Age, Agency, and Agencies and the Migration of Austrian Children and Youth to the U.S.”

deadline for submissions: 
January 31, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Jacqueline Vansant, University of Michigan - Dearborn
contact email: 

Research on immigration to the United States from Austria after the Anschluss has focused exclusively on adults. Moreover, in contrast to the numerous publications and documentaries focusing on the Kindertransport to England before the outbreak of the war in September 1939, there has been limited attention given Austrian children and youth fleeing National Socialism and migrating to the United States. Despite the failure of the Wagner-Rogers Bill in 1939 to admit 20,000 refugee children, a limited number of children and youth immigrated to the United States, some with their parents, some alone, and some with other children. Consequently, their stories remain a largely untapped resource for scholars and this call seeks to address this lacunae.

Steven Pressman's HBO film from 2013 50 Children: One American Couple's Extraordinary Rescue Mission into the Heart of Nazi Germany (2014) and book of the same name tells the story of the efforts of the couple who saved the children coming from both Austria and Germany and points to a potential source for further research. Most recently, the one-day symposium in June 2019 held in Washington D.C. at the Holocaust Memorial Museum entitled "Fleeing the Nazis: Austrian Jewish Refugees to the United States" included a conversation with Herta Griffel Baitch. She came to the United States from Vienna in late 1940 with the assistance of the German Jewish Children's Aid of Baltimore, underscoring the role of charitable agencies in the escape of children and youth from Nazi Germany. These are just a few examples of areas for further research.

In the past decade publications in the field of migration studies have begun to look at questions of child migration and agency, which may be useful in gaining insights into the experiences of the Austrian children and youth migrating to the United States. Rather than viewing the minors as having no agency, Roy Huijsmans argues that children [and youth] migrating express agency as "social actors actively engaging with the world around them" ("Child Migration and Questions of Agency," in Development and Change, 2011 1310). He also emphasizes the relational dimension of the minors' quest for agency. This includes a variety of factors, such as age, gender, class, networks available to the children and youth ("Children and Young People in Migration: A Relational Approach in Migration," in Movement, Mobilities and Journeys, 2015), 8) and formal societal structures, such as "citizenship regimes, migration policies and institutions like school" (Child Migration and Questions of Agency," in Development and Change, 1313). While these articles speak to more recent migration of children and youth, his insights can be applied to the flight of Austrian children and youth to the United States after the Anschluss.

We invite papers which examine the intersection of age and agency with (possible) attention to the agencies involved in the immigration of the children and youth and the transformation from refugee to citizen. For these young Austrians private and public agencies as well as private individuals played a significant role in their escape from Europe and settlement in the United States. The papers may focus on one aspect of emigration from Austria and immigration to the United States or follow the youths'/youth's entire movement from Europe to the New World.

Sources of study may include novels, plays, feature films as well as oral interviews, letters, diaries, newspaper articles, documentaries. 

The proposed panel is sponsored by the Botstiber Institute for Austrian-American Studies (BIAAS). Scholars with accepted papers will be eligible for travel support from BIAAS in connection with the 2020 GSA Conference. 

For consideration, please submit an abstract of ca. 300 words with a title and a short biography suitable for an introduction at the conference to: by January 31, 2020. 

Talks may be in German or English. Selected seminar papers will also be included in a planned special issue of the Journal of Austrian-American History on "Age, Agency, and Agencies and the Migration."

   Contact Info: 

Jacqueline Vansant

Professor of German

Department of Language, Culture, and Communication

University of Michigan-Dearborn

Dearborn, MI 48128