Newsletter: Fall 2016
Thank you for following the Weiss-Livnat International MA Program in Holocaust Studies at the University of Haifa. Your support and interest help to make our program the success it is. We are very excited to have started our fifth year of the MA studies. The new cohort is a diverse and highly skilled and intelligent group. We look forward to sharing their stories with you throughout the year.
Arieh Kochavi and Yael Granot-Bein
Opening Seminar of Cohort V with Guest Lecturer Professor Steven Katz
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.
New Students of Cohort V
BA in English from Norton University
BA in Philosophy from Pepperdine University
BA in Psychology from the Open University
Honours Degree in History, and a Bachelor of International Studies from the University of Adeliade
The following is written by Lindsay Shapiro about her experience at Polin Museum:
This summer, four of our students were selected to participate in the Summer Meeting Point conference at the POLIN Museum of the History of the Polish Jews in Warsaw. This conference brought together 40 Israel, German and Polish students of all different degree backgrounds, experiences and heritages to learn about their shared history. This year’s seminar focused on post-WWII reconstruction, the establishment of the State of Israel, and evolving identities in Poland and Germany. The program featured a list of established professors, scholars and historians to discuss the postwar violence, trauma, reconciliation and rebirth. Students got to participate in many different types of learning experiences during the two-week seminar, including lectures, workshops, film screenings and discussions, and in-depth tours of the newly opened POLIN Museum.
Students continued to learn from one another as they shared all three meals together every day, either at the Museum’s Bisamim restaurant or at local restaurants and cafes around Warsaw. Each meal was filled with students engaging in casual conversation with one another, asking questions about each others’ heritage, national customs and personal lives. Throughout the seminar students grew increasingly close with one another. Lindsay Shapiro, fourth cohort of the Weiss-Livnat MA Program, said “One of the best parts of the seminar was getting a chance to meet people I probably wouldn’t have had the chance to otherwise, and learn from them. I’m really lucky that all of the other students were pretty open to discussion about some deep topics, so I got to learn not just from the professors but from my peers as well. I also got the opportunity to share my experience as a student coming from Israel.”
In addition to learning about the history of postwar relationships, the POLIN seminar also utilized oral history and student projects to which created a shared history and mutual respect. Students were divided into mixed German-Israeli-Polish groups to conduct interview with original sources on their memories of WWII, year following the war, and the role that home played in their postwar lives.
In addition to learning within the Museum, students also had some experiential learning. They went on small group tours around the site of the Warsaw Ghetto, part of which is now occupied by the POLIN Museum. They also got to meet and tour with local experts on Warsaw to explore the new city of Warsaw in contrast with what the city was in 1939, prior to the onset of the war. Israeli student, Jason Hochman from the Fourth cohort of our program recalled, “I was fortunate enough to interact and meet with members of the current Jewish community of Warsaw and learn a little about the growing albeit small community that exists today as well as the different types of denominations of Judaism practiced by the community. It was truly an amazing experience.” The entire group, including visiting professors from Israel and Germany, took a two-day trip to Wrocław, west of Poland, to experience this different city, learn about its Jewish history and WWII past. They were even given a tour by a Weiss-Livnat alumnus, Jan Kirstenbaum, who now works in Wrocław educating on the city’s Jewish history.
The seminar culminated with a special Shabbat dinner at a local kosher restaurant, which included many members of the Nissembaum family, one of the main donors of the program. Students, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, got to experience Shabbat together in a warm, tasty and joyous meal, which ended with singing in five different languages- Yiddish, Polish, German, English and Hebrew. On the last day of the program, the POLIN Museum hosted an open gallery curated by participants of the program, in which they displayed their oral history projects to both the Nissembaum family and the general public. Projects included an interactive pop-up exhibit filled with belongings take one might haven taken when fleeing from their home, a video project based on student testimonies about the cultural side of the Holocaust, an app in which personal histories can be recorded and mapped, and many more. The final event was a panel discussion with student participants, and finally a closing graduation ceremony. It was a unique and incredible experience for all students involved. “The Meeting Poland Meeting Point Summer Program at the POLIN Museum, was one of the best experiences I have ever had. Being able to meet, make connections, and friendships with other Israeli, Polish and German students was really special,” said Hochman.
Director Ronen Zaretzsky, Survivor, Kazik Rotem, and The Last Fighter Film
Earlier in the summer semester, writer and director Ronen Zaretzsky joined our class to screen his documentary, The Last Fighters, which details the lives of the surviving members of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The 2006 film traveled to Poland, Israel and Canada to visit the aging fighters and get their views on both the past and the present. It centered on a reunion between many of the living members of the Uprising in Poland, where they were honored by the Polish government for their heroic acts on the 60th anniversary of the Uprising. Many of these fighters’ own communities and neighbors do not know their stories. It began with Marek Edelman, one of the icons of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, who then was living in Lodz. His strong Bundist beliefs kept him in Poland after the war, where he became a heart doctor in order to help people after seeing the horrors of the war.
