Current Events, Holocaust Education, Program News, Research

Grabowski on Polish complicity: “It’s our duty and our obligation to study it”

grabowski_smallPolish historian Jan Grabowski is concerned about the future of Holocaust research in his native Poland, in the wake of its controversial Holocaust law.

The new bill states that “whoever accuses, publicly and against the facts, the Polish nation, or the Polish state, of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich … shall be subject to a fine or a penalty of imprisonment of up to three years.”

Speaking at the Centre of Organisations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, Grabowski warned: “If you’re a student of history or a journalist, are you really going to want to dig into these issues if you’re going to lose your work, your grant or your possibility of promotion?”

Grabowski, who is currently Professor of History at the University of Ottawa, also teaches a course on the extermination of Polish Jewry to students of the Weiss-Livnat International MA program in Holocaust Studies. While learning about German perpetrators and Jewish victims, students also explore the attitudes of Polish society and the Polish Catholic Church to the persecuted Jews.

The author of Hunt for the Jews: Betrayal and Murder in German-Occupied Poland, Grabowski insists that research on the subject of Polish complicity must go on unabated.

“We can talk about the complicity of segments of Polish society in the extermination of the Jews of Poland,” he confirmed.

“The question is how widely we want to interpret this term, but we are talking about a widespread phenomenon which has not been discussed in depth. And regardless of what current nationalist authorities in Poland want to do, it’s our obligation and duty to study it.

“The assumption that the extermination occurred in outer space, that the Holocaust happened without Polish society becoming aware of this unfortunate event, is simply absolutely false.

“The mass murder of Polish Jews was not abstract. It happened inside the space of the Polish nation, so this is why you cannot pretend that this is only a German-Jewish affair. There are no Polish bystanders in the Holocaust.”

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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Alumni, Holocaust Education

Why Holocaust studies matter

Jordanna Gessler, a graduate of the Weiss-Livnat International MA program in Holocaust Studies and now the Director of Education at Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, tells The Times of Israel why Holocaust studies matter…   

JGessler

In 1927, a boy named Elek was born in Belsko, Poland. He was born to an upper middle-class family, had two younger siblings, dozens of cousins, and enjoyed accompanying his mother, Deborah, to Vienna to see concerts and the opera. He had a very happy childhood. He spoke German at home and Polish in school, and he liked to play catch with his friends. He had a good arm. On the holidays, he went to synagogue and always remembered that his mother made the best gefilte fish. For his bar mitzvah, he received a potato. It was 1940 and the Germans had already invaded, World War II had broken out, and the Holocaust had begun. At that time, he did not know that he would never see his mother again. This was something that he never got over. He never forgot his mother, I would know. He was my grandfather.

As I write this, a photo of my great-grandmother is on my desk at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. It is the only photo my grandfather ever had of her, and this photo and the story behind it has tremendously shaped my personal and professional life.

While completing my undergraduate studies at the University of Vermont in International Relations and Holocaust History, I had the opportunity of studying my passion and interest in the Holocaust in an academic setting.  After my graduation from the University of Vermont, I was hired as an account manager at a technology company, but I slowly realized that I was not truly satisfied with a simple office job and yearned for more satisfaction out of my work. Following countless hours of contemplation and self-reflection, I discovered that I would benefit both personally and academically from going back to school and pursuing a Master’s degree in a field that I was passionate about, which was without question Holocaust studies. With a little help from Google, I discovered the Weiss-Livnat International MA Holocaust Studies program at the University of Haifa in Haifa, Israel. I was immediately drawn to their assortment of classes, ranging from History of the Final Solution to Psychological Perspectives of the
Holocaust. My cohort was made up of 29 students who not only covered a wide age range, but also came from numerous countries, which added a blended diversity in ideas, thoughts, and practices.  I thoroughly appreciated the different opinions and analysis that came from students from across the globe with the same drive and interest that I shared.

Despite the difficulties in uprooting and moving to another country and culture, I truly enjoyed my unique experience studying the Holocaust in Israel and all the opportunities that were afforded to be by the University of Haifa program and exemplar location. Through the program, I interned in the Righteous Among the Nations department at Yad Vashem where I analyzed, collected, and organize data and evidence in order to initiate potential righteous candidacy files. This research highlights the few but remarkable benevolent moments that took place during the Holocaust; at such a horrific and abhorrent time in human history, people were somehow able to muster the courage and exhibit true heroism. This reminder is never lost on me. In addition to my internship, I had the opportunity to volunteer with Amcha, an Israeli organization for Holocaust Survivors and would meet with a charming lady named Yehudit once a week. She spoke four languages without formal education and had an ardent passion for books. Despite her being legally blind, she continued her fervor for literature through audio books. Yehudit also happened to have survived Theresienstadt and Auschwitz, yet her past hardships did not seem to have had any negative effect on her humor and generosity.

