Our students recently had an opportunity to hear from Dr. Roby Nathanson about his research on the mutual perceptions of Israeli and German youth, to watch the film “Farewell Herr Schwarz,” and to engage in a discussion with the film’s director Yael Reuveni and our very own Dr. Kobi Kabalek. This exciting seminar was part of the cooperation between the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, the Strochlitz Institute for Holocaust Studies at the University of Haifa, and the Ghetto Fighters House Museum, which was established in the aim of fostering an Israeli-German academic dialogue. This year the series of seminars will focus on Germany and Israel – Mutual Perceptions in a Changing Global environment.
During the first part of the seminar Dr. Roby Nathanson, who has a PhD in economics from the University of Koln in Germany and heads the Macro Center for Political Economics, shared his research from surveys and focus groups conducted with Jewish and Arab Israelis and German youth regarding their mutual perceptions. The surveys were conducted in 1998, 2004, and 2010 and Dr. Nathanson was able to explain the trends and changes over time. The overall findings show that paradoxically Israelis have a positive attitude towards contemporary Germany but they continue to have a negative view of the German past as it relates to the Holocaust. According to Dr. Nathanson, Israeli youth are unable to forgive Germany for the Holocaust and overwhelmingly support continued emphasis on teaching the Holocaust. The research shows that Israeli are more interested in the Holocaust today than in 1998 and more Israeli Jews than Israeli Arabs think the majority of Germans supported the Holocaust. Nathanson believes increasing international criticism of Israel is responsible for strengthening Israeli interest in the Holocaust because the Holocaust is connected to the establishment of Israel and many Israelis see Israel as the only way to guarantee the survival of the Jewish people. Nathanson believes the Israeli educational system, including the emphasis on trips to Poland to visit the camps, are responsible for propagating these views. Key differences between German and Israeli perceptions are that German youth tend to see the Holocaust as a dark chapter in German history that was an anomaly, and national identity is more essential to Israelis than Germans, who consider national pride to be wrong.
During the second part of the seminar our students were able to view the Film “Farewell Herr Schwarz.” The film is a personal documentary about the second and third generation survivors in director Yael Reuveni’s family in Israel and Germany and is centered on her six year journey to discover what happened to her grandmother’s beloved brother Feivke who failed to meet her after the war. The film asks broader questions about the meaning of family and how one moment can affect the lives of an individual and their descendants.
After watching the film our students were able to participate in a discussion with the film’s director Yael Reuveni and one of the program’s lecturers Dr. Kobi Kabalek. Reuveni has lived in Germany for the past ten years and is a graduate of the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School in Jerusalem. Kabalek has a PhD in History from the University of Virginia and is currently the editor of Dapim Studies on the Holocaust and a postdoctoral fellow at Hebrew University. Reuveni and Kabalek met in 2006 whil
e both were living in Berlin and they spoke about the phenomena of Israelis living in Berlin after the film screening. Both felt that many Israelis go to Berlin to escape Israel in addition to a desire to look for something, to figure out their identity, and confront the Holocaust past. Reuveni shared that it was liberating for her to live in Berlin where the Holocaust is truly in the past, unlike in Israel where the Holocaust in there and not then, which keeps it in the present. The seminar was a interesting multi-media look at how Israelis and Germans view each other today and what it is like to be an Israeli living in Berlin and trying to find answers about the Holocaust past tat continues to have so much influence on the present.
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