Today’s blog post is written by our student Zahava Moerdler. Zahava wrote for our blog earlier this year, and we are excited to share with you some of her more recent reflections on her experience in the program. Most of our students come to us from various places around the world, and are only here with us in Haifa for a short time. During their stay we try and challenge them academically with a diverse offering of courses, but also allow them space to grow personally through the multifaceted approach our program takes. Zahava is an excellent example of a student who found personal meaning in an academic assignment, and we are happy to share her experience with you today :
“On May 16, I sat down in front of the computer and prepared myself for a Skype interview with my grandfather. The interview was designed with two purposes in mind: first, one of our classes required an interview with a Holocaust survivor that would then be analyzed in a paper, and second, the interview was intended to feed into my thesis topic. I am writing about the Holocaust restitution process in 1990s America and the ways in which the legal component enhanced the social outpouring of Holocaust consciousness in that period. My grandfather was a litigator in two different Holocaust restitution cases and had a front row seat to the drama. So I figured, I could kill two birds with one stone and interview him about his work as a litigator involved in Holocaust restitution.
So, on May 16 I prepared myself for what would become an hour and a half long interview. I had no intention of really delving into my grandfather’s childhood; the goal was to talk about Holocaust restitution after all. However, as the interview drew to a close I began to really think about how his history shaped his perception of the world as well as his career. On a whim I asked about when my grandfather first began to identify as a survivor. From there the interview spun into a completely new topic. And although I knew a bit about his childhood, my grandfather opened up about things I had never heard before.
I think my love for history and storytelling comes from the family stories I grew up on. From hearing about my grandfather’s mischievous youth and a particularly humorous adventure with watermelons to listening avidly as I was told about my namesake, and how she was the first female lawyer to pass the bar in New York. From there I began to see stories everywhere. I would sit down and read history textbooks about British Queens and Kings, I memorized dates and names and even bought a board game about Titanic Trivia in order to keep my knowledge fresh! Even while developing these “skills” I continued to ask for family stories and began helping my father with his work on our family tree. Three years ago I accompanied my grandparents and father to Germany in order to see the towns my family was from. Yet, even with all of this, I had never heard my grandfather talk about his past, his identity and his childhood like he did during the interview. He was open and forthcoming and I learned so much about him. His story is incredibly powerful and all that he has accomplished, in spite of his experiences is incredible. I am really proud of him.
This program pushes us outside of our comfort zones. We are encouraged to question the very foundation our beliefs stand on. In Anthropology of Memory and Trauma our professor told us on Sunday, “You are part of the machine. You are entering the Matrix. I am deconstructing the machine. I am saying, ‘Take the red pill.’” Society is complex, there are forces that work to construct memory narratives, when we are able to see those focuses and understand them our perception of the world becomes clearer. It’s like walking around without glasses and assuming everything you see is clear, but as soon as you get a new pair of glasses you realize that much of the world was once fuzzy.
Last semester I read a book for our World War II seminar about Soviet soldiers. My great-grandfather died fighting for the Soviet Union during World War II. Although I knew a little bit about him, I never pushed my mother or grandfather for details about his service or his life. I knew that he fought in one of the most brutal battles and that his battalion was completely surrounded and no one survived. But I didn’t know where the battle took place, I didn’t know when and I didn’t understand the war culture. Suddenly, my eyes were opened. I know so much more about my father’s family than about my mother’s. Yet, both families suffered tremendously during the war. It is time to finally start investigating that past.
“If men could learn from history, what lessons it might teach us… and the light, which experience gives is a lantern on the stern, which shines only on the waves behind us!” I heard this quote when I was in high school and it has stayed with me ever since. There is so much to learn from history, both world history as well as our own personal and familial histories, but the thing that will guide us in life is our experiences. These experiences will develop into histories we will pass down to our children, and they are experiences that will enhance our decisions. This year has taught me so much not only about history, anthropology, culture and languages but also so much about myself.”
Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program? You can find the application and more information at our website: http://holocaust-studies.haifa.ac.il/