One of the most moving experiences I encountered as a University of Haifa student occurred while I was working on my final paper for the course, Qualitative Research Techniques for Historians. We were instructed to interview someone as part of our final, and I chose to interview a Survivor named Esther, whose life story I knew had never been officially documented. I was extremely nervous in the days leading up to my interview, terrified that I would somehow upset Esther or cause her pain. I ended up spending hours with Esther talking about everything from her Holocaust experience to my future plans. We both opened up and engaged in an incredibly deep, intimate conversation. She gave me advice that I will always carry with me, and we shared a bond during those hours that will never be replicated. My time with Esther personified the importance of documentation and interaction with Holocaust Survivors.

My tremendous experience at the University of Haifa not only provided me with sentimental satisfaction and intellectual growth, but has furthermore affirmed my desire to work in the Holocaust field. Continuing dissection of the actions and subsequent consequences of the Holocaust is imperative to both maintain remembrance of the past and continue future education.

In my current role as Director of Education at Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, I oversee the Education and Archival Departments, ensuring that every program and all our galleries include the full historical narrative in an engaging way while staying true to our mission of commemoration and education.  As the Director of Education, I design customized education materials and programs for students in sixth grade through college. I work with teachers to create transformative tours that support their work in the classroom. In addition, I instruct and supervise Interns and Fellows engaged in artifact-based research and curriculum development. Along with managing the Education and Archival Departments, I work with other departments within the Museum to accomplish various program goals, including the Grant Department to write and submit specialized education grants as well as the Executive team. I also represent and speak on behalf of the Museum at commemoration and education events throughout Southern California. The Museum’s mission to commemorate, educate, and inspire, reflects the founding Survivors’ desire to remember those who perished, honor those who survived, and provide free Holocaust education to the public. As the Director of Education, I ensure that this important history engages and resonates with students from different background, experiences, families, and communities.

At Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, I oversee a program called “Share Our Stories,” which connects students from under-resourced schools with Holocaust Survivors for conversation, learning, and exploration. We believe that connecting Holocaust Survivors with young people facing their own extraordinary and unique circumstances can inspire and affirm. In addition, the program provides students with an opportunity to discuss the most pressing concerns of their own lives and to find common ground in their personal histories and mutual hope for a better future.

Two years ago, while working on “Share Our Stories,” I received a call from a teacher who noticed that his students were nervous for their visit. They had never been to a Museum before and did not know what to expect on a field trip. Holocaust history can be heavy enough, I would never want students to also be anxious to visit a Museum. I offered to drive to the school in South Central Los Angeles to speak with the students. Standing in front of the classroom, I explained what they would see in a Museum, showed them pictures of the gallery space and artifacts, and introduced them to Holocaust history. I talked about my grandfather and his experience during the Holocaust and how his dignity and devotion to family inspired me. At the end, when I asked if any of the students had questions, one boy raised his hand and asked if my grandfather was ever scared. I realized in that moment that this student was personally connecting to my grandfather. He was understanding himself and the world through this interpersonal dialogue and connection.

Several weeks later, I received a thank you letter from this student in which he wrote: “I appreciated when you shared your story with me about your grandfather. I’m really sorry about your loss. You’re such a strong, brave lady for sharing your grandfather’s story because people don’t really have the courage to talk about their family and what they went though. I really am thankful to have met you and learned this.”

I am the co-chair of a group of grandchildren of Survivors We are a community for grandchildren of Survivors who are helping to shape the future of Holocaust remembrance and education. Our mission is based on memory, education, community, and social action, drawing on our own personal connections as stewards of our grandparents’ legacies.  We are all committed to ensuring that there is a future for Holocaust education and remembrance. It is our responsibility to remember, it is our responsibility to educate, and it is our responsibility to inspire. As a 3G group, we stand for commemorating our past, changing the future, and creating a world of mutual respect.

My grandfather passed away in 2008, and I may not be able to detail his exact experience, and he did give oral testimony that I could use.  But I am a person who knew him. I remember him. I remember what he taught me.  This I can share with other people. There is something personal in this form of engagement and learning, and I truly believe that the generations born from Survivors can and will steward this history.

My experience as a student at the University of Haifa provided me with the tools to ensure the continuation of Holocaust remembrance and education. Through my work, I bridge the differences between diverse groups of people and bring them together by teaching them how hate, discrimination, and prejudices led to the worst part of human history. The Holocaust was a Jewish tragedy, as well as a tragedy for all of humanity. What we do matters, and education helps us to close the gaps that divide us.

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Alumni, Holocaust Education, Holocaust Internship, Research, Uncategorized

Alumni Feature

תמונת-ראש-נעהNoa Gidron

Cohort I

Thesis: Jews saving Jews – Individual Initiatives during the Holocaust, 1939-1945

Experience: Volunteer at the Ghetto Fighters’ House Archive since October 2014.

