Guest Lecturers, Holocaust Survivor

Holocaust survivor Catriel Fuchs: ‘More luck than judgement’

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On the occasion of his 90th birthday and after plenty of “noodging” from the family, Holocaust survivor Catriel Fuchs finally decided to commit his amazing story to paper. Now 92, Catriel has written and published his autobiography, which, loosely translated, is entitled More luck than judgement.

“But don’t go rushing to the next book store,” he jokes, “because only ten copies exist. They contain the memory of my murdered family, of my youth, and are dedicated to my family, of course, and to my seven great grandchildren, aged from two-and-a-half to 13. One copy is in Yad Vashem.”

Catriel, originally Karl, was born in December 1925 in Vienna, to his parents Helena and Aaron, and so he was not yet a teenager when the Nazis invaded his home city in March 1938. By way of an introduction, he says: “I’m a survivor and as such I carry around many things with me, dreams, disappointments, highs and lows.

“I was 12-and-a-half years old in 1938. How could I know [what was happening], but I realised the dark times were coming. I was already in an orphanage. The last time I saw a schoolroom from the inside was when I was about 13. By then, of course, the orphanage was closed and school was over for me.”

His eventual escape was orchestrated by the Youth Aliyah movement, but it initially suffered a perilous mishap.

“I escaped twice,” Catriel explains. “It was organised by the city of Graz. We were accompanied to the border by a battalion of German soldiers. As we reached the border, they said ‘run’, because on the other side there was an exchange of border guards. There, we were met by Yugoslav smugglers. We were told that a train would stop in the middle of the night, a wagon would be open, jump in, and you’ll be taken to Zagreb.

“Well, I woke up in the morning and there was nobody there, nobody. I was totally alone. I didn’t know where I was and I didn’t know the language. A very sympathetic gendarme accompanied me, on foot, all the way back to the border, and there, on the other side, stood an SA man.

“‘Who are you,’ he asked. And I replied, ‘Ich bin wieder da’, I’m back. I think that saved me. He thought I was an Austrian runaway. I was there for two or three days, before I jumped on a train and after a while, I realised it was going in the wrong direction, back to Vienna. I had ten Reichsmark, virtually nothing, and no papers. I was nobody.

“The train was full of Germans and soldiers, and the conductor was making his way up the train. Opposite me was a young woman. She’s an angel in my eyes. We didn’t exchange a word, because it was forbidden for Jews to even look a German woman in the eye. She must have seen that something was wrong with me, because when the conductor came, she said ‘he is with me’.

“I was there, in what is today the Hauptbahnhof. Where will I go? To my poor mother. I walked through the streets, though a Jew wasn’t allowed out past 9 o’clock. It was past midnight. I knocked on my mother’s door, and I hear from inside, “yes, yes, I’m coming”, she was certain that it was Gestapo. At that time of night who comes knocking at the door?

“Anyway, I had to do the same thing all over again. By this time, there were no youngsters around anymore. We walked through the Karpaten, [Carpathian mountains]. It was slippery, and I carried a little boy on my shoulders all the way, until we reached the Drau river. They stuffed us into the baggage compartment of a taxi and off we went. I woke up in Zagreb, with a 40 degree fever. I survived even that!”

Catriel was speaking at the University of Haifa alongside Hannah Miriam Lessing, Secretary General of the National Fund of the Republic of Austria for the victims of National Socialism. His story can be read, in German, courtesy of the Austrian Heritage Archive.    


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/

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Current Events, Guest Lecturers

Austria dealing with the past

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In 1995, Hannah M. Lessing took the helm of the Austrian National Fund, an institution entrusted with Holocaust recognition, restitution and remembrance. At the time, her father, himself a survivor, was less than impressed with her decision to turn her back on a successful banking career. His response? “Can you give me back my childhood? Can you bring back my mother from Auschwitz?”

“That’s when I decided to do it, with the knowledge that we cannot turn back the hands of time, that we cannot repair anything,” Hannah explains. And true to her word, she approached the then President of Parliament and asked for the job.

“He asked what I would need to get started. I told him that I need you to write a letter, together with me, where we say that we’re sorry, that it’s too late and we are aware that nothing can be repaired. Then, I need historians who will research, I need staff who will listen, and I need open access to the archives.

“‘Very interesting’, he said, and he told me to send him a letter with all of my ideas. I left the meeting thinking I’ll never hear from him again. Still, I wrote the letter and two weeks later I had the job.

“Through our work, we seek to combat the historical amnesia in Austria. For decades, the atrocities committed were shrouded in a veil of silence. The National Fund was the first organisation to officially recognise Austrian survivors and to give them the recognition that they deserve.”

