Rabbi Eric Hammer has been a teacher and a Jewish leader at a number of leading Jewish institutions, including The Ohio State University Hillel Foundation and Surprise Lake Camp, the oldest Jewish sleep-away camp in North America. He completed his rabbinical studies at Ohr Somayach/Tannebaum College in Jerusalem and earned his Bsc. in Liberal Arts with a concentration in History and Education from Excelsior College in Albany, NY. Rabbi Hammer was also a member of the New York City Teaching Fellows 2000 cohort and a Fellow at the Museum of Jewish Heritage’s Summer Fellowship program for teachers. Eric writes about his recent experience at the Ghetto Fighters’ House museum:
Ask the average visitor to the State of Israel to point you to a large, well respected Holocaust museum and they’ll inevitably tell you to pay a visit to the Yad Vashem Museum and Memorial located in the foothills of the Jerusalem Forest. Indeed, as part of our MA program in Holocaust Studies, we’ll be spending a week at Yad Vashem, hearing from some of the world’s leading experts in the Holocaust and visiting their extensive archives. However, what I find most fascinating about our program is that it exposes us to the lesser known areas of Holocaust research, allowing us to gain a fuller understanding of the tragedy.
The kibbutz started with nothing – just a few tents and a desire to build a new life in the Land of Israel. Today, the kibbutz features rolling hills, red roofed homes with sculpted gardens and playgrounds for the children. It also features an extensive Holocaust museum and archive, reputed to be the second largest in Israel and one of the largest in the world.
Aside from the picturesque surroundings, the Ghetto Fighter’s House also includes an extensive museum dedicated to telling the story of the Holocaust. There is also a specialized museum designed for children, Yad Layeled, which tells the story of the Holocaust through the eyes of some of the children who experienced it. Unique to the Ghetto Fighter’s House, the children’s museum is designed around the pedagogical teachings of Dr. Janusz Korczak.
Dr. Korczak is known for having created a large Jewish children’s home in Warsaw (and later in the Warsaw Ghetto) which catered both to orphans and to children whose parents simply couldn’t take care of them anymore. Dr. Korczak was famously offered asylum outside the walls of the Warsaw Ghetto but refused it repeatedly because he would not abandon the children whose care he was charged with. He eventually perished in the fires of Treblinka, together with the children he loved. There is a special room in Yad Layeled dedicated to telling his story and recounting his acts of heroism during the dark days of the Nazi occupation of Poland.
The kibbutz is also home to the Center for Humanistic Studies, where we spent an entire day discussing ways to ensure that the lessons of the Holocaust can be applied to modern day conflicts in the hopes of ensuring that a tragedy on the scale of the Nazi extermination machine will never be allowed to flourish again. Finally, there is the main museum complex; once a simple one room building, today, the museum, to which our group has been given full access, includes several floors of exhibits as well as an extensive research archive. This allows our group to gain insights into the Holocaust which are unavailable to the general public.
I felt truly privileged to have been given this opportunity and to have such an excellent cadre of teachers and other professionals. I am convinced that they are dedicated to making certain that we explore all aspects of the holocaust rather than only exploring the best known places of holocaust scholarship.