Our students are participating in a three-day seminar at the Ghetto Fighter’s House Museum. Day One of the seminar featured a tour of the Kibbutz to learn about its history, a tour of Yad Layeled, the children’s Memorial Museum, and discussions about the museum and the kibbutz in general.
The tour of the kibbutz was led by Tali Shner, who is the daughter of two Holocaust survivors, and was born on the Kibbutz. Shner directed Yad Layeled and worked in the main museum prior to her retirement. Shner was instrumental in designing and establishing the tour because return to life after the Holocaust and teaching the public about what the survivors did after 1945 is important to her. Shner shared the history of the Ghetto Fighter’s Kibbutz with our students. She said the kibbutz was planned in Lodz as the fulfillment of a Zionist dream and a way to commemorate loved ones who perished in the Holocaust. As a result a kibbutz and a museum were built. The first Holocaust ceremony was at the kibbutz prior to the establishment of Yad Vashem. Shner said that everything related to Holocaust education and commemoration started here with “a mission to change humanity and not take revenge.” Throughout the existence of the kibbutz until today there has been a dilemma regarding the needs of the kibbutz and the needs of the museum and which should be prioritized. Emblematic of this struggle was an attempt by members of the second generation to change the name of the kibbutz to something less heavy.
Shner also spoke about what it was like to group up in the communal living of the kibbutz and be raised by Holocaust survivors. She shared that children were raised in a children’s home and did not sleep with their parents. They only saw their parents in the evening. Their parents had to trust the caregivers. Shner raised questions about whether this was better for the children to be raised by an expert and be sheltered from their parents nightmare filled sleep and what affect being raised by survivors who experienced depression had on the children. In the 1980s the policies of the kibbutz changed and today children live at home with their parents. Shner spoke about the importance of Yom Hashoah on the kibbutz and the difficulty of seeing her parents express emotional extremes throughout the day before she was told their Holocaust survival stories at the age of 13. The tour was a fascinating look at the history of the kibbutz and what it was like to grow up in between the Holocaust and life.
After the tour our students visited Yad Layeled the only Holocaust museum for children in Israel, which was built in 1995. Madene Shachar who has worked at the museum for 15 years introduced our students to the building and held a discussion with them afterwards. The museum focuses on the experiences of children during the Holocaust and the two worlds they inhabited – those of reality and imagination, which are beautifully symbolized by the stain glass windows created from children’s drawing in Terezin and exhibited at the start of the museum. The core exhibit emphasizes experiential and emotional learning through the use of images, testimony, and artifacts. There is very little text to read on the installations. It was not meant to be a history museum. There is no chronology or timelines and testimonies from different places and times are presented simultaneously. The narrative of the museum is a Zionist one that emphasizes life and not death. A second exhibit entitled “Here Began My Childhood” covers the years 1945-1948 and centers on how child survivors came out of hiding, made aliyah, and were able tp return to childhood. In discussions with Shachar and David Netzer following the tour of the museum our students were able to speak about the appropriateness of the museum for children as young as 10 and the correct balance between an emotional response and historical context. We are excited for what the remainder of the seminar has to offer.
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/