Today’s blog post is written by Michael Gans, who will be beginning his PhD studies through the Strochlitz center this October. We are very excited to have him joining our community and very much look forward to his scholarship.
“The Second Generation
I remember when I was five or six years old being on a picnic with my family and a group of their friends. All were Holocaust survivors who were standing around a rusting water pump on the synagogue’s picnic grounds. One of the women took a swig of water, winced and spat out “Es shmekt fun Oishvitz vaser!” (“It tastes like Auschwitz water!”) Everything went silent. They eyed one another. There was not a sound, only the blood rushing in my ears. She spat out again and everyone heaved a sigh of relief and began to nervously laugh. I knew better than to say a word. Though my parents and their friends have since died, I remain to bear witness for them. To do so is a responsibility that has shaped my life (Gans, 2010).
I have always been compelled to explore the historical and psycho-social underpinnings of antisemitism and the Holocaust in order to somehow come to grips with the personal and familial enormity of the murder of most of my family during the Holocaust by the Einsatzgruppen and their Lithuanian collaborators.In my later years, I have become keenly interested in understanding how the traumatization of the Jewish people has not only affected Holocaust survivors and their children but also, the formation of Jewish and Israeli identity.
After a 25-year, international career in Tourism and Hospitality Sales and Marketing and more recently, as a clinical social worker, I began a full-time course of study of the Holocaust, antisemitism and curriculumdevelopment with the hope of finding new and innovative ways to bridge knowledge acquisition with emotions and values, and thereby, affecting deep learning in future generations about a watershed eventthat is quickly fading from both human and historical memory. I am now interested in the question of how and when does human memory transform into history, and from which perspective; the Jewish particularist, or the “europeanized” universal, will the Holocaust will be told and taught in future academic Holocaust programs?
When returning to school, I first focused on modern Central and Eastern European history and Jewish Studies at the Central European University in Budapest, Hungary and then immersed myself in Germanic and Slavic Studies at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada.
In 2005, I was invited by YadVashem to present a paper on the development and social impact of Holocaust Tourism in the Baltic States at the Fourth International Conference on Teaching the Holocaust to Future Generations.
In 2010, as an MA student and a self-taught filmmaker working from independent research, I completed a short film Zydu Gatve – Jew Street. The film was my personal journey as a son of a Holocaust survivor who returned to Lithuania and had an unexpected encounter with my grandmother’s ghost. Zydu Gatve – Jew Street won two major awards at the 2010 University of Victoria Sunscreen Film Festival.
In 2011, as the Associate Program Director and co-creator of the University of Victoria’s I-witness Holocaust Field School Project, Dr. Helga Thorson, Chairperson of the Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies at the University of Victoria, and I co-designed the program for the inaugural field school of 23 university students and escorted them to various Central European Holocaust sites, museums and monuments. Our vision was that students would recognize the responsibility of their own humanity in order to respond ethically to intolerance and injustice. The project continues to promote action in the face of injustice and encourages a personal investment in creating a better world. The Field School continues to provide participants with an experiential learning opportunity to acquire a deeper understanding of antisemitism, racism, religious intolerance, homophobia and the stigmatization of the mentally and physically disabled communities.
Recently, Dr. Thorson and I submitted a paper about the unexpected transformative learning our students experienced due to their participation in the Field School, entitled, “Think higher, feel deeper”: Transformative learning in post-secondary Holocaust education to the Journal of Transformative Learning.
I am sincerely grateful that I have been given the opportunity to pursue my PhD in Holocaust Studies at Haifa University’s Department of Holocaust Studies and to be guided by Dr. Yael Granot-Bein, Dr. Ari Kochavi and Dr. Tsafrir Goldberg in exploring in my proposed dissertation, entitled, The “wandering” Jew in academic Holocaust studies; Caught between particularism and universalism. The research topic explores the tension between the particularist and universalist narratives of the Holocaust whichframes my research and subsequent analysis.
And finally, while in Victoria, I have worked as a vocational rehabilitation counsellor, assisting those with within a wide spectrum of disabilities find meaningful employment, served as a Board Member of KolotMayim Reform Temple and the Jewish Community Centre of Victoriaand been an active member of the Holocaust Remembrance and Educational Society. I amalso a sessional instructor of both German and Yiddish at the University of Victoria.”
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/