Last week we co-hosted the first event in a series of cooperative efforts to foster Israeli-German academic dialogue. In this effort we have partnered with our colleagues at the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum, Massuah Institute, and the Freidrich Ebert Foundation. This research seminar was called “Beyond the ‘bystander’: The Persecution of the Jews as Social Process.”
It featured Professor Frank Bajohr, the director of the Center for Holocaust Studies at the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich. In his lecture, Bajohr attributed the indifference of the bystander to four things:
- Preexisting animosity towards Jews in Germany
- German society confirmed to Nazi expectations
- The opportunity for Germans to benefit in Nazi society
- General attitudes of the German public to the Nazi government in light of their early success.
After he spoke, Dr. Kobi Kabalek, lecturer at the University of Haifa, responded to his lecture. He began by addressing Bajohr’s claim about anti-Semitism, pointing out that there was also “anti-anti-Semitism” as exhibited by rescue attempts in Germany at this time, and that this theory fails to address what happened to anti-Semitism after the Second World War. Kabalek also pointed out that early German satisfaction with the Nazi party is often overemphasized, as many Germans were not pleased with the actions of the Nazis from the beginning. He also encouraged this question to be addressed on a more individual basis, as holding society accountable leaves out the question of individual choice.
Next to present was Dr. Havi Dreifuss is a historian of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe, a senior lecturer in the Department of Jewish History at Tel – Aviv University, and the head the Aaron Gutwirth Center for Research on the Holocaust in Poland. Dreifuss spoke about the concept of the bystander in Poland, pointing out how different it was from Germany. She emphasized this by exploring the victimhood of Poles at this time, and how that affected the way they related to Jewish victims.
Yariv Lapid, the director of the Center for Humanistic Education at the Ghetto Fighters House in Israel, spoke about the inevitable exposure people faced in the civilian environment surrounding Mauthausen. From 2007 to 2013 he created a pedagogical infrastructure at the Mauthausen Memorial in Austria, which forces visitors to confront the question of the bystander as it relates specifically to this memorial site.
Audrey Zada, a Master student at the Weiss-Livnat International MA Program in Holocaust Studies at the University of Haifa, spoke about the very critical way contemporary American society relates to the bystander. Focusing on the United State Holocaust Memorial Museum, Zada pointed out the unclear differentiations between witness, bystander and collaborator in American discourse. She suggested that this under-developed, but very popular, educational theme, is a byproduct of both the difficulties Americans have confronting the lack of military and governmental involvement the US had in the Holocaust, as well as the ongoing struggle of determining when and how to get involved in international affairs around the world today.
This comprehensive look at the bystander represented different nations and periods of time dealing with one of the most prevalent questions in Holocaust Studies today. The seminar ended with a panel in which our students questioned whether or not condemnation of the bystander alleviates the guilt of the perpetrator, and how we connect our moral judgments with our historical scholarship.
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/