papers

    "“Philosemitic Western Europe? The Jewish Question in the Aftermath of the War 1945-1967”,   “Building from the Ashes. Jews in  Europe 1945-1950”, Jewish Museum Frankfurt am Main, 3-5 December 2017. ."


    "“Philosemitism in the New Populist Imaginary”, Conference on “Democracy in Crisis”, Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen, Vienna, 8-9 November 2017.."


    "“Diplomatic Crises and Refugees: The Case of Postwar Europe”, Yale University, Masters in Global Affairs Program, November 9, 2016.."


    "A Second Emancipation? “Philosemitism” in Postwar European History, Birberck College, University of London, March 1 2016.."


    "Second Emancipation? “Philosemitism in Postwar Europe since 1945”, Technische Universität, Berlin, December 7th, 2016.."


    "“Transnational Zionism: Anglo-American Jewish Volunteers in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War”, paper delivered at the conference  “Combattre pour ses idées”, Ecole normale supérieure, Paris, April 2012.."

     Political Asylum in Historical Perspective, Presidential Panel, AHA Annual Meeting, Atlanta, 5 January 2007.
     Between Relief and Politics: Humanitarianism in Occupied Germany, International History Workshop, Temple University (Philadelphia, PA), May 18-19, 2007

    "The 'Human Rights Revolution' and Forced Displacement in the 1940s, Human Rights History Workshop, Indiana University, Bloomington, March 8-9, 2006.."


    "UNRRA and the IRO: The Emergence of Modern Humanitarianism, 1945-1950., University of London, Birkbeck College, June 19, 2006.."


    ""Population Management in the Aftermath of World War Two", After Fascism: The Re-Democratization of Western European Societies and Political Culture after 1945, University of Vienna (Austria), May 19-21, 2005.."


    "From Omission to Resurrection: Displaced Persons in Collective Memories 1945-2000." Commemorating Migrants and Migration: Towards New Interpretations of European History? organized by the German Historical Institute/Centre Marc Bloch, , ., Paris. (November 15th-16th, 2004)


    "Regeneration through Labor: Vocational Training and the Reintegration of Deportes and Refugees, 1945-1950." Western Society for French History, Texas Tech University, Lubbock. (October 2nd, 2004)


    "Vindication in the International Arena: Jewish Refugees in Relief Policies and Human Rights Debates 1945-1950." Lessons and Legacies Conference, Brown University. (November 2nd-4th, 2004)

     Invited Talks

    "“Philosemitism in the Aftermath of the Holocaust: An Ambiguous History”, Boniuk Center for Religious Tolerance, Rice University, Houston, TX, 15 February 2015. ."


    ""French Intellectuals and Political Asylum since 1945", Institute of French Studies Luncheon Series, New York University, March 29th 2005.."


    "Political Asylum in France: A Historical Perspective." Consulate of France, Houston, TX. (January 2004)


    "From Dissidents to Asylum Seekers: Defining Refugees in the Twenty First Century." Institute of Global Studies, The Johns Hokins University, Baltimore, MD. (Novemebr 20, 2003)

     Keynote Speaker

    "“Europe’s Refugee Crisis in Historical Perspective”, Keynote Lecture, West Virginia University College of Law, 16 October 2015. ."


    "“Refugees and Population Distribution in the Early Cold War Period”, International History Seminar, Weatherhead Center, Harvard University, November 17, 2010.." (18 Nov 2010)


    "“Statelessness in International Law in the Aftermath of the Second World War”, American Society for Legal History Conference, Philadelphia, November 20, 2010.." (20 Nov 2010)


    "Displaced Persons and Refugees in Post-War Europe." American Historical Association, Washington, D.C. (January 10, 2004)


    "“Humanitarianism and Human Rights”, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, October 22-23, 2016.."


    "“Philosemitism and the Naqba: Western Europe in the 1950s” , Workshop on “Israel-Palestine: Land and People”, Brown University, Providence RI, November 11-12, 2016. ."

    Supervised Theses & Dissertations
     Suraya Khan, Phd History of Arab-American Migration in the US. (Thesis Committee Member)

    Awards, Prizes, & Fellowships
     EURIAS SENIOR FELLOWSHIP -- Institute for Humanities, Vienna, European Union

     European Institutes for Advanced Study (EURIAS) Fellowship , (2017-2018)

     Humanities Research Center, Rice University (Fall 2015 )

     Remarque Institute Fellowship in European Studies, New York University (April 2012)

     Visiting Fellow, Institute for the Humanities, Vienna (July 2004)

     Distinguished Associate, Lovett College (June 2004)