The film then brought the audience to Israel, where Zaretzsky interviewed Masha Futtermillech and Pnina Greenspan in Tel Aviv, Kazik Rotem in Jerusalem and Aharon Carmi in Kfar Saba. In the documentary, Carmi recalled jumping off a train carrying his family bound for Treblinka and returning on foot to Warsaw. Zaretzsky and his crew then met with Bronek Spiegel in Montreal, whose late wife Haika was also part of the Uprising. Spiegel spoke about his training and preparation for the fight while with the Eyal, a Jewish Fighting Organization created in 1942 after a mass liquidation of the ghetto which left mostly young people still in the ghetto.
In Poland at the reunion, the fighters relive the events of the April 1943 uprising. The film discusses the time-by-time and street-by-street play out of the uprising, how it happened, which building each of the fighters hid in, and when each detail occurred. All 220 fighters were divided into 22 groups, each group with a commander. They were all part of various Jewish youth movements, both Zionist and non. They then discussed their memories, as well as their relationship with the Jewish State and its role with Diaspora Jews.
As many of them were the only surviving members of their families, they needed to build their own lives from new at the end of the war. Pnina discussed the complicated feelings she had with returning to Poland, a country she once called home but then ran away from. After the film screening, Zaretzsky joined our cohort for a question and answer session. A student, Rotem, asked, “Why weren’t members of the Artzi, another movement in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, interviewed?” Zaretzsky said it was because most of them did not survive. Another student, Ziva, asked, “How do you think the movie affected the survivors?” Zaretzsky replied, “For Masha it affected her a lot. She asked me, ‘Why did it take you so long to talk to me?’ She was very willing to be interviewed, and we had more than 100 hours of interviews with her.” He ended by saying that the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is one of the most unbelievable stories of the 20th century: a group of 200 young people who fight against the Nazi empire. It was the first instance of civilians fighting against the Nazis during the war.
Following this screening and after learning that one of the fighters from the movie, Kazik Rotem, is still living in Israel, our program organized a meeting between students and Rotem in Jerusalem. Our group traveled to Jerusalem to meet with him for the afternoon. He opened himself up for questions and discussion with our group, and told of his experiences during the uprising and his thoughts on life after the war. During the uprising, he was ordered to go to the Aryan side and make contact with Antek Zuckerman. He was only 19 years old at the time. He and his comrades hid in the sewers of Warsaw, walking 3km together with little rations, all while underneath the feet of the Nazis, to escape. While this happened, the Nazis discovered the bunker where the uprising fighters were hiding, including Mordecai Anielewitz, and killed them.
Rotem had successfully, but unknowingly, escaped. When students asked about what he felt at the time, he responded, “We had no intention or thought of surviving the uprising. I never thought I would make it out of there. But we knew we wanted to die fighting, like humans.” He recalled what it was like to take part in the action and spoke of the adrenaline the he felt. Rotem ended the meeting by talking with each student and asking about the diverse backgrounds that make up our program.
Our students unanimously felt that this was one of the most meaningful events of the year, one which left many students at an emotional loss for words. It was an incredible opportunity for our cohort to have an intimate, face-to-face meeting with one of the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and to learn about history from someone who made the history happen. It was also a chance for our program to pay tribute to Rotem and his courageous acts.
New Theses Our Students Published
Chronicle of Destruction:
The Jews of Raseiniai County during WWII and the Holocaust
Although an extensive historiography of the Holocaust in Lithuania exists, very little has been written about the history of the Jewish communities in provincial Lithuania. Most research addresses the history and fate of Lithuania’s largest communities- Vilnius, Kaunas and Šiauliai. However, the provincial towns in Lithuania are crucial to understanding the Holocaust as well as the development and implementation of the “Final Solution” in the history and fate of Lithuania’s largest communities- Vilnius, Kaunas and Šiauliai. However, the provincial towns in Lithuania are crucial to understanding the Holocaust as well as the development and implementation of the “Final Solution” in the area. Within the last decade studies have raised new issues and questions regarding the Holocaust, and have placed greater emphasis on developments that took place in the rural areas and provinces of Lithuania, but the subject still remains insufficiently studied.
According to the Jäger Report, Raseiniai County was one of the first places where the murder of women and children took place as early as mid-July 1941. Therefore, a thorough examination of Raseiniai County and its Jewish communities raises important issues and questions, and can contribute to scholarship about the rapid and brutal elimination of Jewish towns and villages in provincial Lithuania and the transition to total annihilation.
