Please note that this section is currently under construction, and will be updated regularly with information on the previous lectures in the Holocaust Memorial Lecture series. This will include lecture recordings, transcripts and speaker information. 

2001: Genocide, Religion and Modernity

View the transcript of the lecture here: 2001 Genocide, Religion and Modernity

2003: The Holocaust in Court: History, Memory & the Law

View the transcript of the lecture 2003 The Holocaust in Court History, Memory and the Law.

2004: Genocide and Jewish Survival

View the transcript of the lecture here.

2005: Making a Killing: The Economics of the Holocaust

View the transcript of the lecture 2005 Making a Killing, The Economics of the Holocaust.

2006: Austria and the Holocaust: Coming to Terms with the Past?

2007: How Complicit were the German and Austrian Banks in the Holocaust?

2008: Shattering Nuremberg: The Holocaust and Law’s Response to Atrocity

View the transcript for this lecture 2008 Shattering Nuremberg: The Holocaust and Law.

2009: A German Pogrom: The Kristallnacht in History and Memory

View the transcript for this lecture 2009 A German Pogrom: The Kristallnacht.

2011: How should we write the history of the Holocaust?

View the transcript for this lecture 2011 How should we write the history of the Holocaust.

2016: How modern was the Holocaust?

Watch the full lecture here.

2017: East West Street: A Personal Take on Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity

On Tuesday 24 January, Professor Philippe Sands presented his lecture on the writing of his acclaimed new book - part historical detective story, part family history, part legal thriller. He centres on a remarkable, untold story of individual perseverance, how Rafael Lemkin and Hersch Lauterpacht - the lawyers who brought ‘genocide’ and ‘crimes against humanity’ into international law - learned  that the man they were prosecuting at Nuremberg – Hans Frank, Hitler’s personal lawyer and Governor General of occupied Poland – was responsible for the murder of their own families.

2018: Exodus from Vienna

For the 18th Holocaust Memorial Lecture we were delighted to welcome Emeritus Professor Otto Hutter back to the University for his lecture Exodus from Vienna. Attendees heard about Professor Hutter’s escape from Vienna and the stories of his fellow classmates.

2019: Whose words, whose voices? What thinking about translation can tell us about the Holocaust

On Tuesday 22 January 2019, the University of Glasgow welcomed Professor Peter Davies (Professor of Modern German Studies, The University of Edinburgh) to present the 19th Holocaust Memorial Lecture. This lecture was entitled Whose words, whose voices? What thinking about translation can tell us about the Holocaust.

Almost everything we know about the Holocaust comes to us through translation; the Holocaust, as a multilingual event, is literally unthinkable without translation. For decades, thousands of translators, professional and non-professional, named and anonymous have made testimonies, documents, historical sources and works of art available and understandable in dozens of languages and for audiences across the world. So why is it that we talk so little about translation and translators? And why is it that translators only become visible when something goes wrong, accused of distortion, or worse, betrayal of the authentic voice of a witness?

This lecture set out the extent of our dependence on translation, discussed the ethics of translating, and paid tribute to the work of the translators who have made the Holocaust understandable for us. However it also suggested something perhaps more uncomfortable: that translators do not just transmit pre-existing knowledge about the Holocaust from one language to another, but they help to form that knowledge in the first place, and have had a profound effect on how the Holocaust is understood, interpreted and talked about.


2020: Final Solution. New Answers to Old Questions

For the 20th Holocaust Memorial Lecture we were delighted to welcome Professor Ulrich Herbert to the University of Glasgow to present his lecture entitled 'Final Solution. New answers to old questions'.

Did the National Socialists plan the murder of the Jews early on and then carry it out consistently? Or did the circumstances of the war and the competition for power within the Nazi system lead to a gradual radicalisation?

Over the last 25 years or so, numerous studies have been published that have found new answers to these old questions on a broader basis. On this groundwork, the way to Auschwitz was re-measured in this lecture.

2021: Researching the Nazi Dictatorship through the Lens of Primo Levi’s “Grey Zone"

On Tuesday 26 January 2021, the University of Glasgow welcomed Professor Volker Berghahn (Seth Low Emeritus Professor of History at Columbia University) to deliver a lecture titled “Researching the Nazi Dictatorship through the Lens of Primo Levi’s “Grey Zone”.

