Yad Vashem Seminar 2017 | Yosi Goldstein

Yosi Goldstein shared different perspectives with the cohort on Latin America during the Holocaust. Latin American countries had relatively large Jewish populations. Today there are less Jews in Latin America than there were in 1939. Yosi shared that Nazism wasn’t constricted to Germany but was an ideology that could have been, and was, adopted by many nations. During the “Crucial Years” (1938-1939) “The Jewish Question of Refugees” was a primary source of debate. The Evian Conference, July 6-15, 1938, called by President Roosevelt, sought to answer this debate, to no avail. No one was willing to increase their immigration quotas for German Jews, or any other Jews in crisis. Of the 32 countries that were present, 18 of them were Latin American countries. During the conference no one actually referred directly to the Jewish people, they instead referred to an “undesirable” population, saying they “didn’t want to import Russia’s problem.”


For example, the book “Alex’s Wake” talks about a ship of Jewish refugees that made it to Cuba, all those on board had visas to Cuba but they are declined at port and were refused to disembark. The ship then went up the East Coast of the United States and was turned away at every port. They were finally sent back to Germany.  

The Argentinian government stated at the Evian Conference that they were of course sympathetic but at the same time they would not increase immigration quotas. The different countries, essentially, were saying that they can’t offer visas to anyone that was expelled or were deemed undesirable by their own country, and this was for their own economic protection. When Jews applied to the Argentinian government for visas many lied and said their were Christians, appealing the the Catholic presence in Argentina. Many immigrants entered Argentina illegally, as well. It wasn’t until January 1944 that Argentina cut relations with Germany and declared war against the Axis in March 1945.


This is not to say that there weren’t Latin American countries and people who didn’t help Jews. Many did. Of the 26,120 Righteous Among the Nations, 6,000 were Latin American. For example, Manuel Antonio Muñoz Borrero, of Ecuador, sent 80 blank visas to Istanbul which were distributed to Poles, most of whom were Jews. This was against his country’s foreign policy, and he risked his life to do so, which is why he is considered Righteous Among the Nations.

Guest Lecturers, Research Forum

Guest Speaker: Yoram Haimi

Since 2007, Israeli Archaeologist, Yoram Haimi, and Polish Archaeologist, Wojciech Mazurek, have been excavating at the former Reinhard Extermination Camp site, which was created by the SS in Sobibor, occupied Poland. Yoram came to share his research with Cohort V for a Research Forum lecture. All that had been known about Sobibor before the excavation was from about 50 survivors. From their testimonies, historians have made educated guesses on what the camp must have looked like and what happened there. After the uprising in October 1943, the Nazis razed the camp and planted trees to hide their crimes.


Yoram speaking with Annika, University of Haifa Holocaust Studies student

The excavation has revealed some inaccuracies of what has been thought about Sobibor and also proved historian’s theories. The project has made a completely new map of the camp. Originally the major goal of the project was to find the gas chambers. After 7 years they found the foundations of the gas chambers under asphalt which was laid as a foundation to two Polish memorials that were constructed at Sobibor following the war. In the process they found a lot of other details which made the story of Sobibor more complete, such as the escape tunnel that some of the survivors have mentioned.

Sobibor was built in March 1942, as well as other death camps, Treblinka and Bełżec as a part of Operation Reinhard. From April 1942 to October 1943 about 250,000 Jews were murdered at Sobibor. Just like the other death camps there were three main sections of the camp: reception, administration, and extermination. At any one time only about 100 Jews lived at Sobibor. They were forced to aid in the extermination of their own people. Of these workers, around 50 survivor. Their testimonies constructed what was known of Sobibor, now the excavations complete this information.


Yoram speaking with Mason, University of Haifa Archeology Student

Most of the victims of Sobibor were Dutch. Throughout the excavations the team has found valuables such as jewelry. Recently they found a pendent that was identical to one of Ann Frank’s. This pendent belonged to Karoline Cohn. She and Ann Frank were born in the same year, 1929. The pendant was found along the Himmelfarhtstrasse (the street to heaven). The Himmelfarhtstrasse was a path with high camouflaged fences on either side, that lead to the gas chambers. Without the excavations the path would not have been found. When the team found the Himmelfarhtstrasse and then they knew it had to lead to the gas chambers.

