portrait of Matthew DesMarais

The Stroum Center for Jewish Studies is proud to announce this year’s Paper Prize for Excellence in Holocaust Scholarship winner: Law, Societies, and Justice major Matthew DesMarais.

The Paper Prize for Excellence in Holocaust Scholarship is awarded annually by the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies to honor an outstanding undergraduate student paper that critically engages with the central themes, lessons and ideas of the Holocaust.

In the award-winning paper, titled National Origin — Refugee: German Jewish Refugees in the United States and the Making of the Modern Refugee Desmarais looks at German Jews living in Nazi-occupied Germany, who applied for and received a U.S. refugee visa and then immigrated to the United States during World War II. “He describes the limits of citizenship protections through an examination of denaturalization in Germany and barriers to full incorporation in US society”, says Professor Rawan Arar. “Matthew carefully weaves historical data with quotes from survivors who describe their experiences.”

The essay asks the question, when does one become a refugee and when does one stop being one? Through examining the arduous process of seeking refuge in the United States, and the economic and social impacts of being forced to leave one’s home, the paper demonstrates the ways that this process affects the identity of those who experience refugeehood, not only individually but intergenerationally.

The paper proposes this as an answer to its opening question: An individual becomes a refugee when they make the decision to leave their home, but they do not stop being a refugee when they reach a new home – refugee is a status that remains for generations. Being a refugee is a citizen status; it is an imposed identity that requires an individual or group to abandon their old identity and life in exchange for another, one that is constructed by the host country’s expectation of what a good — and perpetual — guest looks like.

Professor Rawan Arar recalls, “Throughout the time I have known Matthew, he has demonstrated the kind of unyielding intellectual curiosity that can only be fueled by purpose. Matthew’s commitment to creating a more compassionate and just world is evident in the kinds of questions he asks and his thoughtful approach to searching for answers.”

Matthew DesMarais is currently a senior, majoring in Law, Societies, and Justice. Following graduation, he hopes to pursue dual degrees in the concurrent JD/MA in International Studies program by studying Post-WWII international politics, state power, global economies and their connections to violence and impact on human rights.

Congratulations on this exceptional paper, Matthew!

Want to see more articles like this?  Sign up for our newsletter!
⇒ Learn more about the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Washington, our Sephardic Studies Program, or our Israel Studies Program.
Note: The opinions expressed by faculty and students in our publications reflect the views of the individual writer only and not those of the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies.