Building from the endeavors of Jewish  refugees fleeing Nazi persecution, this project explores the spatial and temporal dimensions of global transit. The concrete spaces of transit such as camps, visa offices, ships, or airports and the temporality of transit – especially the undetermined length of the phase between flight and arrival – are of particular interest. In Global Transit consequently promises to open new geographic, chronological, and conceptual perspectives on refugees’ experiences of flight and belonging as well as on the scope of anti-Semitism, xenophobia, or racism in varying contexts of “departure” and “arrival.” In doing so, the project addresses common research gaps and questions, for example, by situating specific transit experiences in the context of a general migration history – as well as the history of flight and forced migration which is at the heart of the GHI’s research programs since its foundation in 1987.

To this day, refugees have traveled long and circuitous routes, which can take weeks, months, or, if longer stopovers are involved, sometimes years, with the final destination often unforeseeable. The experience of Jews    who fled to countries in the Global South during World War II makes a particularly interesting and contrastable case due to the length of their transit situation, their phase of in-betweenness often extended far beyond the caesura of 1945. The project defines  refugees as actors who intermingled with the surroundings they faced during their flight in all phases of their transit, developing relationships which in many cases influenced the trajectory of their lives. These relationships include those with other refugees as well as with “local” people, the aspect of personal belongings, memory, and material culture,  but also (trans)regional networks, which they encountered in widely varying colonial, postcolonial, or other political constellations; they also experienced new sorts of interactions between the sexes and generations.

In Global Transit currently consists of two separate pillars: a conference series and resulting research network and individual projects from GHI research staff.

Conference Series

Two conferences  on Jewish refugees in global transit between the 1930s and 1960s were held with external partners as well as a virtual workshop and series on the "Migrant Knowledge" network. 

In Global Transit: Jewish Migrants from Hitler’s Europe in Asia, Africa, and Beyond

This 2018 conference in Kolkata , India, already expanded the geographical, temporal, and conceptual lens on Jewish forced migration and offered new insights not only into the experience of the refugees but also into the reach of anti-Semitism and racism against the backdrop of colonialism and war.

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In Global Transit: Forced Migration of Jews and other Refugees (1940s1960s)

In 2019, the GHI organized a second conference at its Pacific Regional Office  in Berkeley. It examined the experience of Jewish refugees who found haven — but not new homes — in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. For most of these individuals, the end of the war did not mean an end to life in transit. To the contrary: after a period of temporary settlement, they found themselves not only once again on the move, but also in a new, more ambiguous situation: Now, they were just one among many groups in search of permanent homes as the large-scale expulsion of ethnic, religious, and/or national groups became a global phenomenon.

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Jewish Refugees in Global Transit: Spaces – Temporalities – Interactions

This 2020 online workshop continued this international exchange, bringing together more than 20 international researchers from Jewish and Migration Studies, most of them focused on forced migration and refugees.

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Archives in/of Transit: Historical Perspectives from the 1930s to the Present

This 2024 at Workshop at University of Southern California explores new ways of thinking about archives, archival records, and other artifacts historians might use as primary sources to gain deeper insight into the history of migrants in transit and the knowledge they possessed, produced, transmitted, or lost. With a starting point in the history of Jewish migration from National Socialist-occupied areas, the workshop broadens out to investigate the experiences of refugees and migrants fleeing genocide, armed conflict, and persecution throughout the twentieth century.

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In addition, “Knowledge in Transit ” is also a research focus of the Pacific Regional Office and the “Migrant Knowledge” network; several posts on the network’s blog addressing migration, refugees and in-betweenness  in various historical constellations.


Related Staff Research Projects

Family and Enterprise in the Age of Industry: The Arnholds, 1808-2000

Simone Lässig

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"Remnants Saved from the Fire": A Transnational History of Jewish Ceremonial Objects after 1945

Anna-Carolin Augustin

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History in Limbo: Airport transit zones between global mobility and local order, 1945-2000

Carolin Liebisch-Gümüş

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Hungarian Refugee Students, Knowledge and Canadian Forestry

Swen Steinberg

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