Faculty, Holocaust Education, Research

Between Trauma and Perpetration: Psychoanalytical and Social Psychological Perspectives on Difficult Histories in the Israeli Context

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Professor Tsafrir Goldberg, PhD, teaches From Silence to Omnipresence: Holocaust in the Curriculum and Beyond.  

In his most recent academic article, Professor Tsafrir Goldberg addresses a ground-breaking question in the realm of Holocaust education, asking whether the Holocaust should still be understood to be an episode of ‘difficult history’ in Israel today?

Episodes of ‘difficult history’ are those which challenge self-identity and in some way threaten the student’s self-esteem. From a psychoanalytical perspective, historic topics covering collective trauma constitute ‘difficult history’. Experiencing historical testimony can bring a sense of ‘return of suffering’ to the student, which needs to be processed in order to restore the learner’s sense of self-identity as part of the victimized group.

In contrast, a social psychological approach indicates that topics of ‘difficult history’ are those in which the student’s ‘in-group’ is perceived to be the perpetrator. From this point of view, a historical episode of perpetration becomes ‘difficult’ because it brings a sense of guilt at having victimized others, which is a threat to self-identity of the group and the individual as part of that group.

Today, Professor Goldberg writes, collective trauma could be seen as an asset, fostering positive identity and moral self-esteem. This has given rise to ‘competitive victimhood’, which leads groups to ignore or reject the suffering of other groups because they are seen as undermining their own platform of righteous suffering.

Holocaust education has long been the paradigmatic ‘difficult history’, and the path of Holocaust education in Israel has traditionally followed the psychoanalytic perspective of aiding students to process their sense of collective trauma. But Professor Goldberg points out that in recent years, Holocaust education in Israel has burgeoned into the largest and most important topic on the curriculum. In comparison with this, the birth of the Palestinian refugee problem has been evaded and rejected as a topic in the history curriculum. He brings reports from those teachers who do teach it about their students’ opposition to this topic and their rejection of Palestinian narratives of suffering. Alongside this, history teachers report that their students exhibit intolerance of other nations’ genocides.

On the foundation of these observations Professor Goldberg asks the disruptive question: Could a historical issue that arouses enthusiasm, excitement and satisfaction among teachers and learners still be considered a difficult history?

Professor Goldberg goes on to evince that students of the Holocaust do not feel shame, defeat, or hatred even on the most intensive engagement with testimony of trauma. On the contrary, facing testimony of collective trauma in Poland increases a sense of victory and and national pride in Jewish students instead of challenging it. In contrast, accepting learning about in-group perpetration in the birth of the Palestinian refugee problem lowers students’ sense of national glorification and increases their empathy with the suffering of others, which indicates “The unsettling effect of difficult knowledge which challenges learners’ identity or social identification.” 

He suggests that given students’ reactions to learning about the Holocaust, educators should consider a social psychological approach. Engaging with difficult history of collective trauma in a psychoanalytical fashion can successfully process that trauma and is a way of coping with a ‘difficult return’. But it could also move to a ‘strategic practice’ of enhancing a sense of moral victimhood instead of increasing learners’ ability to feel for others’ suffering.

Professor Tsafrir Goldberg, PhD, is a member of the Dept. of Learning, Instruction and Teacher Education at the University of Haifa.


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 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.

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Ludwig-Maximilians-University

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

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Current Events, Current Students, Holocaust Education

PhD Candidate Presents in Austria

Lukas Meissel, a PhD candidate within the Strochlitz Institute for Holocaust Research at the University of Haifa, was recently invited to present his current research at the “International Conference Photographs from the camps of the Nazi Regime” in Graz, Austria. The conference was hosted by the Karl-Franzens-Universität.

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Lukas’ speech is titled, “Perpetrator Photography: Motives of the Erkennungsdienst at the Mauthausen Concentration Camp.” This was also the topic of his MA thesis. After his presentation he was able to get good feedback from veteran researchers in the field. It was also a great opportunity to speak with other presenters after their talks. Lukas’ PhD dissertation is also in the field of photography in the Holocaust, so attending a conference dedicated to this specific topic was significant.

