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.


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.


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.


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:

Guest Lecturers, Research Forum, Seminars

Dr. Dan Michman | When did the Holocaust happen?

Dr. Dan Michman, Head of the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem, came to share with Cohort V earlier this month. His seminar included three topics. This blog is about the third topic: “Twelve Years of the Nazi Regime, Eight Decades of Research: The History of Holocaust Research from a Bird’s Eye View, 1933-2015.”

For the final session of Dr. Michman’s seminar, we discussed the periodization of the Holocaust. Here are some various starting dates: 1939 (the beginning of the WWII), 1941 (the beginning of the Final Solution), 1942 (Auschwitz begins mass murdering), 1789 (Jews are emancipated under the French Empire), or 1933 (Hitler becomes Chancellor); and some ending dates: 1945 (End of WWII), or 1948 (Creation of the State of Israel).


1789 is included because some think the only reason Jews were emancipated was to push them toward acculturation. When the Jewish community continued in their culture and tradition, there is said to be a pendulum swing reaction in that the rest of Christian Europe started to heavily persecute Jews as punishment for not assimilating. The definition of periodization can be broad. Should the period of the Holocaust include so much? Any historian can provide documents and arguments for their own definition.

Another issue we discussed is what the term should include. The Shoah was not only the murder of six million Jews, it was also the destruction of their communities, the destruction of Synagogues, Torah Scroll, and books. So what limits can we set as we discuss the Shoah? Do we have to set limits, or can it be all inclusive?

We also discussed the popular view of Auschwitz representing the Holocaust. Dr. Michman says it is not a proper representation of the Holocaust. One-million-one-hundred-thousand Jews were murdered at Auschwitz which is not to be downplayed, but it represents ⅙ of the Holocaust. It does not represent the Jews murdered in Concentration Camps, Death Pits or by hard labor. Auschwitz is a factor that defines the Holocaust, but in of itself it cannot describe the totality of horrors.

The next question we discussed was how do historians define the Holocaust. Dr. Michman suggested two paths of historiography: the Jewish Historiography and Perpetrator Historiography. After the Holocaust survivors began writing about their experiences and collecting stories to make  a history of the Shoah. The center of this study was not Nazism but rather the Jewish experience.


The other path was the study of Nazism. The foremost question in perpetrator historiography research was “What went wrong with Germany?” Their research included very little Jewish testimony, but relied heavily on Nazi documentation. Immediately, the research was used in the Nuremberg Trials. In a sense it was also used as a coping mechanism for Germany. Their research often started in 19th century Germany to understand trends of German culture, that may have lead to the acceptance of Nazism.

The next generation of Holocaust research in Germany lead to the Historikerstreit (Historians Fight/argument). The children of the perpetrators started asking their parents “What did you do?” Which lead to student uprisings in 1968 in both Germany and France. Their research started broadening the scope of bystanders to German, French etc citizens. (Before the term bystander applied to Eisenhower and Churchill.) Historian, Götz Aly, belongs to this younger group of historians.

The definition of the Holocaust is complicated. But each definition adds to the greater understanding of what happened. It is important to take each of these perspectives into consideration when defining the Shoah for yourself.


We want to thank Dr. Dan Michman for his insightful seminar, and we look forward to meeting with him again in the Spring Semester!

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

Guest Lecturers, Seminars

Dr. Dan Michman: Historiography

Dr. Dan Michman, Head of the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem, came to share with Cohort V earlier this month. Dr. Michman is also the authority on Holocaust Historiography. If you’re interested in more on this topic you can read his book: Holocaust Historiography: A Jewish Perspective. His seminar included three topics. I will post three blogs covering the seminar, so stay tuned.

The first topic Dr. Michman discussed was an introduction to Historiography and Holocaust Historiography. Historiography is the analysis of history. He explained the concept with the diagram below:


In other words the historian works with documents or remains from the past, the true event, and the product is a historiography. The product the historian produces does not equal the past, because the historian has added his own agenda and bias to the the documents they have read from the past. The historian may also have a leaning toward economic or political history, so he will exclude all other documents, and focus solely on a few specific documents. This gives only a small window into the past, but the whole picture is missing. The product of the historian will only ever relay a small part of the past.

When a historian sifts through a collection of data and selects documents it is called “colligation.” Dr. Michman compared this to making a necklace, he said some necklaces are made better than other necklaces. Likewise, some historians are better than others. Historians can argue about colligations, some say that Marxism invented Nationalism as a direct reaction. Others say Nationalism was a development of Colonialism.


Historians also argue about the documents they use. Can all of them be trusted? For example, can the German or perpetrator documents be completely trusted? Dr. Michman says no. They can be inflated to make themselves look better. They also use code words like “deportation,” and “immigration” for murder. While they are good resources to give a glimpse of the past they cannot depict the whole. For example, at the Eichmann trials he suggested conclusions about the Nazi regime that historians didn’t come to until the 1990’s but his words could not be trusted. He had lied more than he told the truth. The trials are still a good resource to analyze for a picture of the past but it can’t but utterly trusted.

Dr. Michman introduced the idea of history belonging to two different disciplines: Social Sciences and the Humanities. He said in some ways historians are social scientists in that they make a direct impact on modern people. Learning from history shapes our culture and future actions. But historians also belong to the humanities. We discover history, knowing history means we know humanity. There is a seeking and study of minute documents to arrive to conclusions about the past.

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



Guest Lecturers, Holocaust Education

Collegiate Holocaust Education in Germany

Guest Speaker, Verena Lucia Nägel, spoke to cohort V earlier this month, her lecture was titled, “Teaching About the Holocaust in the Country of the Perpetrators.” In elementary school all German children learn about the Holocaust in several different disciplines. For example, they may learn the Holocaust first in German History, then in Global History (taught in different grades). But Verena said this is not enough. She and a small group of researchers want to practically understand the status of collegiate Holocaust Education in Germany, so they started a statistical analysis.

Their focused question was to “ascertain and describe the current state of University teaching in the history of the Holocaust in the German context.” The sought to do this by statistical analysis of German Universities and how many Holocaust courses they offer. The based their statistical analysis on a Dual-Level Empirical Survey based on a sample of course catalogues from 79 universities in the German Rechter’s Conference. By searching through each of the course catalogues from the past 4 semesters with keywords relating to the Holocaust or National Socialism, they found all of the possible related courses provided by the universities. They also conducted interviews with 13 experts in the field, covering the most important universities in Germany. These 13 exports ranged from tenured professors to first time lecturers.

Their findings led to the conclusion that there is not enough higher Holocaust education in Germany specifically for students planning on becoming history teachers in the public school system. Verena said that the findings of her survey are particularly problematic for students who want to be history teachers, because they will be required to teach history but some of them have never taken a course specifically on the Holocaust. On average, 117 Holocaust courses were offered per semester throughout Germany, or about 1.5 are taught at each university per semester. This information leads to the conclusion that there some universities that do not teach on the Holocaust each semester, and this does not get enough basic background in the Holocaust. In the course of 4 semesters at university, the survey reports that in 16 universities students can take only 1 course on the Holocaust, in 28 universities students are not able to take such courses, in 29 universities students can take at least 2 courses and in five universities students can take Holocaust courses every semester.



The top universities for Holocaust Education are the Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Freie University Berlin, Touro College Berlin, and Humboldt-University Berlin. The survey found that universities with institutes for Holocaust Education generally offer more Holocaust courses. Also, bigger universities often provide a better variety of course and therefore tend to offer more Holocaust Studies.

The 13 interviewees said that their classes on the Holocaust are often full and their students would like more courses to be offered. In all of the courses throughout Germany only 5 courses offer meetings with survivors of the Holocaust.

In academia there has been a shift from Holocaust Studies to Genocide Studies. But this is not happening in Germany. There are only 17 courses throughout Germany in Genocide Studies and 5 of these also discuss the Holocaust.

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

Current Events, Guest Lecturers, Research Forum

Lecture on the Exodus with Prof. Tony Kushner

This week in the Research Forum Professor Tony Kushner, from the Parkes Institute for the Study of Jewish/Non-Jewish Relations and History Department at the University of Southampton, came to speak to our students. Prof. Kushner, author of The Battle of Britishness: Migrant Journeys since 1865, is currently writing two books titled: Journeys from the Abyss: The Holocaust and Co-Presents to the Holocaust. The lecture he presented to the students was about the contested memory of the Exodus 1947.


