On the evening of November 12, the Institute of European Studies hosted its annual Feldman Lecture at the exquisite Bancroft Hotel. Each year, this lecture is held to honor the life and work of former IES Director Gerald D. Feldman. This year’s speaker was Jonathan Zatlin, Associate Professor of History at Boston University and former PhD student of Professor Feldman. His lecture, entitled “The Ruse of Retirement: Eichmann, Theresienstadt, and the Elderly,” highlighted the ways in which Eichmann used retirement to take advantage of elderly Jewish populations during the Nazi regime.
Throughout his talk, Professor Zatlin proposed two possible reasons for deceiving the elderly in this way. First, he argued that this deception responded to the failure of deportations in 1941. With suspicions towards the fate of deportees rising, the Nazis required new ways to foster compliance within Jewish populations. By promoting Theresienstadt as a “perk” of the new retirement contracts, Eichmann fooled many elderly Jews into cooperating. The other reason he proposed for the necessity of the ruse was that it served as a cover for theft, which aided Eichmann in the process of making the SS financially independent. Through the retirement contracts elderly Jews had to sign, Eichmann and the SS masked their stealing of Jewish property as a long sought after solution to the disappearing access to end-of-life care and other state benefits. While he did show data supporting the supposition that wealthier Jews were targeted first, Professor Zatlin also presented statistics that demonstrated how most of the Jewish people being targeted had relatively little to take.
In his conclusion, Professor Zatlin stated that, contrary to what Hannah Arendt has famously argued, Eichmann was influenced more by ideology rather than by careerism. Following the lecture came a question and answer session and a reception, during which attendees continued to discuss the implications of Professor Zatlin’s findings. This year’s Feldman Lecture proved to be an enjoyable night of European scholarship, remembrance of Gererald Feldman, and celebration of all that IES continues to provide to the Berkeley community.