Our students are participating in a three-day seminar at the Ghetto Fighter’s House Museum. Day Two featured a discussion with Evelin Akherman, the Museum Director; a session with Anat Bratman-Elhalel, the Archive Director; a tour of exhibits in the main museum with Lisa Schulz-Yatsiv; and a conversation with Rotem Kornblit, the Director of the Education Department.
The day began with Museum Director Evelin Akherman. She started with a discussion of the museum’s architecture. The museum was built in 1959 by a European architect who was a part of the kibbutz movement. Akherman stated that the museum is like the acropolis of the kibbutz. There are stairs to approach the museum and it sits upon raised ground that has a commanding look of the surrounding landscape. Our students had an interesting discussion about an abstract metal assemblage created by Yechiel Shemi that is placed outside the museum entrance. Akherman’s lecture focused on analyzing Holocaust art and the life of Miriam Novitch, who was an important part of collecting art and other documents from Europe following the war and bringing them to Israel and the Ghetto Fighter’s House Museum. Novitch’s mission began in the exchange camp in France called Vittel where she met a Polish Jew named Katznelson whose wife and child were murdered in Treblinka. Katznelson instructed Novitch to “collect the tears of the Jewish people,” which was the impetus for her mission to collect art and artifacts from the Holocaust. According to Akherman, Novitch was the first person to use the term spiritual resistance and she felt that art exemplified that term.
During the second session of the day our students met with the Director of the Archive Anat Bratman-Elhalel. She took our students to see the Yizchor Hall where they got to see the work being completed by those students who are participating in the internship to update the Yizchor hall’s exhibit that uses artifacts to tell the story. Our students had the opportunity to visit the archive with Bratman-Elhalel and to handle and read authentic artifacts, some of which were recently acquired. Bratman-Elhalel expressed the importance of digitizing artifacts to share them with a wider audience but the dilemma of publishing personal items for which it is not always possible to get permission.
Next, our students took a tour of two exhibits in the Museum “The Warsaw Ghetto Fights Back,” and the “Hall of Camps” with a student from the second cohort who works at the Museum, Lisa Schulz-Yatsiv. She shared that the museum is a thematic and not chronological museum and the exhibits are connected to the founders’ stories. It prioritizes the narrative of Jewish resistance and is designed as a place for conversation and education that teaches more then history. Throughout the tour Schulz-Yatsiv did an excellent job of balancing allowing our students to view the exhibit and sharing how she guides the exhibit for student groups. Schulz-Yatsiv explained the activities she does with student groups to engage in a dialogue and provoke critical though such as discussion dilemmas and asking why the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is such an important part of Israeli Holocaust Memory.
The final component of the day was a discussion with Rotem Kornblit, the Museum’s director of education. Klornblit shared that the agenda of the museum is to tell the stories of the founders and fulfill their goal of commemorating their murdered loved ones and teaching the lessons of the Holocaust. Kornblit discussed the challenge of teaching the Holocaust to Israeli students who are exposed to it from a young age and think they know it all already and how difficult it can be to get them to think critically and ask questions about the history. A further challenge is encouraging the members of the guided groups who visit the museum break the barrier between the past and present and connect the lessons of the Holocaust to current dilemmas in Israeli society such as racism and foreign workers. Kornblit stated that the most important question she asks students is what they can learn from the Holocaust in an attempt to maintain its relevance. The second day of the seminar was an excellent opportunity to see how the Museum functions as an educational resource and what their mission is.