Prof. Kushner starts the lecture with a photo of a ship from Syria. 

The Exodus left France in 1947 destined for Palestine. When the ship arrived at the Haifa port it was stopped by the British. (According to the Balfour Declaration, Palestine was a British mandate, and therefore had authority in immigration.) All of the people on board, most were survivors of the Holocaust, were ordered to disembark from the ship, they were then transferred to three different ships and sent back to France. Upon arrival they were again turned away. The ships then set sail for Gibraltar, and again were denied. After two months at sea, these Jewish “illegal” immigrants were received in Hamburg, Germany. Finally, after several months of attempting to reach Palestine, the people of the Exodus were brought back and accepted into Palestine.


Exodus, 1947.

As Prof. Kushner studied this event he attempted to understand it through a variety of perspectives. He looks at the Exodus as a result of forced migration from manmade disaster, the Holocaust. He believes these studies are important and relevant to today as he, likewise, studies the situation in Syria. He’s specifically interested in the British and how they use history to justify their actions. During the Exodus crisis a war of propaganda was launched, as the story hit newspapers all over the empire and America.

Ruth Gruber, an American Journalist, wrote that Exodus was “the ship that launched a nation.” Gruber wrote a book on the Exodus which became widely popular in the States and later was produced as a feature film. The book although available in Britain did not make much of an impact on British society. To some extent this reaction was linked to the fall of the British Empire, which was likened to the fall of the Roman Empire, a tumult of chaos and corruption. It was as if media and propaganda took the moral high ground against a decrepit empire, while the British defended their stance.

And thus started the battle over history. The British government still refuses to call the Exodus by that name, because of historical significance, but rather they call it by SS President Warfield, ship’s name during the World Wars. The Exodus has zionist connotations, which the British did not want to confirm. In the newspapers, pictures were printed of the atrocities on board the ship, as Prof. Kushner says, “the facts couldn’t have been better situated for atrocity propaganda.” And the British retorted that the inhumane conditions on the ship were a result of poor Jewish leadership. A section of a poem written on the ship says, the British were using “red Jewish blood to pay for black oil.”

While on the ship, the British conducted a survey, which speaks volumes of their attitude. The survey asked four questions: Where do the Jews come from? Which if any of these Jews were in concentration camps? Did any of them fight in WWII? And are any of them associated with terrorist organizations? The popular response to the Exodus in Britain is trifold. First, not many knew the mass murder of the Jews during WWII as the Holocaust. In other words, the Holocaust is much better known today, and carries moral weight to discussions of the present day, in the 1940’s it did not carry the same weight. Furthermore, Britain was still very anti-Semitic. And lastly, there was a popular question of why Palestine was a responsibility of Britain. Prof. Kushner said “the retreat from Empire was bloody.” For example, the British didn’t have the resources to quell violent disputes in Pakistan and they simply left, a civil war then ensued.

We now know that the Jews from Exodus did eventually make it back to Palestine, soon to be Israel. But the question remains: How can we learn from the Exodus, and apply these lessons to the current geopolitical situation? Our students had good questions and held a scholarly dialogue with Prof. Kushner after his lecture. Thank you, Prof. Kushner for visiting our classroom.


Prof. Kushner with student, Tamar.

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

Guest Lecturers, Holocaust Movies

A Film Unfinished

For the Research Forum this week, our students watched “A Film Unfinished” (directed by Yael Hersonski) and spoke with the director, Itay Ken-Tor afterward. Itay has also produced many of the films at shown at Yad Vashem and is a lecturer at The Open University in Israel, among other job titles.


The footage used in “A Film Unfinished” was shot in the Warsaw Ghetto just months before liquidation of the Ghetto, January 1945. The documentary is constituted of three main parts: raw footage from Winter 1944, survivors watching the footage, and an interview with one of the German cameramen. The survivors said there was less shooting while the Germans were filming. That’s not to say that there was no violence during the filming. Many scenes captured the Jewish Ghetto Police corralling people down the street. The footage from 1944 furthermore emphasized the difference between luxury and extreme poverty within the ghetto.