You can watch the full lecture here.

For many years now research on the victims and also the perpetrators of the Holocaust has been extensive and has provided valuable insights into the dynamics of this catastrophe. And research like this must go on. This lecture aims to add an under-researched field to this scholarship and academic debate by using as its starting point the notion of the “grey zone”, first mentioned by the Italian chemist and Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi. He pointed to the awful dilemmas that many in Nazi occupied Europe faced when they were forced to cooperate with the regime in the camps while being vigorously anti-Nazi and trying to undermine the Hitler dictatorship.

Accordingly, this presentation will begin with some recent research on Jewish prisoner-physicians who were forced to assist Nazi doctors in medical experiments, but also adhered to their Hippocratic Oath by helping inmates in camp hospitals to survive. It then extends the analysis to anti-Nazi Germans who did not leave the country after 1933 but protected and hid Jews while continuing in their civilian jobs, thus indirectly cooperating with the Nazi regime. The lecture thus examines the dilemmas of these men and women who, living in a “grey zone”, had to cope with a dictatorship that became increasingly lethal for all forms of dissent.    

Volker Berghahn is the Seth Low Emeritus Professor of History at Columbia University in the City of New York. For many years, he taught at the Universities of East Anglia and Warwick before moving to the United States in 1988 to teach at Brown University and at Columbia from 1998. After publishing a number of books on European-American cultural and business relations, he recently returned to his earlier interests in modern German history. His most recent book relevant to this lecture was published by Princeton University Press in 2019 under the title: Journalists between Hitler and Adenauer. From Inner Emigration to the Moral Reconstruction of West Germany


Lecture Manuscript

Thank you for your invitation to give this year’s 21st Holocaust Memorial Lecture

It is a great honor for me to join a long roster of scholars who gave this lecture in previous years.

This year, of course, the format is very different, but I hope that, thanks to the excellent technical support that I have been given, you can see and – more importantly – hear me clearly, speaking to you, as I am, all the from across the Atlantic.

You have just been told about my career as a historian and the three different academic cultures in which I spent my life teaching and researching.

If I may just add two more sentences to my abbreviated c.v. that you have been given.

After beginning my studies at Goettingen University and the University of North Carolina where I received an M.A., I moved to London for my doctoral dissertation on the development of the anti-Republican right in Weimar Germany during the years before the Nazi seizure of power in 1933.

After this I developed a second project on the Nazification of the German armed forces before and during the Second World War.

In that latter context I read many accounts on the participation of German soldiers and officers in what has been called the “Holocaust in the villages”,

  1. e., the murder of millions of Jews, first in Poland and after the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 in the Ukraine and the Baltic states by rounding them up, taking them to nearby woods to shoot them and throw them into mass graves.

This was the program of mass murder that the Hitler dictatorship adopted before the deportation of Europe’s Jews and other minorities, such as the Sinti and Roma, to Auschwitz and other death camps began in 1942/43.


Looking back on those years of research and on what I published on this topic, I found it increasingly difficult to work with those heart-rending eye-witness accounts of this “Holocaust in the Villages” and, having moved from Warwick University to Brown University in the United States, decided to shift into the field of European-American cultural and business relations in the postwar period.

But as you may have seen from the titles of my most recent books, I began to return to modern German History around 2010 and after I had been offered access to recently catalogued papers of prominent West German journalists and business people.

However, the lives of these people led me back into the Nazi period and hence confronted me once again with the crimes committed during the Second World War.

In the meantime, research on the Holocaust had continued and many important works had been published on both the lives and fate of the victims as well as on the crimes committed by German perpetrators and their accessories.

Many of my predecessors in this Holocaust Memorial lecture series spoke about these topics, and you will also be familiar with other research, published for example by the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

Let me stress clearly at the outset that I feel very strongly that this research on both victims and perpetrators must continue.

I do not wish to challenge its many important findings.

However, I would like to add a dimension to this research that has been opened up more fully only quite recently.

This research takes the writings of the Italian chemist Primo Levi as its starting point who was deported to Auschwitz-Monowitz, the camp just up the road from Auschwitz-Birkenau where the mass murder took place in the gas chambers.

Levi, as some of you will know, wrote about his predicament and his experiences in his 1986 book “The Drowned and the Saved”.