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The approach that Lukas takes in studying photographs is unique, but hopefully his research will change how historians look at photographs. Lukas said, often times historians use photos to bolster arguments that are founded in documentation. The manner that Lukas looks at photos is almost completely opposite. He’s basing arguments off of the photographs as they hold their own historical significance, and using documentation in tandem to create a discussion that will lead to new perspectives in Holocaust Research.

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Lukas’ presentation focused on specific photos from Mauthausen Concentration camp, just outside of Linz, Austria. The group of photos that Lukas concentrated on were photos taken by the perpetrators. The photos taken inside the camps are rare, as it was forbidden in the camp, only SS-men of the Erkennungsdienst (Identification Department) were allowed to take pictures, but some still exist, these were smuggled out of the camp by some Spanish prisoners. All the photos are now in Vienna, in the Mauthausen archive.

More information on the conference and Lukas’ biography can be found here.

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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/

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Current Events, Current Students, Holocaust Education, Special Projects

Dr. Rachel Perry’s Class Works with the Ghez Collection

This week Dr. Rachel Perry’s class explored the Ghez Collection. The Hecht Museum has a permanent exhibition of a small portion of the Ghez Collection, but the rest of the paintings, drawings and sculptures are in storage.

Oscar Ghez was a prolific art collector, specifically after World War II. During the war, Oscar Ghez and his family fled to New York in 1940, but returned to Paris in 1945. During his time in Paris Oscar Ghez slowly procured what is now the Ghez Collection in the Hecht Museum at the University of Haifa. Each of the paintings are from an artist who was either killed in the Holocaust or narrowly survived it. The bulk of the collection is from Nathalie Kraemer and drawings by George Kars. There are 130 pieces total, from 18 different artists. In March 2017,  Dr. Rachel Perry’s class will curate and exhibit in the Hecht Museum at the University of Haifa. Part of their work will include creating an exhibition catalogue, graphics for the exhibition, and research on the Ghez Collection itself.

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One of our students doing research in the Hecht Museum archives.

The Ghez Collection was donated the the University of Haifa to honor the artists you were murdered and tortured in the Holocaust. This collection is often referred to as a labor of love. Oscar Ghez’s other collections are shown in the Petit Palais in Geneva. Though, the pieces in the Ghez collection may not be masterpieces from Monet or Seurat, but they are invaluably significant because of their story and provenance. These pieces represent lives and beauty cut short. These artists influenced different movements including the School of Paris and Impressionism. Some of these artists were only in the beginning of their career, what their full impact would have been can never be known. We partner with Ghez in celebrating these brilliant artists and their work whose lives were destroyed.

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Dr. Rachel Perry enjoying the Ghez Collection.

Each of the students in the class is researching at least one artist, for the catalogue which will be published as a part of the exhibition. The students have also been asked to take on specific projects for the exhibition. For example, one of our students is a graphic designer, she will create a poster displaying the origins of the artists before they came to Paris, and where they went after Paris. Most of the artists were killed in Auschwitz, but some, not many, survived by fleeing to New York and other places.

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Dr. Rachel Perry and students, Annika and Jason, in the storage facility.

Our students are working directly with the University Museum Director and Curator. This is invaluable work experience, specifically for our students concentrating on Museum Studies within our program. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of our program, our students are able to have museum work experience, conveniently on campus. We’re looking forward to see the exhibit in March!

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, Current Students, Guest Lecturers, Holocaust Education, Holocaust Survivor, Seminars

German Israeli Relations Seminar: What is on the Hearts and Minds of Germans and Israelis Today?

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On 6 November, 2016 the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Strochlitz Institute for Holocaust Studies at the University of Haifa, and the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum jointly hosted a seminar entitled “Israeli-German Relations: What is in the Minds and Hearts of Israelis and Germans Today?” for the third consecutive year. The three presenters, Dr. Werner Puschra, Director of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Israel, Dr. Michael Borchard, Head of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Office in Israel, and Anita Haviv-Horiner, many time author and director of Israel Encounter Programs (IEP) presented on different perspectives of German Israeli Relations.

