Covert Networks during the Holocaust

In my work I have coded, visualised and interpreted data on covert support networks based on six case studies in Berlin. Earlier works on support for persecuted Jews focus either on historical reconstructions of individual activities or the personalities of helpers in general. I defended my thesis at the University of Mainz in July 2012 and was awarded the grade summa cum laude.

Dwelling from the existing body of research I aimed to shift this rather actor-focused approach towards the analysis of internal structures and collective activities of illegal support networks. Building a database to store a large number of relations among actors and visualising them was an important methodological step that helped me achieve this. Due to highly distorted and fragmented sources I was forced to pay special attention to the risks in working with a database and visualisations.


Most of the multiplex relational data that I collected is based on autobiographical testimonies, post 1945 applications for remuneration or interviews, some of which took place more than 60 years after the events they depict. As a result, these personal testimonies have been transformed into more or less fixated, often anecdotal narratives. These narratives are rather reflections of their author’s self-conception than accurate depictions of past events. Another problem is the clandestine nature of illegal support activities: names of actors and sources of support were kept secret whenever possible, contemporary written accounts are valuable exceptions. Other sources were Gestapo interrogation reports which contain information that was not given voluntarily and likely contains false and misleading information.

All these sources have strong biases which make them difficult to use for formal analysis and lead to highly fragmented sets of actors and relations. Even though many of these gaps cannot be fully closed, a large number of relations can still be deducted from third party accounts, existing historical research and historical contextualization. This works better for some actors than for others.

My goal was to relate individual motives, forms of support, time and frequencies of support, the intensity of personal relations and structural positions of both supporters and refugees. I was particularly interested in the conditions under which networks evolved, their roots, their ability to adapt to the rising pressure of persecution, their internal social dynamics, critical success factors and potential weaknesses. My research was supervised by Prof. Dr. Harald Welzer, Dr. Jörg Raab and Prof. Dr. Sönke Neitzel. Together with my colleagues Dr. Christian Gudehus (Project Leader) and Susanne Beer I was part of the project Frames of Reference of Help which was located at the Center for Interdisciplinary Memory Research then at the Centre for Advanced Study in the Humanities / Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut Essen. Project Partner was the Memorial for the German Resistance / Gedenkstätte deutscher Widerstand Berlin.

The project was funded by the Volkswagen Foundation. I am grateful to the Gerda Henkel Stiftung for providing me with a 2-year PhD scholarship.



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Articles (peer-reviewed)








Conference Papers (Selection)

Helping Behaviour in Interdisciplinary Perspective. Help for persecuted Jews during the Second World War at “The ‚Good German‘ in Literature and Culture”, October 2009 in London.

Illegal Support Networks for Persecuted Jews during the Third Reich: Relational patterns and Network structures
at “Networking the Past:Historical Network Analysis, Eugenics and Biopolitics in the 20th Century”, April 2010 in Vienna.

Screencast: Applying VennMaker in historical research [Anwendungen von VennMaker in den Geschichtswissenschaften] at the Conference „Vom Papier zum Laptop – Perspektiven elektronischer Tools zur partizipativenVisualisierung und Analyse sozialer Netzwerke, October 2010 in Trier.

The relevance of pre-existing and newly built social ties between refugees and their helpers [Die Bedeutung von bestehenden und neu geschaffenen sozialen Beziehungen für das Überleben von Verfolgten und deren Helfern] at Helfer, Retter und Netzwerker des Widerstands. 3. Internationale Konferenzzur Holocaustforschung, sponsored by the German Federal Agency for Civic Education, January 2011 in Berlin.

Screencast: Wie soziale Netzwerke aus Bürgern Helfer machten: Die Entwicklung und Arbeitsweise illegaler Hilfsnetzwerke für verfolgte Juden im ‚Dritten Reich‘



Prosoziales Verhalten in interdisziplinärer Perspektive at the University of Bochum in early 2010.