Over the coming years, Hannah and her team would find as many as 30,000 survivors, in 17 countries, all originating from Austria. “One of the beautiful things about the fund is that it’s not exclusively for Jewish survivors,” she confirms. “It’s a fund dealing with all persecutees from Austria, be they Roma, Sinti, the handicapped, political prisoners or homosexuals.

“We didn’t know what to expect. I told my employees, ‘don’t count on people being grateful, because they haven’t been dealt with for 50 years. We will reach out and we will listen.’ And yet, we were humbled from day one. It seems that we were exactly what they were looking for. Someone to reach out and say, ‘we’re sorry’.

“We received many, many letters that after we had sent the first letter and issued the first payment, people passed. Their children would write to me and say that it was finally an opportunity for closure.”

Ultimately, the National Fund would be allocated a total of $360m with which to compensate the victims. Naturally, such an undertaking required painstaking research, not least because it was also a fund for heirs. At its peak, Hannah assembled a team of 180 employees, including 40 historians, 40 archivists and 40 legal clerks.

“I could only actually compensate for 12 per cent and that was really horrible. But, because we had already dealt with survivors for a long time, we could reconcile with them, because we were giving back their family history. As of today, we have researched 30,000 Jewish family histories, we gave back all of the documents and we compensated for a certain amount of losses.”

And Hannah fondly recalls returning a painting to an elderly survivor, Freddy, here in the Carmel. It was deemed too expensive to ship from Vienna, and so Hannah personally obliged.

“I will never forget it,” she adds. “The feeling is indescribable. These are really the pieces of work which are the most beautiful things, that you can return something. I went with our Speaker of the House in June to New York, where we returned one book to a family. No matter how small it is, it’s a piece of family history that you’re returning.”


 

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/

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Guest Lecturers, Program News, Uncategorized

One Stone. One Name. One Person.

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“A person is only forgotten when his or her name is forgotten.” Words from the Talmud, no less, and the inspiration behind the world’s “largest commemoration project”, the Stolperstein.

The brainchild of German artist Gunter Demnig in the early 1990s, Stolpersteine – stumbling stones or blocks – are commemorative brass plaques installed in the pavement in front of a Holocaust victim’s last address of choice. Each engraving begins with the words, “Here lived…”

Cohort VI enjoyed a lively afternoon with ethical campaigner Terry Swartzberg, who is a tireless and, quite clearly, passionate advocate of the memorial project. “Stolpersteine are just the start of getting to know someone, an introduction to the victim,” he explains. “We can restore their name to our consciousness.”

An American Jew, Swartzberg has lived in Munich for over 30 years, where he heads up the local Stolperstein initiative. It is but one of 1,000 local pro bono organizations working for the Stolperstein cause.

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Today, there are some 70,000 such memorials in 21 countries and over 2,000 cities. There are, for instance, some 8,000 in Berlin. “Wherever you go, you’re confronted with remembrance,” he adds.

Each year, on the anniversary of Reichskristallnacht – the night of broken glass – local Stolperstein members and schoolchildren take to the streets to clean the bronze memorials. Swartzberg is convinced that this generation of German youngsters is more connected to the Holocaust than any that preceded it.

And the project continues to gather momentum. Anyone wishing to organize a Stolperstein-laying ceremony will have a lengthy wait. Demnig is fully booked until September 2018!

Further information on the Stolperstein project is available here.


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/

 

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Guest Lecturers, Holocaust Survivor, Research Forum, Uncategorized

Holocaust Survivor Micha Gelber shares his story with Cohort VI

Gelberblog.pngThis week in the Research Forum, Holocaust Survivor Micha Gelber shared his story with Cohort VI.

Micha was born in 1935 in the Netherlands. His memories began in 1940 at age five when the Germans invaded. He recalled the Nazi restrictions placed on him and his family, from not being permitted to leave their village, to having the family’s house confiscated and going in and out of hiding. Fortunately, Micha’s father was well-informed through the company he worked for and by local connections and was warned in advance when there would be waves of arrests. In 1943, however, when a Dutch policeman warned them of further arrests, Micha’s father, who had been given information that the family would be receiving Red Cross exchange certificates, decided not to go into hiding. As a result, the family was sent to Westerbork, but did receive confirmation that the Nazis intended to keep them alive to be exchanged for German nationals living in Palestine. That certificate was one of the reasons why the family was able to survive together throughout the rest of the war.