Conferences

  • Gidron, N. “Jewish Physicians rescuing Jews during the Holocaust, 1939-1945” at the 17th Nahariya Conference on Medicine and the Holocaust

 

profile Madene ShacharMadene Shachar

Cohort II

Research interests: Holocaust education, Holocaust remembrance, Holocaust and the Museum Space

 

Conferences

  • Sadan, M. & Shachar, M. (January, 2017) Educational Programs Based on Child Survivor Video Testimonies in Yad Layeled Children’s Holocaust Museum. Presentation at conference on “Localization of Videotaped Testimonies of Victims of National Socialism in Educational Programs, Vienna, Austria.
  • Shachar, M. (July, 2016). Holocaust Education in the Museum Space: An Israeli Perspective. Presentation at a conference on “A Primary or Secondary Concern? Holocaust Education in Schools in the 21stCentury: Current Practices, Potentials and Ways Forward, Loughborough, England.
  • Shachar, M. (June, 2016). Educational Programs Based on Child Survivor Video Testimonies in Yad LaYeled Children’s Holocaust Museum. Presentation at a conference on “Jewish Culture Heritage: Project, Methods, and Inspirations”. Warsaw, Poland.
  • Shachar, M. (June, 2014). Agency in Media: Constructing the Israeli Narrative. Presentation at a conference “Genocide at Prime Time: The Holocaust on TV”, Vienna, Austria.
  • Mayer, G. Shachar, M. (May, 2014). ”Objects In Historical Discourse: the Holocaust and Zionism”. Presentation at a conference on Materials of Jewish Studies, Columbia University, New York, NY.

Publications

Articles

  • Shachar, M. (in press). Educational Programs Based on Child Survivor Video Testimonies in Yad LaYeled Children’s Holocaust Museum. In Claus-Christian W. Szejnmann, Paul Cowan, James Griffiths (Eds.) Holocaust Education in Primary Schools in the 21st Century: Current Practices, Potentials and Ways Forward. United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Shachar, M. & Sadan, M (in press). Educational Programs Based on Child Survivor Video Testimonies. In Localization of Videotaped Testimonies of Victims of National Socialism in Educational Programs (Vol. 4). Vienna: Stiftung „Erinnerung, Verantwortung und Zukunft” (EVZ). This is an on-line publication series: http://www.stiftung-evz.de/eng/funding/critical-examination-of-history/flfv0.html
  • Shachar, M. (in press). Agency in Media: Constructing the Israeli Narrative: The Ghetto Fighters’ House Trilogy Project. In Judith Keilbach (Ed.), Genocide at Prime Time: The Holocaust on TV. Vienna: New Academic Press.
  • Shachar, M. & Ben-Peretz, M. (2012). The Role of Experiential Learning in Holocaust Education (2012). Social and Education History 1(1) p. 5-27.

Educational Material

  • Coming of Age during the Holocaust: Coming of Age Now (2008). Co-writer of six Israel-based biographies. The Coming of Age curriculum is a project of the Museum of Jewish Heritage (New York) in collaboration with Yad LaYeled – The Ghetto Fighters’ Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Heritage Museum in Israel. Available on-line: http://comingofagenow.org/
  • Dreams Within the Walls (2006)– Educational Kit for Elementary and Middle Schools – translation to English and writing of the Introduction, Bibliography and additional pedagogical material for the English version. The Ghetto Fighters’ House.

 

DianaDiana Schuemann

Cohort IV

Research interests: Development of the Final Solution as well as in Holocaust Education, specifically in Israel and Visual Arts and the Holocaust/ Genocides (such as Performative Arts – Dance)

Thesis: Dance as an educational tool for teaching about the Shoah in Israeli high schools

Experience: Intern at Jewish Museum of Budapest


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, Program News, Uncategorized

Meet Cohort VI

www.vegeldaniel.comOlga Kartashova, Russia

What brought you to the University of Haifa?

After completion of an MA in Comparative History and Jewish studies at the Central European University in Budapest, I had in hand a decision to devote myself to the career of a Holocaust scholar and pursue further opportunities in academia. What supported my decision was a serious reputation of this very “young” program worldwide and the recommendations of alumni. And, of course, discovering Israel by living here for a year seemed to be a great adventure.

Interests within the field of Holocaust Studies:

My main interests in the field are the history of the Holocaust in Poland and in the USSR and its aftermath, memorialization, politics of memory, mythology, historiography, and war crimes trials in Eastern Europe. At the moment I am beginning the research on the trials of Nazi crimes in Poland just after the war. I am interested in how Jewish, Polish and Soviet agencies together with Nuremberg Tribunal formed the memory of Holocaust and helped to remember/forget the crimes connected to Nazi death camps in Poland.

What is your favourite aspect of the program?