This study examines the fate of small Jewish towns (Shtetlekh) in Raseiniai County through an integration of a variety of sources. Creating a synthesis of documents, testimonies and literature identifies the stages of persecution and extermination, the relationship between the Germans and the Lithuanians, the connection between bureaucracy and ideology, and the various groups of perpetrators involved in the extermination of the Jews in Raseiniai County. In addition, this study can also shed light on the Holocaust in Lithuania in general in light of the fact that more than 50% of Lithuanian Jewry lived in rural areas and provinces. Furthermore, it raises questions that can be relevant to the destruction of Jewish communities in other rural Eastern European areas when considering factors such as the participation of the local population in the murders, their motivations, and how regional dynamics influenced the development of the Final Solution in those areas.
Holocaust Museums and Artifacts:
Linking History and Culture
This thesis entails an examination of three prominent Holocaust museums: Yad Vashem and Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum (GFH) in Israel and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC. They were chosen because of a combination of prominence as regards their early inception-the two Israeli museums- and the extent of influence on Holocaust historiography, scholarship, and the related cultural ramifications. Utilizing methodology drawn from the discipline of material culture, much of the work was focused through the lens of artifact collections. Part of the objective was to relate cultural and political influences to museum ethos, and in turn, take notice of the impact of museum development on the culture without. An indirect but unavoidable relationship was noted in the evolution of Holocaust historiography. The methodology consisted of an examination of specifically chosen artifacts from each museum, conducting an in-depth examination of the circumstances related to their acquisition and collection, along with detailed historical analysis of background information of involved individuals, families, communities, and as it turned out toward the end of the exercise, the involvement of the curating staff. The research work included a number of interviews with individuals closely linked and involved during the developmental stages of each museum, along with examination of internal documents, whenever available. An overall viewpoint emerged regarding each museum individually and as relates to Holocaust narrativization in combination. As the work progressed it also became clear, that wholly separate from institutional influence, the artifacts related information (history) accrued from individualized narratives, which remained unaffected by these external forces. Thus the artifacts collections appear to render a “populist” message of witnessing, very much in keeping with personalized memory transmission. The museums were seen as representing an ethos, mostly shared as regards Holocaust narrativization, while the artifacts-individually and as items of acquisition and collections-addressed ethnos, relayed individual agency and represented personalized narritivization.
The Masa to Poland and Kibbutz Narratives of Holocaust Memory:
A Case Study of Kibbutz Yagur
This thesis presents a unique case study of students from Kibbutz Yagur who have participated in the masaot to Poland in recent years. The study is focused on the topic of national Holocaust commemorative narratives and practices and how they have been transmitted to and interpreted by the current generation of kibbutz youth. The study begins with a brief outline of the history of the masa to Poland from the Carmel Zvulun Regional High School located on Kibbutz Yagur. It then continues to explore the possible ways in which kibbutz ideological principles and Zionist values have been transmitted to the current generation of kibbutznikim who choose to participate in the journey. The study shifts to an examination of materials and methods used to facilitate pre-trip learning and discussion. The goal of this section is to discover if any underlying connections can be drawn between those materials and methods to the kibbutz ideology at large. The next section of the thesis is focused on understanding the impact the masa has on the kibbutz students’ sense of identity as individuals, but also as students born and raised on the kibbutz as compared to non-kibbutz participants from the regional high school. The objective is to understand to what extent in-group “gibush” (bonding) that may or may not already be present amongst kibbutz participants who were born and raised in an insulated environment, has impacted their unique experience as “kibbutznikim” on the trip itself. The final chapter examines the patterns of Holocaust commemoration throughout Israel’s history and presents potential causes of friction within the discourse of Shoah memory narratives. It further seeks to understand if and how kibbutz specific interpretations of the Shoah narrative are affecting the current generation of kibbutz youth.
A Case Study of Pilgrimage to Poland
In this paper, I will qualitatively investigate the affect of the Poland pilgrimage on a sample of Modern Orthodox American Jewish females, a population less represented in present day Poland pilgrimage scholarship. I begin this paper by exploring the conceptual framework of the Poland voyage as pilgrimage. I then offer a purview of the history of educational youth trips to Poland as well as provide a glimpse into the educational philosophy of Heritage Seminars, the program under present investigation. Original research in the form of semi-structured, in depth interviews conducted with recent and veteran Heritage Seminars participants is then presented. Thematic analysis was used to address which themes surfaced when recent and veteran participants spoke of their trips to Poland, with particular emphasis placed on how participants felt they were impacted and/or transformed by the journey. By exploring how six participants engaged with, interpreted and synthesized their experiences of Heritage Seminars, I draw conclusions about the impact of the Poland pilgrimage on a sample of Modern Orthodox American Jewish females.
