Faculty, Research

A Nation Destroyed: An Existential Approach to the Distinctive Harm of Genocide


Professor Shmuel Lederman

In his recent article in the Journal of Genocide Research, Professor Shmuel Lederman – a professor a the  Weiss Livnat International MA Studies Program in Holocaust Studies at the University of Haifa – examines the distinctive harm of genocide. He makes specific reference to Hannah Arendt’s conceptualization of the harm of genocide, positing that despite its flaws it brings a valuable perspective to the issue.

Lederman opens by citing the views of historians who distinguish the harm of genocide as stemming from the loss to the world of a unique culture. As he notes, culture is difficult to quantify. If one understands culture as referring primarily to high culture, one would have to argue that the genocide of the Jews is ‘worse’ than the genocide of the Roma, who have not made the same level of cultural contribution. On the other hand, Lederman writes, one could approach cultural loss as the destruction of a distinct way of life. This viewpoint is also difficult to defend, since for example the majority of German Jewry killed in the Holocaust were assimilated into German society and did not live in any way that differentiated them from their non-Jewish compatriots.

Portrait Of Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt

Yet another conceptualization of the harm of genocide is the effect that the destruction of the group has upon the survivors, who are left without a group to which to belong. The evident drawback to this position, is that this harm would be avoided by destroying an entire nation and leaving no survivors. Yet other writers point to the harm of genocide as lying in its destruction not just of individuals but of the mass of accumulated knowledge and wisdom within their group memory. This perspective, Lederman comments, comes close to that of Hannah Arendt, on which he wishes to focus.

According to Arendt’s philosophy, every nation shares similar views to those of other nations but also possesses unique perspectives. If any one nation is destroyed, the entire world will have lost a unique perspective without which we as a whole become conceptually poorer. Arendt espouses a view that she sources in ancient Rome, that only when an idea is fully exposed from every facet can it be said to truly exist. Thus lacking one nation’s perspective on an idea effectively means that the idea is not fully revealed. Arendt writes that the more we are exposed to other points of view, the richer we are both as individuals and nations. In this way, Arendt encompasses cultural genocide, which strips a nation of its differentiated perspective without bloodshed, as a crime for removing some of the plurality of viewpoints from this world. Lederman adds that Arendt also valued the richness of individual viewpoints within each nation. Thus, to Arendt, even partial genocide weakens the whole world by reducing the spectrum of viewpoints therein.

Lederman points out that Arendt’s approach is not the same as any of the earlier-stated concepts of genocide as destroying a culture. Instead, she viewed the harm of genocide as stemming from the loss of that nation’s unique point of view, as formed by their unique political, social and historical experiences. From this perspective, assimilated German Jews had a different point of view to those of their non-Jewish German neighbors, despite sharing the same culture, thus defining the act of genocide.

Lederman summarizes that this approach underlies Arendt’s consideration of the Holocaust as worst of all crimes The Nazis specifically wished to wipe out the plurality of viewpoints. Lederman acknowledges that it is a failing in Arendt’s philosophy that in contradistinction to the Holocaust, she viewed other attempts at genocide to constitute a loss to humanity (through the loss of plurality of perspective) but not a crime, since they were not motivated by a desire to remove a plurality of viewpoints.

Lederman concludes that Arendt distinguished between morality, and existential or political values. To Arendt, genocide is a unique crime because of the existential loss it causes to plurality of humanity, not because it brings a moral loss of human lives. Lederman presents this as a flaw in her philosophy, but nonetheless wishes to add her unique categorization to the understanding of the true harm of genocide.

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

Current Events, Holocaust Survivor

Yitzhak Weiss-Livant’s Legacy


Yitzhak Weiss-Livnat with his wife, and director Yael Granot-Bein.

With a heavy heart, we announce the death of Yitzhak Weiss-Livnat in late March, 2017. The Livnat family invited Cohort V to the funeral which was held March 28. We were fortunate to have Yitzhak Livnat as a central element to our program, every cohort since the inception of the program has heard Yitzhak’s testimony.

