Cohort V just completed our annual 4-day seminar at the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum. The Museum was founded in 1949, by Holocaust survivors that had just moved to Israel. After the war, many survivors returned to Lodz, upon arrival they found themselves homeless and without any material possessions, as their homes had been looted and taken. While in Lodz, a group of survivors that also took part in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising made plans to establish a kibbutz and a Holocaust museum for their friends and family who had perished. The Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum became the world’s first Holocaust Museum, and the only Holocaust museum established solely by survivors.
When the students arrived at the kibbutz, our hosts organized a tour of the kibbutz, from Tali Shner, the daughter of Holocaust survivors who were part of the founding group. She showed us the first building where the museum had been housed. In the early days of the museum, they slept in tents while the only buildings left by the British Mandate housed artifacts, which demonstrates their dedication to remembrance. Everyone at the kibbutz, originally, were survivors, which posed challenges to finding a normality.
For example, the kibbutz cook had learned how to cook in a concentration camp. They food that she made was not very good, but she didn’t know how to make it better. After so much complaining from the kibbutz she got up early one day and walked 10km to the next nearest kibbutz. There she learned some from the cook there, and then walked 10km back to make dinner that night for the kibbutz. They worked hard to build a community that was full of life and good things.
They embraced the kibbutz way of life, with babies and children sleeping apart from their parents in nurseries and in the school buildings themselves. In the evening the children would see their parents for a long dinner. This way of living which was already established by other kibbutzim gave the survivors a sense of normality and a ideological and cultural framework of community. (The first kibbutz in Israel was established in 1909.) Our tour guide told us that most of the young mothers had lost their own mothers in the Holocaust so they didn’t have anyone to ask about how to raise a child. The fact that the kibbutz offered unformed child care was relieving to most parents, while other parents had a difficult time spending such little time with their children, and they eventually left the kibbutz. There was also the constant question of whether or not it was okay for children to hear the story of the Holocaust everyday.
In a way, the Holocaust shaped their daily life. For example, our tour guide told us about a man who was very mean to the children and really everyone around him. When their teacher told them that he had lost his whole family in the Holocaust and he was the only one left, the children understood him and offered him more kindness. Death was their normality. But one the other hand, life and family became the most important things defining their daily life. Antek Zuckerman, founder of the kibbutz, said “We came here to build homes filled with life.”
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