Debórah Dwork

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Debórah Dwork, is an American historian. She is the Rose Professor of Holocaust History and Director of the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. Dwork is the daughter of mathematician Bernard Dwork, and sister of computer scientist Cynthia Dwork.


Dwork earned a B.A. from Princeton University, an M.P.H. from Yale University, and a Ph.D. from University College London. Prior to holding the Rose Professorship, she was an Associate Professor at the Yale University Child Study Center. The recipient of numerous grants and awards, she has held fellowships, most notably, from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the American Philosophical Society, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Early Studies[edit]

Dwork's early scholarship established her as a social historian who pioneered the use of oral history and primary documents as complementary, mutually enriching sources. A scholar of Public Health, she published a study of immigrant Jews in New York in the period 1880–1914. At the same time, she began to focus on the history of childhood. In her first book, War is Good for Babies and Other Young Children (1987), Dwork examined questions about the family, the role of women, and the concept of children's rights in the context of the development of the modern welfare system.

Children-centered History[edit]

Recognizing that history focused on the adult world and that children were seen, principally, as future participants in that realm, Dwork imagined a new “child-centered” approach. She moved from the history of childhood as a social construct to the history of children as subjects and actors. Her historical analysis used children’s experiences as a lens through which to view all of society. A wholly original theoretical development, Dwork’s child-centered history opened a new area of historical investigation. In her now classic Children With A Star (1991), Dwork gave voice to the silenced children of the Holocaust; it was the first history of the daily lives of young people caught in the net of Nazisim. Children With A Star was also a pioneer work in the use of oral histories, conducted and recorded by Dwork. The book became the subject of a documentary of the same name by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Holocaust Research[edit]

A landmark study, Auschwitz (1996), co-authored with Robert Jan van Pelt, drew the critically important connection between industrial killing and the daily functions of a society that believed it was involved in constructive activity. Dwork and van Pelt's innovative use of architectural evidence to understand Auschwitz, and the way they moved their lens from German plans and practices to how those translated into the lived experience of Jewish inmates, broke new historical ground. The BBC and PBS produced the Horizon/Nova television documentary "Blueprints of Genocide" (BBC) / "Nazi Designers of Death" (PBS) based upon Auschwitz. The book received the National Jewish Book Award and the Spiro Kostof Award.

Thinking about the significance of Auschwitz in the context of the whole of the Holocaust prompted Dwork and van Pelt to collaborate on Holocaust: A History (2002). In it, they consider the place of the Holocaust in the long and broad history of the western world, from the Middle Ages to the middle of the twentieth century and across the continent of Europe. Holocaust explores how the different occupation regimes shaped the local populations’ ability to respond to the genocide enacted outside their windows. Perhaps most important, Holocaust, for the first time, integrated the history of World War II and the history of the Holocaust, and wove together the distinct narrative lines of perpetrators and of victims; the Nazis’ push towards a “Final Solution,” and the Jews’ reactions and responses.

Struck by the failure of the allies to respond to the refugee crisis triggered by Nazi persecution, Dwork and van Pelt turned their attention to the question of refugee Jews from 1933, when the Nazis came to power, through the postwar period. In Flight from the Reich (2009), they consider the dilemmas democratic governments faced when presented with the prospect of mass expulsions of Jews from Central European countries. Should they offer asylum to these people, and thus, indirectly, condone these expulsions? They observed the ever dwindling choices open to the refugees, and the decisions of the many people who dealt with them: consuls; immigration officers and other government officials; church, health, and social workers; volunteers; private individuals. Unique in scope and sweep, Flight locates the history of refugee Jews within the context of the Holocaust and deals with Jews fleeing from countries across Europe to countries all over the world. Realizing that the refugees’ escape around the globe defied traditional plotlines, Dwork developed an innovative narrative structure to carry the story she and van Pelt wished to tell. A fractured line, it focuses on four turning points (1933; 1938/9; 1942; 1946) and offers multiple lenses on each of these pivotal moments. This kaleidoscopic perspective on the history of refugee Jews reflects and carries its centrifugal and episodic character.

Long interested in the victims' primary documents, Dwork edited and annotated The Terezin Album of Mariaka Zadikow (2008), a posie album collected by a Jewish inmate as the Germans pushed forward with deportations from Theresienstadt. In A Boy in Terezin: The Private Diary of Pavel Weiner, April 1944-April 1945 (2011, ISBN 978-0-8101-2779-1), Dwork returned to the experiences of children as an important source for contemporaneous accounts of Jewish life under Nazi persecution. Pavel kept his diary when he was twelve and thirteen years old and confined to the Nazi transit camp at Terezin. He recorded details of his life, while commenting on famous events known from the historical record.