Doron Livnat, Yitzhak’s son, shared with Cohort V earlier this week. Doron told the story of when Yitzhak started to talk about the Holocaust. During his childhood and even into adulthood, Doron’s father never talked about the Holocaust. Everyday at 2 o’clock the family would listen to the radio, in Israel for several years after the Holocaust the Israeli radio hosted a program that allowed survivors to announce the names of those they were looking for. Faithfully, the Livnat family listened, but never talked about the names Yitzhak was hoping to hear. Then during the Eichmann trial the family dutifully listened, but again they never talked about the Holocaust.


Weiss-Livnat Family and Cohort V

When Doron met a German woman, Marian, now his wife, he decided to study in Germany. On Saturdays and Sundays they would walk their dog through the forest, and Yitzhak would visit often. One day as they walked through the forest, behind some houses, the farmer’s dogs started barking at the small group. Yitzhak sarcastically said, “On the death marches, the dogs would bark and bark, and the farmers saw nothing.” Doron was surprised and shocked, but Marian asked Yitzhak to share more. Doron was even more astonished when his father divulged more.


Yitzhak Weiss-Livnat and his wife with students from the program.

This was in 1978, since then Yitzhak has shared his testimony all over the world. Through his testimony, he inspired the audience to compassion and tolerance. Yitzhak fought hate and the ugliness of this world which he knew all too well. We’re all aware of the ignorance that continues, which is prevalent in today’s politics. Doron shared that the Livnat family sees the Weiss-Livnat Holocaust Studies program as Yitzhak’s legacy. We are proud to carry his name, and share his values. Doron charged us to “fight the deniers and to teach the ignorant.”


Doron Livnat speaking to previous students about his father.

Faculty, Research

Holocaust Hospitality: Michal Rovner’s Living Landscape at Yad Vashem

img_3204Writing in the journal History and Memory in 2016, art historian Rachel Perry of the University of Haifa’s Holocaust Studies Program considers the impact and implications of Living Landscape, the entrance art installation created by Michal Rovner at Yad Vashem’s new Holocaust History museum. Perry discusses the message and thematic expression of Living Landscape as embodying the message of the new Holocaust History museum, with reference to the concept of hospitality as conveyed by Emmanuel Levinas and Jacques Derrida.

Perry opens with the question: How does one greet the Holocaust, and how should a Holocaust History museum welcome its visitors in to face the history that it presents? Michal Rovner’s huge permanent installation in the entrance foyer of Yad Vashem’s new museum answers this question in a particular way. Rovner covers the entirety of one wall with a projected loop of film gleaned from footage shot before the Holocaust that depicts ordinary European Jewish life in all its variety, without any signs of Nazism, ghettos, death or humiliation. Perry cites Henri Raczymov’s description of ‘pre-history’ for Rovner’s choice of material for visitors about to plunge into the history of the Holocaust.

Perry comments on the radical nature of Rovner’s artwork. Yad Vashem’s other large iconic art pieces follow the trope of the downtrodden, passive ‘ghetto Jews’ set alongside the self-actualized, proud and fulfilled Jews of Israel, for example Nathan Rapoport’s 1948 Memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. In contrast, Rovner’s work shows European Jews as living full, contented lives in the Diaspora as their home, without dejection or passivity.

Living Landscape uses only ‘found footage’ – that is, restored footage that was shot by Jews, in place of film that was created by either the liberators (such as US army cameramen) or perpetrators (Nazi cinematography). Perry emphasizes how Rovner’s intimate use of Jewish-created film celebrates the living, not the dead, welcoming you into their lives. She notes that the welcoming nature of Living Landscape epitomizes the new museum’s approach to Holocaust history, presenting it from point of view of the vanquished. She terms it ‘repersonalization’. The old museum told story of ‘them’, six million anonymous and faceless victims, from a neutral perspective, but the new museum tells the story of the individual. Repersonalization, Perry notes, does not mean that the visitor is absorbed to become them but rather is encouraged to empathize with them.

Rovner’s work shows the leitmotif of waving and hands stretched out towards the visitor, expressing a theme of welcome and hospitality. It is here that Perry references Levinas’ philosophy of hospitality. Levinas and Derrida expounded on the home as the beginning of all memory and the locus of hospitality, and the subjects of Rovner’s work welcome you in and greet you from this place where memory begins, before you step into their memories. Levinas conceptualized of greeting another as the foundation of ethical interaction. The welcome of hospitality demands recognizing the face of the Other and permitting them to enter one’s home and one’s life. Similarly, the visitor is here welcomed in and made to feel at home at the beginning of this foray into the lives and homes of another.