In it he introduced the notion of the “grey zone” in which he had been living during those traumatic years as a Jewish prisoner.

He was of course a determined opponent of the Nazi regime and wanted to see it destroyed as soon as possible.

However, at the same time he was working as a chemist in a factory at Monowitz that the IG Farben chemical trust had built to produce goods essential to the Nazi war effort, in particular synthetic rubber.

The terrible dilemma of living in a “grey zone” that Primo Levi faced has more recently been explored by a younger generation of historians, and Dr. Sari Siegel in particular, when she became interested in Jewish prisoner-physicians in Nazi camps.

They, too, she has argued, moved in a “grey zone” as doctors in the camp hospitals.

While they obviously hated the Nazi regime, they were forced to assist Nazi doctors with their totally unethical experiments  on prisoners, while at the same time trying, under most dangerous circumstances, to adhere to their Hippocratic Oath and covertly to provide medical support to sick inmates or to pregnant women in their wards.

I would like to argue that this new research should be added to the larger effort of past decades to comprehend the Holocaust as presented hitherto from the perspective of Jewish victims as well as perpetrators.

I have therefore encouraged Sari Siegel and others to continue to work with this “grey zone” question, as it also raises fundamental questions of medical ethics that are now being taken up more widely in the training of doctors.

It is no accident that the human experiments on the Africab-American population in the American South have again been critically studied and condemned in recent years.

However, there is a further expansion of the “grey zone” problem that I would like to broach with you in the hope that it will lead to a fruitful discussion following my lecture.

My focus is not on Jewish victims, nor on German perpetrators, but on those Germans who opposed the Nazi dictatorship, but did not join the active resistance.

As a result they, too, found themselves moving in Primo Levi’s “grey zone”.

A  brief preliminary comment on the active resistance.

Here three groups can be identified.


The first one comprised Social Democrat, Communist and trade unionist blue-collar workers who, straight-away in 1933, formed covert cells that went out at night to paint anti-Nazi slogans on factory walls or leave leaflets in public places.

They were often ill-prepared and ill-equipped, and by 1935 most of these men and women had been caught by the Gestapo.

If they were not sent to a concentration camp without trial, they were tried in conventional courts, charged with treason and mostly executed.

The second group that has been extensively researched comprised the conservative and military resistance that initially collaborated with the Nazi regime, but from the late 1930s developed an underground network to assassinate Hitler.

It was quite late in the war, in July 1944, that they finally acted, but failed.

Hitler survived the bomb plot at his Rastenburg headquarters and those involved were caught, tried, and executed.

The third group represents opponents of the regime who were often unorganized individuals of middle-class background.

Many of them at some point also fell into the hands of the Gestapo, often by coincidence.

However, I am concerned with a group of Germans who, instead of actively resisting the regime, lived in Primo Levi’s “grey zone”.

They steadfastly rejected the regime, its aims and propaganda and resisted pressures to join the Nazi party.

And yet they did not leave Germany, but went into what has been called “inner emigration”. 

This meant that they did not give up their civilian jobs and in this way sustained the Nazi regime, while at the same time being known in their family environment as critics who rooted for the Hitler dictatorship’s eventual collapse.

I would like to mention two case studies that illustrate the issues that I am trying to raise.

The first case deals with the predicament of a German journalist, Dr. Paul Sethe, who was the editor-in-chief of a local paper, the Oligser Nachrichten, in the steel-making town of Solingen in the Ruhr industrial region in the early 1930s.

At that time Solingen had become politically sharply polarized between Communists and Nazis, and Sethe found himself in the shrinking middle.

He was seriously worried about what to him was destruction from below of press freedom, guaranteed with other basic civil rights in the Weimar Constitution, by the dogmatism of militant right-wing and left-wing mass movements.

After the Nazi seizure of power in January 1933, with the Communists proscribed and put into concentration camps, the Solingen Nazi Party began to criticize what they called his paper’s “negative attitudes” toward Nazism and put pressure on the editorial positions that he had taken up.

By the summer this criticism had become very blunt.

The local and regional Nazi leadership went to see the publisher of Sethe’s paper and asked him to dismiss his editor-in-chief.

In short, Sethe was in trouble.