Public Presence[edit]

Dwork is the founding Director of the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University. In that capacity, she has given shape to an exciting forum for education and scholarship about the Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide, and other genocides around the world. Dedicated to teaching, research, and public service, the Strassler Center trains the Holocaust historians and genocide studies scholars of the future – the next cadre of scholars, teachers, Holocaust museum directors and curators, and non-government organization and government agency experts about genocide and genocidal situations. The Strassler Center offers the richest undergraduate program in Holocaust and Genocide Studies to be found in the United States, with seventeen professors offering thirty-eight courses. Under Dwork’s leadership, the Center established a landmark doctoral degree program in Holocaust History and Genocide Studies that has grown to include a track in the Psychology of Genocide and, joining Geography scholarship and Genocide studies, a track in Geography and Genocide. The Center hosted the first ever international graduate student conference in Holocaust and Genocide Studies in April 2009; second in 2012; and a third, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, will be held in April 2015.

Dwork's book Voices and Views: A History of the Holocaust is an edited, annotated, and illustrated collection used by the national Holocaust education program of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, as well as in a number of local teacher education programs throughout the country and high school courses on Holocaust history.[citation needed]

Debórah Dwork lectures at academic conferences, philanthropic organizations, and to the general public. She is a member of the American delegation to the 31-state International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Her books have been translated into Czech, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Spanish, and Portuguese. She serves as an expert historian for Holocaust-related museum exhibitions; most recently for "Signs of Life" at the Sydney Jewish Museum in Australia and "The Place They Called Auschwitz" and "Against the Odds: American Jews and the Refugees of Europe" at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York. Dwork also serves as an expert historian for filmmakers. She worked with director Rick Trank in Against the Tide (2008) and Unlikely Heroes (2003), director Artemis Jovkowsky on Two Who Dared (2013), and has contributed to television documentaries including Hiding in Plain Sight (CBS, 2009) and Misha Defonseca and her Hoax Memoir, (RTBF, Belgium National TV, 2008).

Dwork is a contributor to The Huffington Post[1] and a regular contributor of articles to newspapers and magazines.[2]

Dwork has taken part in the historical debate about Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust and concluded that, whatever his personal feelings may have been, Pius failed to use his significant papal authority to ease the suffering of Jews during World War II.[3]


  • Dwork, Debórah (2012). A Boy in Terezin: The Private Diary of Pavel Weiner, April 1944-April 1945. Evanston: Northwestern University Press. ISBN 978-0-8101-2779-1.
  • Dwork, Debórah; van Pelt, Robert (2009). Flight from the Reich: Refugee Jews, 1933–1946. New York: W.W. Norton. ISBN 978-0-393-06229-8. Translations: Dutch (Elmar); French (Calmann-Lévy).
  • Dwork, Debórah (2008). The Terezin Album of Marianka Zadikow. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-51186-3.
  • Dwork, Debórah; van Pelt, Robert (2008). Auschwitz. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. ISBN 978-0-393-32291-0. First published as: Auschwitz 1270 to the Present. New York: Norton. ISBN 0-393-03933-1. Translations: Czech (Argo); Dutch (Boom); German (Pendo); Polish (Swiat Ksiazki).
  • Dwork, Debórah; van Pelt, Robert (2002). Holocaust: A History. New York: Norton. ISBN 0-393-05188-9. Translations: Dutch (Boom); Portuguese (Imago); Spanish (EDAF).
  • Dwork, Debórah (2002). Voices and Views: A History of the Holocaust. New York: Jewish Foundation for the Righteous. ISBN 0-9700602-0-3.
  • Dwork, Debórah (1991). Children With A Star: Jewish Youth in Nazi Europe. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-05054-2. Translations: Dutch (Boom); German (Beck); Italian (Marsilio); Japanese (Sogen Sha).
  • Dwork, Debórah (1987). War Is Good for Babies and Other Young Children: A History of the Infant and Child Welfare Movement in England 1898–1918. London; New York: Tavistock Publications. ISBN 0-422-60660-X.


  1. ^ Debórah Dwork (April 5, 2009). "Surge in Economic Refugees Will Test Community Resources". The Huffington Post. Retrieved April 1, 2011. 
  2. ^ Deborah Dwork (April 19, 2009). "An invitation to speak". The Boston Globe. Retrieved April 1, 2011. 
  3. ^ "ADL: Pius XII did not save Jews in WWII". The Jerusalem Post. December 20, 2009. Archived from the original on July 8, 2012. Retrieved April 1, 2011. 

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