This article was written by Wei (Aaron) Zhang:
I had the honor to participate in a 4-week internship at Jewish Museum Berlin, one of the largest and best Jewish museums in the world, working with the team for the new permanent exhibition. It has been a wonderful enrichment for my Holocaust Studies in the University of Haifa.
Because my internship was very short I consulted with my tutor and other colleagues in the museum and we decided to make the internship two major parts: learning and contributing. My first project was to get a general picture how a large museum like this works, especially when it comes to teamwork for the permanent exhibition, and gain a better understanding of the Jewish culture and history through all the resources in Berlin and nearby; second, I worked in the archives related to Shanghai and contributed to it.
Last year while I was attending a curating lecture during a four-day study with my classmates at Yad Vashem I was attracted to an artifact which was not yet shown to the public – a red scarf from Ravensbrück concentration camp with a Chinese signature at the bottom.
After this, I always wanted to know more about the fate of this lady. While working at the Museum archives, I was able to arrange a private meeting with Peter Plieninger, Chairman of the Friends of the Ravensbrück Memorial, at a local café. It was a wonderful experience, it helped me understand the background of this camp so that I could explore more about the mysterious Chinese lady in the Ravensbrück concentration camp.
The story of this special Chinese lady began to unfold itself: she was accused of being agent and was imprisoned by the Nazis. She was born as daughter of a Chinese diplomat, and spent her childhood in Spain, Cuba and China, so could speak Spanish, Chinese, French, English, German fluently. She was stationed as an honorary colonel in the Chinese army in 1920s in Manchuria. She was trained lawyer and pilot. She was the mistress of the feminist American playwright Natalie Clifford Barney in Paris in 1930s, and spied against Germany in 1940s. The keywords of her life like cross-dressing, female pilot and colonel, lesbian lifestyle, resistance against Nazis as a Chinese agent, etc are just so unusual and legendary for a woman in her time. However, for the most part, her life remains mysterious. Until now she was unknown in Chinese historical documents and literature.
In my internship I also handled artifacts concerning the life of Jewish refugees in Shanghai. Through the online archives of the museum I was able to browse most of the related artifacts. With my knowledge of the Chinese language and background, I found and corrected some inaccuracies in the description or dating of these objects. At Jewish Museum Berlin I was assigned the task of translating some Chinese texts formerly owned by the Jewish residents of Shanghai Ghetto into English. It was so exciting to have hands on experience with these objects, which have survived more than 70 years, and to imagine how these things once were related to the daily life of their owners.
Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program? You can find the application and more information on our website.