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The Sternlager at Bergen-Belsen

Micha and his family spent five long months in Westerbork until 11 January 1944 when they were sent to Bergen-Belsen. At Bergen-Belsen they were kept in the Sternlager (Star Camp), which was comprised of other Jewish prisoners who were expected to be exchanged. Prisoners of the Sternlager did not have their heads shaved, kept their own clothing, and were not tattooed with a number. This is only because the Nazis benefited from the prisoners’ “wellbeing” for the purposes of the human exchange. At night, men and women were separated, but during the day, the families could spend time together and interact. As lucky as Micha and his family were to survive, they did not escape the traumas of Bergen-Belsen. Micha and his father suffered from typhus and it was impossible to avoid witnessing the inhumanities of such a camp. Micha recalled seeing people collapse and having their clothes stolen from them while they were still alive, as well as seeing dead bodies pile up around them. Micha also told our students how fortunate his family was to survive, stating that only 6 out of 1250 families in the Sternlager survived completely intact. Micha attributes this survival to luck, but also to strength and resistance. On 10 April 1945, just days before the British arrived at Bergen-Belsen, Micha and his family were deported east, either for extermination or to be used for trading with the Russians. While en route to whichever was to be their fate, they were liberated by the Red Army.

 

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Micha today lives in the Netherlands and spends his time giving lectures weekly at schools and universities. He believes that speaking about his experiences is perhaps a way of digesting his trauma. Despite his story, Micha says he has always been active and takes life as it is. He considers himself a survivor and not a victim. This is his character and his spirit.


Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program?  You can find the application and more information at our website

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Guest Lecturers, Holocaust Survivor, Research Forum, Uncategorized

Holocaust Survivor Danny Chanoch Speaks to Cohort VI

Danny ChanochThis week in the Research Forum Holocaust Survivor Danny Chanoch spoke to Cohort VI to share his story of survival through solidarity. Danny was born in 1933 in Lithuania. He was nine years old when the Germans invaded. Danny recalled seeing the atrocities that accompanied the German occupation of Lithuania with his own eyes. Because of his blonde hair and Baltic looks, he was the only member of his family who was able to safely leave their home to buy food. Walking around Kovno as a young boy, Danny saw Jewish people being tortured on the street. At such a young age he had to put up a wall between him and what he saw happening. His duty was to get food for his family, and he was also unable to help.

In August of 1941 Danny and his family had been moved into the Kovno Ghetto. He survived a kinder aktion because his older brother, Uri, despite suffering severe beatings, refused to disclose his whereabouts. This was one of the many instances of solidarity in Danny’s story of survival.

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In 1944 when the Germans began to evacuate the Kovno Ghetto, Danny, Uri and their father were deported to Dachau, and Danny’s sister and mother were sent to Stutthof. This was the last time that Danny saw his sister and mother. A few days later, Danny and 130 other children from the Kovno deportation were then sent to Auschwitz, where they worked dragging roll wagons full of victims’ possessions from the ramp to the storerooms. Danny experienced another case of solidarity at Auschwitz. When working with the wagons, if one of the boys was unwell or felt he was going to collapse, the others would give the struggling boy a better position so that the Nazis could not identify that they were weak, which saved them from their certain death.

The surviving members of the 131 children, including Danny, were then sent to Mauthausen. Another act of solidarity occurred on a death march. Anyone who collapsed or fell during the death march from weakness was shot. The 40 boys left from the 131 had helped and carried each other throughout the march to ensure their survival.

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Eventually, Danny was liberated from Gunskirchen. After liberation, Danny and Uri were reunited in Italy and made their way to Eretz Israel in 1946. Danny, who grew up in a Zionist household, remembers that arriving in Eretz Israel and seeing his Israeli brothers and the Star of David on the flag was one of the greatest moments of his life.

As harrowing as his story is, it is a reminder that even through the worst times there were still moments of support and solidarity. Danny attributes every single survivor to acts of solidarity, stating: “There’s not a single survivor which survived without solidarity and without help.”


Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program?  You can find the application and more information at our website

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Current Events, Current Students, Guest Lecturers, Program News, Research Forum, Uncategorized

Dr. David Hirsh speaks at the University of Haifa about Contemporary Left Antisemitism

hirshToday the Weiss-Livnat International MA Program in Holocaust Studies had the pleasure of hosting Dr. David Hirsh, a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London, who spoke about the subject matter of his new book: Contemporary Left Antisemitism. Hirsh’s book covers a range of issues surrounding contemporary left antisemitism in the United Kingdom, from the Livingstone Formulation (that bringing up antisemitism is more offensive than antisemitism itself to particular progressives), antisemitism and antizionism in the British Labour Party, to assorted boycotts of Israelis, Israel, and supporters of Israel. Hirsh, in his book and in his lecture at the University of Haifa, provides an analysis and critique of the various left-wing antisemitic and antizionist discourses and movements in Britain today.

In his informative and thought-provoking lecture, Hirsh discussed some of the characteristics and manifestations of contemporary left antisemitism. For example, Hirsh noted that left antisemitism is often dressed up and is attempted to be passed off as antizionism – something which is tolerated and deemed relatively acceptable in the mainstream today. It seems that to be left-wing and antisemitic is an oxymoron, given the left’s tradition of anti-racism. However, antisemites of the left, Hirsh argues, often do not even recognize that their rhetoric in fact holds hostility towards Jews. In his lecture, Hirsh also demonstrated many similarities between the tenets of both left and right wing antisemites, such as contempt for democracy, and suspicions of international corporations and trade, which supposedly hide the true power structures of the world.

