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University historian receives Yad Vashem International Book Prize for Holocaust Research


An academic from the University of Wolverhampton has been awarded the Yad Vashem International Book Prize for Holocaust Research 2020 for his book on Jewish child forced labourers.

Professor Johannes-Dieter Steinert’s winning book is ‘Holocaust und Zwangsarbeit. Erinnerungen jüdischer Kinder 1938-1945’ (Holocaust and forced labour. Memories of Jewish child forced labourers).

He said: “My interest to look into Jewish child forced labour during the Holocaust came from working on a previous research project on humanitarian assistance for survivors of the Holocaust and the German forced labour system. The contemporary reports about unaccompanied children in the displaced persons camps intrigued me to learn more about the fate of these children.

“The total number of Jewish child forced labourers is unknown; the statistics do not exist. Estimates depend on the definition of childhood as well as on the definition of forced labour.

“Following the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Labour Office Convention concerning forced or compulsory labour, it is safe to say that several hundred thousand Jewish children, most probably more than one million, had to endure longer or shorter periods of forced labour before being liberated or murdered.”

Jewish children worked in all branches of industry; in mining, agriculture, and construction work. They were forced to build production plants, bridges, roads and railway tracks, barracks, airfields, defensive positions, and trenches.

Over weeks, months, and years, they had to carry out exhausting work, often way beyond their physical and mental strength.

Some were younger than ten years old.

Professor Steinert added: “The surviving children were shaped by external and internal wounds, scars, disabilities, and traumatic experiences. Most had lost their parents, family members and friends and some had lost all trust in adults.

“Over months and years, their lives had been characterised by the vicinity of death, forced labour, hunger, thirst, and humiliation. Many had been sexually abused, some had endured forced sterilisation and medical experiments.

“In general, only children whom the Germans had regarded as useful labourers had a chance of surviving the Holocaust.”

Professor Steinert’s book is based on a research project that was supported by the British Academy, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Gerda Henkel Stiftung, the Foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility, Future”, and the Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies.

During the research project, more than 1,000 survivors’ testimonies were analysed and 500 of those have been quoted in the book.

The Yad Vashem International Book Prize for Holocaust Research is an annual award by Yad Vashem in recognition of high scholarly research and writing on the Holocaust, its precursors and aftermath.

Yad Vashem is the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre, which was established in 1953 by the Knesset (Israeli Parliament), to commemorate, document, research and educate about the Holocaust.

The Prize will be presented on 10 December in a virtual ceremony due to the Covid-19 pandemic.


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