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To open the discussion on German-Israeli Relations each speaker shared for 20 minutes on their topic, then the floor was opened for questions. Dr. Borchard presented first. His presentation discussed a survey taken in Israel to understand Israeli/Palestinian attitudes toward Germany. Overall, the survey found a positive perspective of Germany, and German Foreign Policy. A factor of Israel’s popular approval is founded in German military aid to Israel, such as the Dolphin Class Submarine and other such contributions. Israeli positive views also reflect their view on Germany’s reaction to the refugee crisis. 56% of the responses indicated that they approve Germany’s efforts to accept refugees. Dr. Borchard closed his speech by suggesting that, according to his survey, Germany may be the only state capable of brokering peace. The survey offered five options, USA, API, Germany, UN or EU, as possible brokers of peace, the only entity that both Israelis and Palestinians agreed on was Germany.

The second presenter, Dr. Moshe Zimmerman spoke on the German view of Israel. Dr. Zimmerman shared how the German government has endeavored, and succeeded, to change German culture through education, foreign policy and domestic policy. In the post war era, Germany tried to repress the horrors of the Holocaust, but soon after realized the need to address the atrocities. As a result, Holocaust studies has been indoctrinated in German public education curriculum, as well as public museums and memorials. Surveys from 1980 reveal that Israelis separated their views of modern Germany with its Nazi past. Furthermore, a 2016 survey says that Germany is different from the Germany that Hitler led.

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Author, Anita Haviv, discussed the micro Viennese scene in the 1960’s. It was not conducive to “normal life” for her and her family. She had to leave her family and country to be educated in France, due to anti-Semitism. Most of the teachers in the school she would have attended were ex-Nazi’s. She said that this created borders between herself and her home (Heimat). These are borders that she has worked toward overcoming her entire life, now she says, “for me personally, I have no borders.” Her new book, Heimat?- Vielleicht, discusses these central issues. Haviv presented the argument that the thing that most shapes relations between Germany and Israel are people.

The cultural exchange at the seminar did further German-Israeli Relations. The audience brought perspectives from all over the world, but we came away with a new knowledge of German-Israeli Relations. One of the speakers towards the end of the seminar said, I hope you are leaving with more questions than you had when you came in the door. We did indeed leave with more interest and more questions.

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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/

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Current Students, Holocaust Education, Holocaust Survivor, Yom Hashoah

Yom Hashoah Commemoration: Holocaust Education and Survivor Appreciation

During the Fall semester, a group of Weiss-Livnat students were offered a great opportunity: planning a Yom HaShoah event for the Walworth Barbour American International School’s middle school students. Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, is marked here in Israel with a national 2-minute siren at 10 am, as well as a day of ceremonies and speakers. With the guidance of experienced Holocaust educator, Beth Dotan, and Weiss-Livnat staff members, students met multiple times throughout the Fall and Spring semesters to create a meaningful and educational experience for WBAIS students. Students also met with the WBAIS staff at their campus in Even Yehuda for a brainstorming and coordinating session.  IMG_2704

On the morning of Thursday, May 5, Yom HaShoah, Weiss-Livnat students met at the school. They observed the siren together with the high school students and faculty. Student Esther Selman remarked how this memorial was similar to that of her home country, England. “The siren is similar to what we have in England for Remembrance Sunday at 11am on November 11th, when we stop for a two-minute silence, marked by the chimes of Big Ben. For me the siren was a respectful way to unify everyone in remembrance.” They then proceeded to the auditorium with high school students to hear from Holocaust survivor, Tsewi Herschel. He told his story of being a hidden child in Holland during the war to a full audience. He emotionally remembered his parents, who were both murdered in Auschwitz, and told of his journey post-war from hiding to adulthood, and eventually to Israel. High school students got to ask him about his family, his relationship with Holland today, and how he thought the Holocaust had shaped his life. Herschel ended with an inspiring message for all: hate no one, and try to do good for all.

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Then, WBAIS middle school students split up into small groups of 10-15, and each group met in classrooms to hear from a survivor. They began the session with an hour long discussion workshop led by Weiss-Livnat students on preventing bigotry and being accepting of all, regardless of race, religion, gender or national origin. Weiss-Livnat student, Diana Schuemann reflected on how impressed she was with the students in the class. “They asked really emphatic and reflective questions. They immediately connected the exercise to daily life situations.” After a short break, students got to hear from a Holocaust survivor about their personal experiences of persecution and survival. Then, in the small group atmosphere, students and survivors got to engage in conversation together. It was a unique and important opportunity not just for the WBAIS students, but Weiss-Livnat students as well. “This day showed me again the importance of teaching about the Holocaust and genocides worldwide in order to make the world a better place.” said Schuemann.

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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