A few days before the start of the new academic year, the students of Cohort V in the Weiss-Livnat program of Holocaust studies participated in an opening seminar. The day started with a speech made by Prof. Arieh Kochavi, head of the program, followed by presentation of the faculty staff and students themselves.
During the opening seminar, Prof. Steven Katz, director of the Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies at Boston University, spoke on the topic of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust.
Prof. Katz’s lecture gave the new students, a glimpse into one of the many debates in Holocaust research, which is the complex question regarding the existence of resistance actions in the Holocaust among the victims, as well as the philosophical question of what is considered resistance activity under various definitions.
The lecture started by defining two opposing approaches to resistance. The first approach judges the existence and success of the resistance acts on the basis of the actual consequences of those actions, which were mostly unsuccessful. The second approach focuses on whether the actions made were following initial conscious intentions to stand against the caused atrocities and not surrender. In this approach, such conscious acts count as a successful resistance activity, regardless of their result.
Prof. Katz stated that he supports the more humanistic second approach that says that emphasizes intentions. To emphasize his statement Prof. Katz indicated a number of possible factors for lack of resistance, such as geographical differences between the many ghettos and camps, indifference of the local society surrounding the Jews, demographical and political diversity inside the Jewish communities that caused obstacles for attempts to organize, such as dealing with strong opposition to resistance inside the community in the ghettos or camps.
When those factors, combined with the poor physical conditions and the immediate risk, are put together, it allows us to understand that it is also possible to look at non-violent actions such as immigration as acts of resistance. Moreover, daily actions can be treated as constant deeds of resistance as well if they are made with appropriate intention and aspiration to keep the victim’s dignity in spite of being labeled as sub-humans. Those daily actions could come in the form of holding on tightly to religion and culture, or simply humanity.
From that perspective, like Prof. Katz mentioned, those daily actions not only contradict the question of why there was no impactful resistance among the victims during the Holocaust, but conversely raises the question of why there were so many acts of resistance.
By presenting all those thought provoking anecdotes, Prof. Steven Katz showed how broad and complex the topic of the Holocaust is and how many questions without easy answers are included in it.
Starting the academic year with such a lecture, made the students excited and eager to jump in and explore this period of time in human history during their upcoming studies at the University of Haifa.
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/