When the excavation find items that they can tie to specific people they notify living family members. For example, Yoram told us about a family’s story whose questions they could answer about a small child who was murdered at Sobibor. His sister came to Sobibor and finally said the mourner’s Kodish for her brother, she didn’t know where he was during the war but she was certain that he had been murdered. But she couldn’t be sure until Yoram and his team were able to answer her questions.


Yoram sharing about the different families’ stories he’s been able to provide some answers for.

The excavation includes a team of Polish people from the area, and volunteers. One of our students from Cohort II volunteered and wrote a blog post about it. You can read it here.

For more information, check out the articles below:


Yad Vashem Seminar 2017 | Rob Rozett


Dr. Rob Rozett

Dr. Rob Rozett shared his talk “The Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust” with our students during their seminar at Yad Vashem.

The Nazis invaded on March 19, 1944. But the story of Hungarian-Jewish persecution begins long before. Before the Nazis invaded, Hungary was already involved in a war. The Hungarian government didn’t trust Jewish men with weapons so they forced them to labor: building roads and digging ditches. They often gave the Jewish laborers the most dangerous jobs such as retrieving bodies from the battlefield, the Soviets would shoot at them and so would the Hungarians at times. They were also forced to be human mine sweepers, without any tools they used their bodies to search for the mines. The Jews weren’t provided with adequate food, clothing or shelter. Some Jewish men defected and picked up weapons against the Hungarians, after joining the USSR.  Inevitably, the Soviet military treated them worse than the Hungarians did; eighty percent if these men perished.

After March 19, 1944 Jewish persecution increased. Within just a few months of Nazi occupation, Nuremberg laws were introduced, and ghettos were established in every major city, excepting Budapest. (There was a prevailing thought that the Jews would save the city, if they spread Jews around Budapest, then the allies wouldn’t bomb the city.) Then the transports started. There were two transports in April, but the bulk of the transports happened from May to August 1944. In these four months, roughly half a million Jews were deported to Auschwitz. Eighty percent were murdered in the gas chambers within 24 hours. Nearly 12,000 Hungarian Jews perished daily. For the mostly part, only Hungarian Jews were arriving in Auschwitz at this point.

Meanwhile, the D-Day invasion started on June 6, 1944, and the Russians began Operation Bagration, which would eventually bring them to Berlin. In addition, Jan Karski came to the Allies and told them what was happening to the Jews in Europe. Karski was a Polish partisan, who had seen the horrors of the Holocaust. He met with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The President’s response to Karski’s testimony was, “Young man, I don’t believe a thing you say. It’s not that I don’t believe it, it’s that I’m unable to believe.”

Sweden and the US communicated with Horthy, Regent of Hungary, pleading to end the deportations. On July 8, he made a declaration to end the deportations. Then the Germans kidnapped his son and threatened to kill him if Horthy didn’t abdicate. He did abdicate and Ferenc Szalasi became the Head Minister and Prime Minister of Hungary, and the deportations started again.

There were attempts to save Hungarian Jews. One was made by Great Britain through Switzerland. They offered papers of protection to Hungarian Jews who could get to Switzerland, which would presumably lead to visas to Palestine. However, Tito and Slovenia blocked the way, not to mention Austria and/or Fascist Italy.

Other more complicated attempts of rescue were made through Joel Brands, which was essentially sabotaged by Bandi Gross who was a triple agent trying to align Great Britain and Germany against Soviet Russia. The Kastner Train was sent to Switzerland, not Auschwitz, as a German gesture of “good-will.” This saved 1,600 Jewish lives.

