Current Students, Seminars

Seminar at Yad Vashem: Jews Hiding in French Convents, the Vatican, and What we Don’t Know about the Holocaust

IMG_1198Today’s post is written by our student Edna Drori about the second day of our private seminar at Yad Vashem:

“I would like to start with a very big thank you to the people at Yad Vashem who opened a small window to what they are researching, and for sharing with us those very interesting aspects of the holocaust. For me the seminar was like a buffet of knowledge where we tasted a little bit from a big range of stories.


The day that left me thinking was the second day of the seminar because most of it was about Western Europe in the Holocaust, a theater that we hardly ever get to talk about in our current classes. It started with a lecture from Mr. Eliot Nidam-Orvieto, about “Dilemmas of Rescue: Jews Hiding in French Convents”.  Eliot gave us an overall look at the life of the Jews in France, before and after the Nazi occupation. He described the structure of the church in France and the motivation of the church to hide and rescue Jews. After the Nazi occupation of France anti-Semitic laws were introduced and the French administration was highly motivated to deport the Jews. Parallel to that, the administration had an anti-church attitude which was crucial to the motivation. Rescuing the Jews was understood as the humanitarian thing to do, and as a way of resisting to the occupation. The churches in France had a tradition of resisting authority, which goes back to the days of the French revolution when they used the same alert system for warnings inside the convents. After the war, efforts were made to bring back 1,300 Jewish children that were still in French convents with only 50 children who had been baptized.


The second lecture was about the Vatican and the holocaust from Dr. Iael Nidam–Orvieto. The issue regarding the Vatican and the Jews during the war in general, and Pope Pius in particular, is a very delicate one, and academia has not said its final word about it, there is a lot to research there since the Pope’s archive are still closed. Dr.Nidam–Orvieto gave us a general idea about the complexities and the difficulties that rise from the research. One thing that really stood out was the fact that after the war a lot of Jewish survivors, and later on the Israeli government, thanked the Vatican and the Pope for helping them.  It wasn’t until later that voices of criticism started to rise that the Vatican could have done more to rescue the Jews of Europe even by speaking loudly against the Nazis. Dr. Iael Nidam–Orvieto showed us the complexity of the church by emphasizing the how the Nazis influenced the Pope’s attitude toward the Jews.


Just before lunch we met with the amazing Dr. David Silberklang, who we all appreciate very much. The lecture Dr. Silberklang gave was mind provoking: “What don’t we know about the Shoah?” For example, he gave some examples of places that have still never been researched.  One of these concepts is what happened in Indonesia during the war – as far as we know a Jewish community lived there under the Dutch. Another example is that there is no one comprehensive book about the holocaust in Greece as a whole. Among other things he gave us some anecdotes that deal with specific situations that have yet to be researched. One such example is the activity of the Pripet Marches after the beginning of Operation Barbarossa as a test case for the German reaction in the field to orders from Himmler regarding the murder of the Jews.  How does this compare to the reaction of the 101 battalion in Poland around the same time? As we all understood – we still have a lot of research to do!”


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