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The Shoah and the Tragedy of Assimilation: Lessons from one German-Jewish family 

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Simon May

Between 1933 and 1941, Simon May’s mother and her two sisters pushed the boundaries of assimilation among German Jews to their limits. They resorted to conversion, aristocratic marriages, and ‘Aryan’ certificates, which likely saved them from the death camps. However, this marked the defeat of the hope that such strategies would secure acceptance for Jews in German and European society. It led to a unique vulnerability, as these three women – and many others like them – distanced themselves from their cultural roots, leaving them emotionally defenceless when disaster struck. This self-inflicted psychic violence presents challenges for their descendants, grappling with questions of identity and belonging in a world in which millions of people continue to be forcibly displaced.

Simon May is Visiting Professor of Philosophy at King’s College London. His interests lie in ethics, philosophy of the emotions, questions of identity and belonging, and German 19th and 20th Century thought. His books include Nietzsche’s Ethics and His War on ‘Morality’ (1999), Love: A History (2011), Love: A New Understanding of an Ancient Emotion(2019) and The Power of Cute (2019), alongside his widely praised family memoir How To Be A Refugee (2021). May’s work has been translated into ten languages and regularly features in major newspapers worldwide. 


This lecture is organised by the Leo Baeck Institute London and will be held at the Keynes Library, Birkbeck's School of Arts, 43 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PD.