His job soon became so intolerable that he gave up and, through colleagues at Frankfurter Zeitung, got a job with a daily that had been a major liberal paper during the Weimar years.

Having written his doctoral dissertation on German and British naval history, Sethe thenceforth reported and edited articles on military affairs.

So, in a sense he collaborated with the Nazi regime.

However, the Frankfurter Zeitung had not been “synchronized” and turned into a Nazi paper.

Goebbels, Hitler’s minister for propaganda, kept the paper on a long leash because it was widely read not only by the intellectual and economic middle classes in Germany, but also by political and business elites in Europe and the United States.

Moreover, the paper was owned by IG Farben, the chemicals trust that gave its editors some protection against the kinds of pressures Sethe had experienced in Solingen.

Goebbels’s toleration lasted until 1943 when the Frankfurter Zeitung was closed down after Hitler and also Himmler’s SS paper, The Black Corps, had decided that the paper’s editorial board as unreliable.

Sethe, though still refusing to join the Nazi Party, was ordered to join the staff of Vὃlkischer Beobachter, the Nazi paper. But he delayed his move by joining a local paper just across the Rhine from Frankfurt in staunchly Catholic Mainz.

By that time he was also in touch with members of the anti-Nazi resistance.

One of them was Rudolph von Scheliha, who, after the invasion of Poland, was in charge of the information department in the German Foreign Office.

An opponent of the regime he was later caught, tried, and executed.

He and Sethe first met during the Polish campaign in 1939 and Scheliha seems to have given him information on the atrocities that the SS and the Wehrmacht had committed in Poland.

At any rate, Sethe returned from his trip to occupied Poland deeply shaken.

Even more revealing is Sethe’s relationship with Fritz Bartsch who had been a colleague at Frankfurter Zeitung, but in 1943 had become the Berlin-based executive director of an illustrated magazine, published in Sweden.

In the spring of 1944, the two men met regularly at a Berlin restaurant for an evening meal.

It was on one of these occasions, shortly after the failed 20th of July 1944 Plot to kill Hitler, that Bartsch told Sethe that this was “a bad day for us, especially for me.”  

The reason was that as late as 14 July 1944 Bartsch had kept up his meetings with Carl Goedeler, one of the leaders of the July Plot.

Since the Gestapo was following Goerdeler’s every step, Bartsch rightly assumed that they had been seen together and that they were now also after him.

To escape, he went on to a frantic journey that took him to Vienna and finally to Munich.

But even mingling with beer-swilling Bavarians in Munich’s Hofbräuhaus, there was no escape.

A Gestapo agent suddenly tapped him on the shoulder, asked him if he was Fritz Bartsch and arrested him.

When Sethe learned about his friend’s arrest, he moved heaven and earth to get his release and contacted Gűnter Lohse in the press department of the German Foreign Office who he knew from his time at Frankfurter Zeitung.

Lohse in turn knew one of the prosecutors at the People’s Court in Berlin where the July plotters were being tried.

This man now agreed to pull Bartsch’s file and mark it with a note saying “To be submitted after the end of the war”.

Consequently, Bartsch was never hauled before the People’s Court as a witness against Goerdeler or as a defendant.

Although he remained imprisoned until the end of the war, he survived.

What Sethe learned from him after 1945 was that Bartsch had suggested Sethe as the editor-in-chief of the newspaper that Goerdeler was planning to publish after the coup had succeeded.

But fortunately, Sethe’s name did not appear in any of the documents that Goerdeler had kept and that the Gestapo had found in Goerdeler’s home in Leipzig.

His papers included the names of many of the other plotters, all of whom were tried before the People’s Court, convicted of high treason and executed.

After 1945 Sethe admitted in a private letter that he wished he moved to Berlin sooner instead of staying in Mainz to avoid being posted to Vὃlkischer Beobachter.

This would have enabled him to meet Goerdeler earlier in the spring of 1944 to discuss the newspaper plan.

He then added what was, to be sure, the existential question of all anti-Nazis who were moving out of the “grey zone” to the margins of the active resistance:

As Sethe put it, he wished he had made a more courageous decision.

But then  - he added – “I would no longer be alive.”

It is these liminal situations that I feel should be studied more closely.

Sethe, reproaching himself for his lack of courage, clearly suffered from what is generally known as “the guilt of the survivor”.