Waving connotes a relationship, bridging a distance between two people who have a connection. But waving can also express farewell. The ominous mournful score and the visitor’s knowledge of what is to come overshadows the welcome in Living Landscape, even though there is no hint of it in the footage. Perry concludes that this is one of the ways that Rovner’s installation crosses the binary lines usually present in a Holocaust history museum – between outside and inside, between dark and light, between mourning the loss or celebrating the victory of ongoing life – forcing the visitor to reflect on his own responsibility to memory and to ethical behavior today.

Rachel Perry is a Professor of Art History at the University of Haifa

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

Faculty, Research

Inciting Hate through Posters, Films, and Exhibitions: German Anti-Jewish Propaganda in the Generalgouvernement, 1939–1945

grabowski_smallJan Grabowski is a professor of history at the University of Ottawa. In the academic year of 2017-18 he will be teaching on online course to the students of Weiss-Livnat International MA program on the Jews of Poland during the Holocaust.

In his 2009 article for the journal Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Professor Jan Grabowski of the University of Ottawa discusses the little-examined issue of the German anti-Jewish propaganda that was distributed in the General Gouvernement (GG) area of Poland during the years of German invasion and occupation, from 1939 to 1945. He notes the resources that were dedicated to this branch of propaganda in particular, with the use of visual media and the involvement of Polish artists and existing Polish anti-semitic material.

The German propaganda effort in GG Poland was considerable, led by a number of German propagandists brought in from Goebbels’ own office in Berlin. In addition, scores of local Polish workers were employed and a great deal of resources poured into the Polish propaganda effort. This was partly because Polish hatred for Germany was already high before the catastrophically destructive German advance into Poland worsened it further. The sole point which united Germans and Poles was their hatred of the Jews and the Bolsheviks. While Germany initially kept their anti-Bolshevik propaganda to a low level, once Russia entered the war the Germans increased to a flood propaganda that linked the Jews and the Bolsheviks as the cause of every Polish woe.

Grabowski points out that the anti-Jewish messages were heavily promoted using visual media, including posters, newsreels, and traveling exhibitions, so as to reach even the 23% of Poles who were still illiterate. Short ‘newsreels’ depicted the Germans as saviors of the Poles, who corralled Jews into ghettos to prevent them from spreading typhus. Hybrid newspaper-cum-cartoons were distributed across rural villages, using large images and short texts that could be understood by the undereducated Polish countryfolk. Huge posters with eye-catching anti-Semitic images were plastered everywhere, and a number of traveling exhibitions used sculptures, images and art to bring German anti-Semitic messages across the GG region of Poland.

Anti-jewish propaganda was not only created by imported German professionals. Notable local Polish artists were employed to create posters that repeated the message that Jews were to blame for world affairs. The traveling exhibitions used original images, sculptures and pictures created by notable top Polish artists to portray Jews as black market profiteers causing food shortages and the menacing puppet-masters inciting America to enter the war and instigating Bolshevik Russia’s aggression.spread German anti-Semitic propaganda. Anti-Jewish poems and rhetoric written by local Polish writers were printed and distributed en masse. The Nazi propagandists often suppressed any indication that the material originated from German sources. In order to encourage the Poles to view Jews as the shared enemy from whom they had been saved by the Germans, they acted to reinforce impressions of pre-war Polish anti-semitism.

While the Germans pulled anti-Western propaganda after just a few months due to its ineffectiveness, anti-Semitic propaganda continued and increased. Even after 1942, when it was toned down elsewhere in Europe in the wake of Western outcry, anti-semitic propaganda was ratcheted up in Poland. With tens of thousands of Polish Jews hiding on the Aryan side of the ghettos, propaganda was a vital tool to prevent Poles from agreeing to help any Jew to survive. Anti-Semitic propaganda continued in Cracow and Warsaw up to the very last days of the war – with anti-Jewish posters distributed in early January 1945, a few days before the Russian army rolled in.

As Grabowski notes, it is difficult to be sure of the impact of German anti-Semitic propaganda in Poland, simply because it did build upon existing anti-Jewish feeling. But he builds upon anecdotal evidence from diaries, eye witnesses and other sources to indicate that such largely visual propaganda did have an effect on Polish Jew-hatred which lasted beyond the end of the war, as can be seen from the Kielce pogrom and other acts of violence against returning Jews.