In the interview with the German cameraman, he said that even he didn’t know the purpose of the film, but simply that he was ordered to film by SS men. (The interview with the cameraman was an actor reading from the script of the interview conducted in 1972, as the cameraman has passed away.) In film recently discovered in archives, there is evidence that the cameramen staged many of the scenes. For example, the documentary showed seven takes of two poverty stricken children looking in a store window full of food, while an upper-class lady walks into the store. She then comes out with a bag of food, and passes the children by without a glance. The Nazi idea was to showcase the worst of humanity, ei the rich living in luxury in the ghetto while the poor are dying.

This propaganda is juxtaposed with a testimony from the survivors. While one of the survivors is watching a segment of the film showing a crowd of well-dressed Jews in a movie theater, he said “Everyone who didn’t laugh, his fate was doomed.” Another survivor said, stores were full of food and other goods but there were very few who had the money to buy anything, and anything they bought was at a very high price.

There is only one reference to this film that has been found in historical documents, this is in Goebbels’s Diaries. He mentioned that they were sending a film crew to the Warsaw Ghetto to document happenings before they liquidated the camp. The film also contained portions of Jewish religious rites like circumcision, ritual bathing and the Kaparot ceremony. All of these are filmed incorrectly, and harshly, to create a grotesque vision of Jewish life. Maybe this film was meant for the Jewish Prague Museum after the war? Historians may never know. What we do know is that through the Nazi lens, this film attempts to take humanity from the Jewish people forced to live in inhumane conditions brought about by the Nazi’s themselves.


In the student’s discussion with the producer after the film he said he didn’t want this to be classified as a Holocaust film. Rather this should be a study on how we perceive images. This film is only taken from one point of view, the Nazi view. Itay said it’s a discussion between reality, documentation and truth. He left the students with the advise to always question what they see.

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

Current Events, Current Students, Genocide Studies, Guest Lecturers, Holocaust Survivor, Program News

Survivor, Shaya Harsit, Visits Cohort V in Research Forum

A few years ago, From Rebirth to the Skies was created to commemorate 138 Holocaust Survivors who became pilots and formed the pillars of the Israeli Air Force. A representative from this organzization, Shaya Harsit, came to share his story with the students of Cohort V.


His story begins in the 18th Century. Shaya’s family was Italian, but moved to Poland in the 1790’s because King Stanisław August Poniatowski allowed Jews to own land. In 1934, Shaya was born in Poland to wealthy, traditional Jewish family. In 1938 Shaya’s father had a foreboding sense about the horrors that would befall Jews in Poland, so he fled to Russia with Shaya’s brothers. A year later, the Germans invaded Poland. On September 29, 1939 the Germans bombed Warsaw. For the first time, at the age of five years, Shaya saw a dead man; many dead men and dead horses crowded the streets of Warsaw. Soon after, his father sent a professional smuggler to rescue the rest of the Harsit family. The smuggler told them to gather what they could, in 24 hours they would leave for Russia. Shaya said he remembers the house being swarmed with tailors and shoemakers to hide valuables in their clothing and shoes. He never saw this as serious but a game, as any five year old would. His brother had studied medicine in Genoa, and in Russia he mobilized in the Russian Army as a Doctor, along with his wife, a nurse.

About a year later, in March, the KGB knocked on their door, very early in the morning.  They told the whole family to take only what they could carry, a cattle car would be leaving shortly to take them to a camp for political prisoners. He never saw his brother and sister again, who stayed in the Russian Army.

There was nothing in the train car but a bucket for a toilet. They were in the train for days, occasionally the soldiers would throw in bread, “really a brick,” and some soup. “Something I never want my friends to experience is lice, hunger and cold.” His mother could not make herself use the bucket as a toilet, so once when the train stopped she ran outside to urinate there, but with more privacy. The train left her, but Shaya’s brother and his friends jumped out of the train car to save her. They picked her up and threw her in the train before they jumped in.


They arrived at the camp and there were small huts with no heat. Two to three families were supposed to live in these huts. At the camp, Shaya went to a kindergarten. At the school they practiced indoctrination, teaching the children that their new father was Stalin and their mother was Russia. The lived at this camp for more than one year. His father employed himself as a “fixer” and his mother worked in the kitchen. She would hide food in her clothing when she came home, and this is how they survived.

