Following her interest in languages Dorota Nowak graduated from Czech and Russian Philology programs at University of Wroclaw, Poland and moved to Czech Republic to continue research within PhD program in Comparative Slavic Philology at Palacky University in Olomouc. Her curiosity about languages, literature and Jewish Studies led her to writing a dissertation on Comparison of the image of Holocaust in Polish and Czech literature after 1989. Dorota is convinced that participating in MA program in Holocaust Studies at University of Haifa will bring a new international perspective to her research. Today on the blog we feature a piece she wrote about her experience studying the Holocaust:
Holocaust Studies vs. Mental Health
No resemblance to true events and persons is coincidental. All these stories happened. I never know why.*
Oh, how I miss the times when I was a simple student of Bohemistics! Times when the questionWhat do you study? didn’t paralyze me, when I could be almost entirely sure that my answer will end the so called “university talk” and we will skip to another subject. Of course, exceptions happened. From time to time I had to explain that Bohemistics is not another word for Biochemistry, and that unfortunately all I know about Exact sciences is that they exist and are exact. Today I cannot believe that I was sometimes angry that no one cared about my beautiful Czech language and fascinating Czech literature. All I know these days is that making a conversation with a newly acquainted person was so easy back then.
Shoah first acquaintance
Being a Holocaust Studies student, changed my social life forever. Every conversation with a person I have just met has to now have a deeper meaning, a moral lesson needs to be provided, good and evil needs to be defined, spirits need to raise. It’s the Holocaust talking.
Everyone has their own opinions, stories, frames, reflections, links and connections. And God forbid you don’t agree with them! Oh, excuse me, I forgot there is no God, he died in Holocaust too.
When asked, what do I do, I try to stress the fact that I study in Haifa, every single time hoping that the city will remain in the center of the conversation. But let’s be honest, as much as I love Haifa, this is not a topic you can push on for a long time. And so when the question that gives me goose bumps pops, there is always a temptation to make something up this time. Just one little lie that will prevent this pleasant small talk from changing into a conversation about life and death,as we call it in Poland. But no, this is not how my mom and dad brought me up. So I answer according to the truth – Holocaust studies. – and add as quickly as possible – And you? – hoping that the wave of sound carrying the question, on it’s way between my mouth and my interlocutor’s ear, will overtake the name of the field of study. Never succeeded. But hope dies last.
And here it begins:
– It’s very interesting. Aren’t you overwhelmed, depressed? How do you deal with that? Do you see a psychologist?
– Are You Jewish?
– Why on earth would you study Holocaust then?
– Holocaust Studies, hmm. Ok. Let’s check: What happened in 1935? When was the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact signed? What is Wannsee? Were Jews from the Łódź Ghetto taken to Auschwitz? How many Jews lived in Poland before the war?
– Ok, let’s take it slowly, one question in a time.
– You Poles killed all the Jews during the Holocaust. Tell me how do you feel about it?
When the end of the semester came, I said to myself: Never again. No more Shoah. At least till Feb 24th. But once it grasps you, it never lets you go. Friends from Poland, who by a sheer coincidence happen to be Holocaust Studies students in Kraków, came to visit. On the third day of their stay in Israel, the usage of the following words in a conversation was banned: Holocaust, Shoah, extermination, Nazi, camps, chambers, Auschwitz, Hitler. Would you think it helped? Of course it didn’t. Shoah glossary is a bottomless pit. Oh yes, we banned the word pit too.
And here starts a new semester. New flatmate, who by a sheer coincident happens to be a Holocaust Studies student, moves in. On our first Shabbat we made an agreement: no Shoah talk during the dinner. Ugh, that’s a relief. What are we going to talk about then? Relationships, of course! The second grates topic!
– So tell me, what should I do in this case? Give me some advice. – I said. My new flat mate replied with a strong Mediterranean accent. – Listen to me closely my friend, in a relationship you need to be a leader. Look at Hitler and Mussolini…
Yes, being a Holocaust Studies student and staying mentally healthy is a real challenge.
*Radka Denemarka, Money from Hitler (By a sheer coincidence this happens to be my favorite book.)