In short, Grabowski concludes, German anti-Jewish propaganda harnessed existing anti-Semitic sentiments using multiple visual channels in order to override Polish hatred of Germany. They modified their previous successful propaganda with Polish input and the work of notable local Polish artists to better appeal to the local, and largely rural, population. While the impact of this propaganda is difficult to assess, it is concluded to have been significant.

Faculty, Research

Holocaust Discourse as a Screen-Memory: The Serbian Case

IMG_3450Professor Lea David, a Professor of the Weiss-Livnat International MA Program in Holocaust Studies at the University of Haifa, writing in the journal History and Politics in the Western Balkans: Changes at the Turn of the Millennium, addresses an aspect of Holocaust memory discourse in Serbia. Through examination of agendas within Serbian Holocaust discourse, she argues that Holocaust memorialization in Serbia is utilized in a way which is far from the human rights’ ideal of preventing future human rights violations. On the contrary, David concludes that Holocaust discourse is being used as a form of ‘screen-memory’ to conceal the true role that Serbians played in the 1990s Balkan Wars. Instead, the Serbian political elite has hijacked Holocaust imagery and symbolism to present Serbians as righteous victims and justify a new nationalist ideology.

David begins by noting that during Communist rule in the former Yugoslavia, the Holocaust was mostly ignored and neglected by the government. When marked at all, it was in the context of the wider ‘anti-Fascist’ struggle which did not single out the genocide of the Jews. Under the government of Milosevic in the 1990s and early 2000s, Serbian suffering in the Holocaust began to be commemorated within Serbia. The focus of Serbian Holocaust remembrance is the Jasenovac concentration camp, which was operated not by Germans but by the Croatian Ustasa. But Serbian officials continued to show indifference to non-Serbian victims of the Holocaust and did not participate in any international Holocaust memorialization events.

Professor David focuses her study on the sudden adoption of Holocaust discourse in Serbia from 2005, when the UN established International Holocaust Memorial Day and the EU made membership contingent upon Holocaust remembrance. In the same year, the EU’s Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) recognized the Jasenovac Committee of the Synod of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church as an example of excellence in educating about the Holocaust. The Jasenovac Committee was part of the Serbian Orthodox Church, a body that had become increasingly powerful through the 1990s and emerged as a right-wing nationalist force by the new millennium.

From 2005, David notes, all Holocaust discourse in Serbia was directed by the Jasenovac Committee, so as to keep Holocaust education within the bounds of Serbian memory. The Holocaust was the context in which the massacres of Serbs took place, with Jewish and Roma victims remembered as ‘our brothers in suffering’. Enabled by monk Jovan Culibrk, the Jasenovac committee immediately made ties with Yad Vashem, who did not realise what Holocaust memorialization would be made to serve in Serbia. The Serbian political elite then hijacked the images and symbols of the Holocaust in order to equate Serbian victims with Jewish victims, and promote Serbian righteous victimhood as enduring throughout the 1990s wars. In this way, the Holocaust serves as a screen-memory, used to repress another aspect of history which the Serbian political elite does not wish to be seen.

Having established Serbs as victims of the Holocaust, the Serbian government then moved to sideline the roles of Serbian Communist partisan fighters and to rehabilitate quisling Cetnik members and other right-wing figures. As part of their nationalist resurgence, Serbian responsibility in the 1990s wars is deliberately ignored. Holocaust discourse is utilized to close off every arena for public debate about the wars, which are only mentioned to reinforce the image of Serbs as victims.

International human rights’ bodies intended that Holocaust memorialization would go hand in hand with addressing human rights violations of all types. But in Serbia, Holocaust discourse is not promoted as a way of grappling with human rights abuses. Holocaust discourse is used as a tool to improve Serbia’s international image, but domestically it is solely utilized to promote Serbian nationalism. The Holocaust is only remembered as a screen-memory, in order to contextualize the suffering of Serbian victims as being on a par with the Jews and to justify a new right-wing mindset to sideline the 1990s wars.

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

Program News

Multi-Disciplinary Approach in Holocaust Studies

The Weiss-Livnat International MA in Holocaust Studies offers an array of multidisciplinary courses that support a core of historical studies that provide our students with a holistic approach. The students come to the program with differing backgrounds and research goals and become specialists in their unique fields through our multidisciplinary program.