On the twenty-second of January, 1941 Operation Barbarossa started, the nazi invasion of Soviet Russia. Two to three days after the invasion the Harsit family woke up to no guards, no guns, and the gates to the camp were open. They walked through wilderness, when they came to railroad tracks they followed them. Different families jumped on different trains. First, they went first to Uzbekistan, then to Kazakhstan. In Kazakhstan they lived in a small town that was a crossroads for many different railways. He was then seven years old, and weighed only ten kilos because he had nothing to eat. He was hungry all the time.

His father decided to take him to an orphanage, what he called a “children’s home” because he felt that he and his wife could not care for him as they should. At the orphanage his father left quickly, so they Shaya would not see him cry. The orphanage was not welcoming, on the first day Shaya decided he would run away. He started to hoard food and rags for his journey home. He left in the night two to three weeks later. He was only seven and half years old. Without any shoes, he traveled the twenty or more kilometers back to his parents. He remembered that there was a river on their left coming to the orphanage so he kept the river on his right on the way back. Then he saw the towers for the crossroads of the railroads, and he knew that they would lead him home. He fell asleep several times, sometimes he had to crawl on his knees, but he kept going through the night. When he arrived at home his mother looked to her husband and said “you never take my son from me again”


His father and brother obtained jobs putting tar on roofs. But the family was still hungry. At the time in Soviet Russia, food spoiled a hundred kilometers from where you were, but you were still hungry. From the roofing job, his father spotted a chicken coop, and took eggs from there periodically. These eggs saved the family’s lives.

One of his father’s friends was the person in charge of distributing food from the United States to the surrounding area. One day she was very upset because she was just told that in a few weeks there would be an inspection of her office. She knew she would fail this inspection because people had been stealing from her. His father had been an accountant before the war, and he worked on the books for her, which saved her life. As a result, she gave him extra food and vodka every week afterward. Shaya said, “This is very important. The vodka was very important.”

In 1943, the Harsit family found out that Shaya’s brother and sister-in-law had died. The nazis bombed the hospital they had been working in. This changed the family forever. After the war, the family made their way back to Poland. The car they took was absolutely filled with vodka. All over there were obstacles but the vodka solved them. He bribed the officials at different checkpoints and over borders.  When they arrived in different towns, people said “Who said all the Jews were burned and gassed? This can’t be true. Here they are.”

When they arrived in Warsaw they decided to immigrate to Palestine. The Joint and Mossad LaAlyiah Bet helped them with these goals. First, they were smuggled to Munich. There they lived in a settlement for SS men and their families. “They we had luxury, even more than luxury, but there were a lot of Naxis,” Shaya said. His father started police organization for the community and ensured his family’s safety. Then one day he said “it’s coming, we are moving to Palestine.” They had heard of a ship for the elderly and children going to Palestine. They thought that the British would not stop them on this ship. Jewish American Soldiers helped them get to the port in the South of France. There they boarded a huge black ship made out of wood, called “Exodus.” The ship came to Haifa, but it was turned around and taken to Cyprus, then back to the shores of France. The French would not accept them either. They went to Gibraltar and finally disembarked in Hamburg. Altogether, they were on the ship for two to three months.

In Hamburg, they were taken to camps. These camps were not concentration camps, they had no gas chambers or crematoriums, but they had dogs, fences, towers, guards. A camp for displaced peoples. Shaya had his Bar Mitzvah in this camp. Then just like the camp in Russia they woke up one morning without guard or dogs. The Jewish British Brigade brought his family, again, to the south of France, and they made their way to Palestine. At first they lived on Mt. Carmel and in tents, among orange orchards; he ate his fill everyday.


After the War of Independence and then they bought a house in Jaffa. For the first time Shaya went to a real school, a Jewish high school. He started school in the seventh grade, and had to compete with sabras, who had been in school all their lives. After school, he volunteered as a paratrooper. Subsequently he was invited to take exams for flight school. He did well in the exams and became an airman. He was in the Israeli Air Force for 24 years, and fought in the wars of ‘56, ‘67, ‘73 and ‘82. He became the Head of Planning and Organization of the Israeli Air Force. Upon retirement he had 4,200 flight hours.

When asked about his parents and how they handled this trauma he replied “They danced, they enjoyed life. But when you looked in their eyes you never saw a smile in their eyes.”


To learn more about From Rebirth to the Skies visit:

Here you can find more stories about the other 137 pilots.

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