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Hirsh went on to discuss some of the worrying aspects of antisemitism creeping into the mainstream through both the avenues of the populous left and the populous right. Hirsh recalled Hannah Arendt by noting that we must not forget that Nazism was viewed by many Germans as a radical and exciting movement that people wanted to be a part of. Hirsh explained that today people have a “plastic” understanding of the Nazis and forget that it did not start straight away with characteristics of 1939; it was something that grew and manifested from small kernels of supposed rationality. Today there is the problem that many have forgotten the past and say that the political situation “couldn’t be worse,” which, indeed, it could be if people blindly follow and cease to engage in intellectual discussion and debate.

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Hirsh wrapped up his talk by speaking about the effects of the left’s antisemitism on the Jewish community of the United Kingdom. Hirsh explained that while contemporary left antisemitism is certainly of concern, many British Jews do not face antisemitism in everyday life and are safe on the streets. But, if one is involved in politics (student or other) then they are likely to experience it.

Ending the lecture on a more positive note, Hirsh optimistically stated that the fight in the Labour Party and in the United Kingdom is not finished yet and is not even close to being finished. As long as the discourse remains lively and people can still write and debate, there is hope.


Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program?  You can find the application and more information at our website

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Guest Lecturers, Research Forum

Guest Speaker: Yoram Haimi

Since 2007, Israeli Archaeologist, Yoram Haimi, and Polish Archaeologist, Wojciech Mazurek, have been excavating at the former Reinhard Extermination Camp site, which was created by the SS in Sobibor, occupied Poland. Yoram came to share his research with Cohort V for a Research Forum lecture. All that had been known about Sobibor before the excavation was from about 50 survivors. From their testimonies, historians have made educated guesses on what the camp must have looked like and what happened there. After the uprising in October 1943, the Nazis razed the camp and planted trees to hide their crimes.

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Yoram speaking with Annika, University of Haifa Holocaust Studies student

The excavation has revealed some inaccuracies of what has been thought about Sobibor and also proved historian’s theories. The project has made a completely new map of the camp. Originally the major goal of the project was to find the gas chambers. After 7 years they found the foundations of the gas chambers under asphalt which was laid as a foundation to two Polish memorials that were constructed at Sobibor following the war. In the process they found a lot of other details which made the story of Sobibor more complete, such as the escape tunnel that some of the survivors have mentioned.

Sobibor was built in March 1942, as well as other death camps, Treblinka and Bełżec as a part of Operation Reinhard. From April 1942 to October 1943 about 250,000 Jews were murdered at Sobibor. Just like the other death camps there were three main sections of the camp: reception, administration, and extermination. At any one time only about 100 Jews lived at Sobibor. They were forced to aid in the extermination of their own people. Of these workers, around 50 survivor. Their testimonies constructed what was known of Sobibor, now the excavations complete this information.

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Yoram speaking with Mason, University of Haifa Archeology Student

Most of the victims of Sobibor were Dutch. Throughout the excavations the team has found valuables such as jewelry. Recently they found a pendent that was identical to one of Ann Frank’s. This pendent belonged to Karoline Cohn. She and Ann Frank were born in the same year, 1929. The pendant was found along the Himmelfarhtstrasse (the street to heaven). The Himmelfarhtstrasse was a path with high camouflaged fences on either side, that lead to the gas chambers. Without the excavations the path would not have been found. When the team found the Himmelfarhtstrasse and then they knew it had to lead to the gas chambers.

When the excavation find items that they can tie to specific people they notify living family members. For example, Yoram told us about a family’s story whose questions they could answer about a small child who was murdered at Sobibor. His sister came to Sobibor and finally said the mourner’s Kodish for her brother, she didn’t know where he was during the war but she was certain that he had been murdered. But she couldn’t be sure until Yoram and his team were able to answer her questions.

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Yoram sharing about the different families’ stories he’s been able to provide some answers for.

The excavation includes a team of Polish people from the area, and volunteers. One of our students from Cohort II volunteered and wrote a blog post about it. You can read it here.

For more information, check out the articles below:

http://www.yadvashem.org/research/research-projects/sobibor-excavations

http://news.leiden.edu/news-2015/excavating-the-gas-chambers-at-sobibor.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/nazi-concentration-camp-excavations-anne-frank-links-extermination-sobibor-jewish-israel-yad-vashem-a7529161.html

http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/the-archeological-excavations-that-led-to-the-gas-chambers-of-sobibor-a-993733.html

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