One of our historical backbones is Dr. Kobi Kabalek’s “Nazi Germany” course. In this course, students research Nazi culture and identification. It further gives a basic foundation to the political structure of the Third Reich.

Dr. Shosh Stephanie Rotem teaches a course called “Holocaust Museum: Three continents, three generations.” In this course, Dr. Rotem opens dialogue on the social, cultural, and political aspects of Holocaust museums. Through analyzing these different factors, students can offer thorough perspectives and questions to their futures in museology.

“Visual Culture and the Holocaust” taught by Rachel Perry marries the fields of Holocaust Studies and Art History. This interdisciplinary course studies the art of avant-garde and the National Socialist artists. Dr. Perry includes the time leading up to the Holocaust, during the Holocaust, and the responses to the Holocaust in art after the Holocaust.

Other historical courses, among others, include “Final Solution” taught by Dr. David Silberklang and “World War II” by Dr. Daniel Uziel. Students also have the opportunity to take courses in psychology, law, education, historiography, and literature. For more information on our faculty click this link.  For more information on our classes, click here.

The video below offers more information on the programs Multi-Disciplinary Course.




Jackie Metzger, of Yad Vashem’s International school, talks about Poetry and the Holocaust

IMG_3351Dr. Jackie Metzger shared his talk “Literature in the Holocaust: Teaching the Holocaust through Poetry” with our students during their seminar at Yad Vashem. Here are three of the poems he discussed.

Written in Pencil in a Sealed Freightcar | By Dan Pagis
Here in this car
I am Eve
With my son Abel
If you see my older boy
Cain son of Adam
Tell him that I…

This was the first poem Dr. Metzger presented. Dan Pagis, 1930-1986, was a revered Professor at Hebrew University from Bukovina, Romania. This poem, Written in Pencil in a Sealed Freightcar, is written on a memorial at Belzec Death Camp. In his presentation and discussion, Dr. Metzger suggested a relationship between Eve and life, Cain and death, and Abel with the murdered. Pagis draws attention to the first murder in relation with mass murder and the Holocaust. Dr. Metzger suggested that as Cain and Abel were brothers, so were the Germans and Jews, because we are human therefore we are related. The poem touches on the incomprehensibility of the Holocaust.

Testimony | Dan Pagis
No no: they definitely were
human beings: uniforms, boots.
How to explain? They were created
in the image.

I was a shade.
A different creator made me.

And he in his mercy left nothing of me that would die.
And I fled to him, rose weightless, blue,
forgiving – I would even say: apologizing –
smoke to omnipotent smoke
without image or likeness.

Pagis makes a distinction between them and me, “they were created in the image,” and “a different creator made me.” In saying that a different creator made him, he’s rejecting the monotheistic idea of God. Dr. Metzger made an interesting conclusion, saying, “Who you fear is your god, the Germans feared Hitler.” Is Pagis rejecting the idea of Hitler as a god? Pagis, acknowledges his god in the last stanza, “He in his mercy,” which confers this idea.

Shema | Primo Levi
You who live secure
In your warm houses
Who return at evening to find
Hot food and friendly faces:

Consider whether this is a man,
Who labors in the mud
Who knows no peace
Who fights for a crust of bread
Who dies at a yes or no.
Consider whether this is a woman
Without hair or name
With no more strength to remember
Eyes empty and womb cold
As a frog in the winter

Consider that this has been:
I commend these words to you.
Engrave them on your hearts
When you are In your houses
When you walk on your way
When you go to bed, when you rise
Repeat them to your children.
Or may your house crumble,
Disease render you powerless,
Your offspring avert their faces from you.

This poem was written 15 weeks after the liberation of Auschwitz. This last poem is named after a prayer that devout Jews say three times a day, affirming the name of God. Levi wrote this poem as a sort of prayer, as a plea to remember the Holocaust. The first stanza is directed at the Germans and anyone that wouldn’t help him. Then Levi describes the Holocaust in the second stanza. The last stanza takes words from the Shema and  commands the reader to tell everyone about the Holocaust, it is imperative to pass on to future generations.

If you are interested in learning more about poetry and the Holocaust, read this educational guide by Yad Vashem.


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