In December 1944, Pest was liberated, and in February 1945, Buda was liberated. Nazis looking for recognition and goodwill from the allies started “saving” Jews. For this reason, fifty percent of the Jews in Buda survived. They had not been deported before because they had never been centralized in a ghetto. In Pest, Jews who had not been transported, were shot into the freezing Danube River in the winter of 1944. 3,500 pairs of iron cast shoes now mark their footsteps along the on the Pest side of the Danube. This memorial was erected in 2005.

Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program?  You can find the application and more information at our website


Yad Vashem Seminar 2017 | Iael Nidam-Orvieto

Iael Nidam-Orvieto gave a lecture titled: “Fascist Italy and the Jews of Italy,” during the recent Yad Vashem seminar. She broke the period of Italian fascism into three segments: 1922-1935 is the “Honeymoon Period,” (describing the relationship between Jews and Mussolini), the Second phase is 1935-1938, (or “Preparation for persecution,” which is classified with quantifiable increase in Italian anti-Semitic actions), and the last portion from 1938-1945 ( which is identified with legislation against the Jews, and mass murder).


Iael Nidam-Orvieto

Mussolini himself was extremely anti-Semitic. Unlike Nazi anti-Semitism, Mussolini’s anti-Semitism was not purely racist, in other words converted Jews were not offensive to him. He was a modern anti-Semite, in that he believed in International Judaism, and that all Jews are manipulative and rich, which will eventually ruin Italian economy. Mussolini was unique in the fact that he brought socialism to fascism, so Italian fascism wasn’t necessarily true fascism but Mussolini-ism. The Italian people loved Mussolini, including the Jewish population. They saw him as a “caring father of the Italians.” Meanwhile, he was publishing anti-Semitic articles in the newspaper anonymously.

Most Italian Jews could trace their family lines in Italy back to the age of the Second Temple. They were characterized as exceptionally Italian, and loyal to the government. They were considered an integral part of society by the general population. Mussolini was smart enough not to show his anti-Semitism publicly from 1922-1935. During this time there was no governmental sign of anti-Semitism. Additionally, the catholic church was against racist anti-Semitism, and could not approve of Nazi Germany. Mussolini decided not go against the church, because it would have likely destabilized the government.

Meanwhile, Mussolini was distancing himself from Hitler, in order to create an identity for Fascist Italy. After the failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, Mussolini specifically sought distinction from Hitler. In 1929, Mussolini successful pulled Italy out of the Great Depression, and for this Hitler looked to him as a role model. Because of this respect Hitler never raised the Jewish Question in Italy until 1943.

The Second Period, 1935-1938 was noted for increasing preparation for persecution of Jews. The Ethiopian War of 1935 increased racism in Italy. Questions were raised about the equality of the children born to Ethiopian women and Italian men, which also led to questions about Jewish equality. The Italians conquered Ethiopia through extremely violent measures, including gassing civilians in populated areas. The global community responded to the Ethiopian war with embargos. In order to end the embargos Mussolini contact two Italian-Jewish leaders, and asked them to plead with Jewish leaders in Great Britain to end the embargos. Of course, this didn’t work. They met with regional leaders, who had no say in British politics, but this was an example of Mussolini’s belief in International Judaism. Or it was Mussolini’s way of blaming the Jews for not ending the embargoes, because he knew their peace mission would fail. This event lead to significant anti-Semitism in Italy through widespread propaganda.

The period 1935-1938, also witnesses friendly relations with Hitler and Nazi Germany. Because Mussolini’s anti-Semitism was not pronounced in the first period Italians thought that they anti-Jewish legislation was coming from Nazi Germany. Mussolini made propaganda to negate this popular opinion, but it was ineffective. This idea was so widely believed that Jews in Italy thought themselves that the anti-Semitic laws were ordered from their new Nazi ally.

From 1938-1943 Italian Jewish experienced further persecution. In 1940, Mussolini gave an order for all Jews to leave Italy within five years. However, when the Nazis re-established Mussolini as ruler of Italy after the revolt in 1942, he had less power and was more of puppet. In 1943, Nazis started deporting Italian Jews. Italy is the only country that started deportations after part of the country had been liberated by the Allies.  The north of the country had a better idea of what was coming because they had better communication with people in Germany, but Jews in the south and Rome didn’t know what to expect. Twenty percent of the Italian Jews were deported within a year and a half, and many Italians willingly participated in round-ups.

Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program?  You can find the application and more information at our website


Yad Vashem Seminar: 2017| Eliot Nidam-Orvieto

Cohort V recently spent a week in Jerusalem for the annual seminar hosted by Yad Vashem. Our students were welcomed by Eliot Nidam-Orvieto, who also stayed with them throughout the week, opening for different speakers and offering advice and connections for research. His talk was entitled “The Rescue of the Jews.”

It is commonly said that it took 10 people to save one Jew. This is both true and untrue. Survivor testimonies often reference only one person, because they were in contact with only one person. In reality, small groups of people created systems which often times saved more than one Jew. This lecture spoke about Catholic involvement in saving Jews. We specifically looked at the role of Catholic institutions in France. For example, some Catholic schools took on German-Jewish teachers and students. Sometimes priests would employ Jewish cooks or secretaries, but they were often only able to save men, in order to avoid suspicion according to their promises of celibacy.

Different organizations under the Vatican are granted more autonomy than others. Convents, for instance, did not report to Regional Bishops but rather to the Pope himself. Therefore, the mother superior often would not ask permission to admit a Jewish student to her boarding school. This is how many Jewish children were saved in occupied and Vichy France. Bishops on the other hand held varying stances on Jewish rescue. Some allowed and encouraged their parishes to accept Jews into the Parish or congregations for survival; Others were Anti-Semites and encouraged their laity to conform to Nazism, many already had underlying Anti-Semitism.

The Bishops who helped Jews hid them in old folks homes, including Dreyfus’ wife (of the Dreyfus Affair), and in Typhus houses (Germans wouldn’t search the Typhus house for fear of contracting the disease, but then Jews hiding there were in danger of the illness as well).


Eliot Nidam-Orvieto

We have to ask the question why were French Catholics so much more willing to help Jews than Catholics in other parts of Europe. One explanation is that until 1941, nuns, monks and priests were prohibited from wearing their habits, and experienced persecution. It is thought that this made them more sympathetic.

Now the question of conversion has to be asked. In most instances, (particular to France) children were not forced to convert. They followed Catholic law which states that a minor (under the age of 14 for boys and 12 for girls) cannot convert without signed permission of their parents. As a result, many Jewish children while in hiding were not converted, even if they sought conversion. However, some clergy had anxiety about the “sin” the children brought to the schools if it they were not converted, and forced conversion upon them. A diary of a nun protecting Jewish children wrote that it was impossible to share Christianity with her wards because it would show their lack of knowledge of Christianity, so it was best not to talk about it, otherwise other students or teachers would know they were Jewish. She wrote, “everything demands this reservation.”

After liberation, many orphaned children were left in France. In postwar France, guardians had to pay taxes on children from different regions. Often times Jewish children who were previously hiding were given to various Jewish organizations. On rare occasions, Rabbis would not accept a child who had converted to Catholicism. This dichotomy ruled that the children belonged to respective affiliation; and the affiliation was responsible for the child, who was often orphaned.

Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program?  You can find the application and more information at our website

Current Students, Internships, Research

John Shares about Internships at the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum

Starring John Roxborough

John has an internship this year with the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum. He will be researching and working with artifacts in the impressive archives to share individual stories of the Holocaust.

Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program?  You can find the application and more information at our website

Current Students, Research

Lukas Shares About Research at the Strochlitz Institute

Starring Lukas Meissel

Lukas is a PhD candidate in Holocaust Studies at the University of Haifa. While in Israel Lukas has access to excellent research resources. As a student at the Strochlitz Institute he has access to the archives kept within the institute, as well as the archives at Yad Vashem, the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum and more. Lukas is in the research portion of his dissertation now, which will last about a year, then he will move to write his dissertation, typically this takes two years. Thanks for your good work Lukas! We’re looking forward to see what will come!

Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program?  You can find the application and more information at our website