Researching and Restaging the Ghez Collection of Jewish Artists Who Perished in the Holocaust:
A Curatorial Experiment –
Collaboration with the Hecht Museum and a new course!
We are elated to announce a new course we will be offering to our students in the 2016-2017 academic year. Through this course we will be partnering with the Hecht Museum, and offering our students a wonderful opportunity to learn about museum studies and curation. Read about the course, taught by Dr. Rachel Perry, below:
In 1978, the Swiss art collector, Dr. Oscar Ghez, donated his important collection of works of art by artists who perished in the Holocaust to the University of Haifa. Consisting of oil paintings, watercolors, drawings and arrested by the Nazis and their French collaborators, many of these artists were interned in the transit camps of Drancy, Gurs, Compiègne before being deported East to death camps. Ghez conceived of the collection as a memorial to artists who perished in the Holocaust, but it is also an important record of their lives and creativity.
In this course, we will collaborate with the Hecht museum on a unique research project revolving around the Ghez collection and culminating in an exhibition which the class will curate and install. The last exhibition catalogue of the Ghez collection is over 20 years old. The time is ripe for a reassessment of the collection, relying on new scholarship and new methodological approaches. Little research has been done on these artists; for many, the dates and place of death is unknown. Like detectives, we will explore the archives and trace the provenance of the art works before Ghez acquired them (ie. where they were purchased, when, by whom). Where did these artists emigrate from? What social, religious, political networks and organizations were they affiliated with? Where did they go to art school, with whom? Where did they exhibit (galleries, museums) and who were their patrons? What subjects and media did they gravitate towards? Answering these questions will contribute to a fuller picture of the rich diversity of Jewish culture in the prewar period, when Paris was a magnet for Jewish artists across Europe.
Final Research Project: During the semester, students will work independently or in small groups on one aspect of the exhibition. For their contribution, students are encouraged to think outside of the box. Whether it is a documentary film detailing our research and progress as a group; a collection of poems and literary texts which relate to the art; a sound track of testimonies; documents relating to each artist (photographs, Pages of Testimony, artifacts); wall labels which provide important contextual information; an educational guide for students or a web based project (blog or website) – this course welcomes interdisciplinary approaches and original ideas about how to curate these works of art in the museum. No prior knowledge of art is necessary.
Museum Visits and Film Screenings: Throughout the semester we will study other museums and collections devoted to art and the Holocaust. Visiting lecturers and museum visits, as well as films about art and the Holocaust and academic articles and books, will complement class sessions in the Hecht museum and its archives in front of the works of art and relevant historical documents. Film screenings are scheduled throughout the semester both in class and as homework assignments. If you cannot make a screening, you must inform me in advance. Attendance at museum visits is absolutely mandatory. In addition to the class meetings held in museums, you may be required to visit museums on your own to complete assignments.
Coming Soon: Holocaust Commemoration:
New Trends in Museums and Memorials
Special Issue of “Dapim – Studies on the Holocaust”
The complexity of the Holocaust in its full magnitude, reaches into countless subjects, disciplines, and professions. In order to begin to fully deconstruct, analyze, and understand the Holocaust, interdisciplinary research that transcends all boundaries must occur. The Strochlitz Institute for Holocaust Research at the University of Haifa is proud to announce this upcoming special issue of Dapim: Studies on the Holocaust, our interdisciplinary, peer-reviewed academic journal.
James Young, Guest Editor and Michal Ahaory and Gavriel Rosenfeld, Editors
Holocaust and Heroism in the Process of Establishing Yad Vashem (1942–1970)
by Doron Bar
Is Eastern European “Double Genocide” Revisionism Reaching Museums?
by Dovid Katz
From the Periphery to the Center of Memory: Holocaust Memorials in Vienna
by Heidemarie Uhl
Transmitting the Survivor’s Voice: Redeveloping the Sydney Jewish Museum
by Avril Alba
Mixed Metaphors in Muranów: Holocaust Memory and Architectural Meaning at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews
by Gavriel Rosenfeld
Yad Layeled at the Ghetto Fighters’ House: A Museum about Children in the Holocaust or a Museum for Children about the Holocaust?
by Nadav Heidecker
Genocide and Relevance: Current Trends in United States Holocaust Museums
by Leah Sievers
Subjects of Memory? On Performing Holocaust Memory in Two German Historical Museums
by Irit Dekel
Poetics of Memory: Aesthetics and Experience of Holocaust Remembrance in Museums
by Jennifer Hansen-Glucklich
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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/