The Politics of Comparison: Holocaust Memory, the European Left, and Third World Suffering, 1954-1980

Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dean, Carolyn


This study examines how Western Europeans deployed the memory of the Holocaust in their discussions and advocacy about the fate of the ‘Third World’ between 1954 and 1980. It argues that references to the Holocaust were a constitutive feature of West European Third World-focused political mobilizations. Additionally, it suggests that both Europeans and non-Europeans drew on the memory of the Holocaust in service of two distinct claim-making discourses: one which condemned mass human rights violations and one which supported the production of the postcolonial nation. In uncovering how Holocaust references were a visible feature of how West Europeans talked about and demonstrated their solidarity with the peoples and nation-states of the Third World, this dissertation challenges what is often assumed to be a natural affinity between Holocaust memory and the liberal internationalist vernacular. It suggests that there exists a forgotten history of Holocaust memory, one in which activists deployed the memory of the Holocaust not to affirm the logics of the liberal internationalist order, but rather to critique, contest, and sometimes overturn them. In addition to documenting how West Europeans turned to the memory of the Holocaust as a means to articulate their anticolonial commitments, this dissertation emphasizes the importance of studying the memory of the Holocaust in a global frame. During the 1950s and 1960s a wide range of political activists invoked the memory of the Holocaust. These activists included West German social democrats, French New Leftists, Vietnamese communists, and Indian nationalists. Following two decades of scholarship in which historians have discussed the Holocaust’s status as a “global memory,” this dissertation is the first study to examine the memory’s global uses in an archivally-grounded fashion.

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