I would now like to move to the case of a young anti-Nazi woman who after 1945 became one of the most influential journalists in the Federal Republic.

Her name is Marion Doenhoff who hailed from an old Prussian noble family with large estates near Kὃnigsberg in East Prussia.

She had been raised in a very conservative family, but as a teenager began to emancipate herself from this social background.

At one point, she even railed against the political narrowmindedness of “our caste”, the Prussian nobility.

Having been taught first by private teachers on the family estate and then at a public school for girls in Kὃnigsberg, she rebelled.

Keen to learn, she exploited her father’s large library and educated herself in world literature.

With her autocratic father having passed away, her mother relented when Marion wanted to transfer to a gymnasium for boys in Berlin.

It was certainly quite unusual for an 18-year-old to get her way.

Her move was possible due to the more liberal capital of the Weimar Republic that was run by Social Democrats and reformers of the Prussian system of education. 

Marion successfully finished her senior year in 1929 as the only female student when most high schools were still divided by gender.

Having gained her high school Abitur certificate, she took some time off and traveled in the Balkans and East Africa before registering at Frankfurt University to study economics with Professor Edgar Salin.

When Salin moved to Basle University, she joined him there to begin work on her doctorate, but not before she had become involved at Frankfurt University in arguments with Nazi students.

It was then Salin who suggested to her that she should write her doctoral dissertation on the economic history of the Doenhoff estates in East Prussia.

Having access to the family archives, she accepted and retreated to Friedrichstein near Kὃnigsberg.

I think her family were quite relieved that she lived far away from Berlin, as the Nazi regime continued to gain an ever closer grip on all sections of society.

Having received her degree in Basle, she agreed to stay in East Prussia to take over the management of the one of the Doenhoff estates at Quittainen. This meant that she continued to live in a “grey zone”, opposed to the regime and yet indirectly contributing to its aims.

However, she also kept in touch with her family, especially with her brother Dietrich who had married her best friend, Sissy von Lehndorff.

She was also close to her cousin Heinrich von Lehndorff who managed the Lehndorff estate in the 1930s and, once the war had begun, was drafted into the army.

Posted in the East after Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, Heinrich learned about mass shootings of Jews and partisans which so appalled him that he decided to join the military resistance that finally staged July 1944 coup.

As mentioned above, after its failure the conspirators were all caught and subsequently tried and executed, including Heinrich von Lehndorff and Heinrich Count Dohna von Trolksdorf who Doenhoff had been asked to recruit for the active resistance. 

On a later occasion, she remarked: “I should have liked to have shot Hitler myself. The fellow has of course got to be killed’.”

But then she added: but “I don’t know if I would have done it myself.”

In a regime as lethal as the Hitler dictatorship, it is indeed not just a question of access, but opposition also become something very personal.

After the July 1944 coup, Marion Doenhoff was arrested and interrogated by the Gestapo in Kὃnigsberg after a relative, Bogislav von Doenhoff, who was an ardent Nazi, had denounced her.

Suspecting her of subversive activities, he had rifled through her mail and noted the names of people who had sent her letters.

These names he now handed over to Bogislav’s friend Erich Koch, the East Prussian Gauleiter.

After being questioned about her correspondents, she was kept in a Gestapo cell for the night, uncertain what would happen the next day, but then released.

As she gathered from their questions, they did not have much evidence on her.

So, she convinced her interrogators that Bogislav had intended to take revenge against her, following a family dispute about the Doenhoff estates.

Still, she had been held for 24 hours that she would never forget.

Marion Doenhoff survived the war by fleeing to the West in advance of the Red Army who razed Friedrichstein to the ground..

The cases of both Sethe and Doenhoff show that by continuing to live and work under a totalitarian dictatorship they also indirectly sustained it, their anti-Nazism notwithstading.

And they were faced with a horrific dilemma of how far to commit themselves to the active resistance that ultimately involved a preparedness to stand before the executioner if they were denounced.

After all, making no more than an off-the-cuff critical remark or joke about Hitler could be fatal.

Let me give you a third illustration of the predicament in which “grey zone” men and women found themselves during the Nazi dictatorship.

I mention this case study because it also touches upon the question that the Israeli-American historian Saul Friedländer, has raised relating to what he called the “limits of representation”.

What he meant by this was that there are horrors that words, whether in fiction or scholarly studies, just cannot adequately describe.

In this respect film may be a better medium to tell a complex and heart-rending story in pictures and dialogues in two hours than an academic historian can in a 500-page account of a life, whether of a victim of persecution or of men and women living in the “grey zone”.

This is why I would like to discuss, however briefly, the 2003 movie “Out of the Ashes” which is based on the experiences of a woman who published a harrowing book entitled “I was a doctor in Auschwitz”.

In terms of its realistic depictions of the Holocaust it is similar to Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” that many of you will have seen.

But it is not a feature film centered on a non-Jewish rescuer like Oskar Schindler.

Very powerfully acted by Christine Lahti, it is focused on the hospital at Auschwitz, if this is how it can be called.

And it is about the Jewish gynecologist Dr. Gisella Perl from Romanian Sighet, then under Hungarian rule.

Hailing from a well-to-do middle-class family, she had been deported to Auschwitz in 1944, but, after identifying herself as a medical doctor, selected to work in the camp’s main hospital.

There she was forced to assist the notorious SS doctor Josef Mengele in some of his human experiments on pregnant women and recently born twins.

If she refused, she would forfeit her life and be sent down the line to the Birkenau gas chambers.

Worse, Dr. Perl was confronted with another horrific choice: women prisoners arrived in her ward who were in their early pregnancy.

If this became known, they and their embryo would either be murdered strait-away or be used in Mengele’s experiments and then murdered.

So, in order to save these women’s lives, Gisella Perl decided to abort the fetuses.

It was a truly awful choice.

Yet these were the “choiceless choices” that the American psychologist and philosopher Michael Rothberg has written about in a book that tries to reach, as he put it, “beyond victims and perpetrators”.

It was as an “implicated subject”, as Rothberg called it, that Dr. Perl survived.

Consequently, this movie is not about criminal guilt, but ultimately about moral ambiguity.

Having left Auschwitz on one of the death marches and liberated in 1945 she decided to immigrate to the United States.

And on her arrival in New York she ran into enormous difficulties with the immigration board that considered her application for US citizenship.

In her application she first had to confirm that she was a moral person who had not collaborated and had hence not been involved in crimes.

The Board had learned that she had been a prisoner at Auschwitz, as the tattooed number on her arm confirmed.

But when asked about her work in the hospital, her compulsory assistance to Mengele had already put her under a cloud with the three male Board members.

Questioned further about her work, she confessed to the abortions she had performed which - this procedure being illegal in the United States - the Board had enormous difficulty to comprehend.

Compared to other inmates, she also was a “privileged” beneficiary of an inhuman system, but she was not complicit.

When the three men accused her of having aborted hundreds of fetuses, Dr. Perl in one of her very moving emotional outbursts insisted that she had in fact saved hundreds of women’s lives who survived to have children once the Nazi nightmare was over.

Close to a breakdown, she added at one point that she wanted to live, also to be able to work as a gynecologist again who would bring babies into this world.

There is, as you will be relieved to hear, a positive ending to this movie: The Board finally approved her application for citizenship, and Dr. Perl continued her work as an obstetrician-gynecologist in the United States. 

Even if this movie is an extreme case of the life–and-death problems women and men faced in Nazi Germany and Nazi occupied Europe, I hope that it, too, illustrates why I believe these case studies should make us look more extensively at Primo Levi’s “grey zone”, without abandoning the many years of research on both the victims and the perpetrators of the Holocaust.

And this relates not just Dr. Gisella Perl, but non-Jewish Germans who were anti-Nazis but did not join the underground or went to into exile should also be considered on a careful case-by-case basis.

Allow me to make one final point at the end of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Lecture: on “the Nazi dictatorship through the Lens of Primo Levi’s ‘Grey Zone’: The movie “Out of the Ashes” can be viewed for free on Tubi TV.

 It is superbly acted and badly underrated.

In my view, Christine Lahti deserved an Oscar.

Viewing “Out of the Ashes” you will be deeply moved, also because it reminds us again of tomorrow’s annual Holocaust Memorial Day

And it reminds us how important it is for these crimes never to be forgotten and its lessons and insights to be passed on to future generations.