I am happy to devote this year to my professional development thanks to the program’s rich study offer. I am amazed by the level of the teaching faculty, who are friendly and brilliant educators as well as active and successful international scholars. I enjoy weekly movie screenings and exciting and meaningful meetings with Holocaust survivors. The program administration is always helpful and treats anyone with maximum care and attention to needs. I appreciate my classmates for inspiring conversations during and after classes and support in common difficulties and moments of crisis.

What is your favourite part of living in Israel?

Once in a lifetime experience of life in the Middle East changes the common Europe-centric perspective forever.  I love traveling around discovering the variety of landscapes, architecture, and cultures.  Nature here is completely different from one that I was used to. People and nice and energetic. If it comes to the professional side of living here, I am very excited to have world-class archives, museums, and libraries at arm’s length. Conducting your research by working in Yad Vashem or Ghetto Fighter’s Museum archives is a unique opportunity.

What would you like to do with your degree?

I plan to apply to Ph.D. programs in Germany and USA next year. I am convinced that thanks to the Program’s training I will have a good chance to succeed in academia. My long-term goal is to become a researcher and educator in Holocaust studies.

me(1)Danny Melkonowicki, Israel

What brought you to the University of Haifa?

The unique program of the MA in Holocaust Studies brought me to the University of Haifa.

Interests within the field of Holocaust Studies

My interests within the field are discovering the Holocaust in the USSR and the media and communication aspect of Nazi propaganda.

What is your favorite aspect of the program?

My favorite aspect is that the program is international and interdisciplinary and offers a variety of study fields which are quite comprehensive.

What is your favorite part of living in Israel?

I’m Israeli, so there is no something particular that I like, It’s my homeland…

What would you like to do with your degree?

Personally I would like to deepen my knowledge in order to manifest my grandmother’s testimony into a book. Professionally, I would like to step into the research field of the Holocaust, combining my background with the new tools that I would acquire during the studies in the program.

Andreea Camelia TudorAndreea Camelia Tudor, Romania

What brought you to the University of Haifa?

Everything started with a poem. I was a first year Bachelor’s student studying literature at the University of Bucharest and I came across Paul Celan’s famous Death Fugue. I had read it thousands times before, but did not internalize it until that moment of clarity. My interpretative lenses changed in that moment. I was repeating and combining the phrases and realized how vividly Holocaust imagery plays in my head. All this mental play got me thinking how many gaps are still to be filled in regarding the Romanian Holocaust and planted for the first time the idea that one day I might conduct a research myself.  Years passed by and I found myself driving indirectly towards this direction. I was almost completing my education when I met a graduate of the Holocaust Program at the University of Haifa and I started contemplating applying for it. This year, I submitted my application and here I am.

Interests within the field of Holocaust Studies:

Coming back to Celan’s poem, what struck me all the time while reading the poem was that he chose to dichotomize metaphorically the Germans and the Jews using the figures of two women, each of them representative for the two literatures. The poem ends with these 2 lines: “your golden hair Margarite/ Your golden hair Shulamite.” Goethe’s Margarite and Solomon’s Shulamit. This juxtaposition made me thinking that what I am truly interested in researching within Holocaust studies is the female experience. Many studies have been conducted starting with the 80’s regarding the differences in perception, internalization and trauma management of the two genders, but not much has been said in-depth about the women’s experiences and narratives in the Romanian Holocaust in Transnistria. Therefore, my interests focus on discovering an accurate and more comprehensive gender-inclusive picture of the personal experiences and memory of the Holocaust in Transnistria.

What is your favourite aspect of the program?

What appealed to me at first is the multidisciplinary approach that the program offers. Weaving history with literature, art, language skills and practical knowledge acquired through internships gives the program a comprehensive take on the Holocaust. But additionally to this, the program comes with friendships that are being formed here, inside-histories and a lot of experience that you can use later on not only in this field, but also in life.

What is your favourite part of living in Israel?

Israel is a country of contradictions. It is a place where an amalgam of cultures meet and give birth to a mosaic of lifestyles, traditions and mentalities. Despite the differences, these cultures found a way of co-existing peacefully and sharing this amazing landscape that Israel has. Haifa is the perfect example of cultures which intermingle and provide a delicious offer of food, music, customs, languages and history. Choosing my favorite part in living in Israel is a difficult task because I cannot decide between the yallah that you hear all the time, rega and shnia which are indicative of Israel’s different conception of time, the wonderful people on the street that will smile at you and the best falafel in the world.  And let us not forget about the landscape. Because the University is on the Carmel Mountain with a spectacular view over the sea, every day is a day in Paradise.

What would you like to do with your degree?

I am planning on writing a thesis at the end of the program and embrace every opportunity that might crop up. The final aim would be to expand my research and get enrolled into a PhD program and I am sure that the knowledge that I am going to acquire here will serve me well into pursuing an academic career.


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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Faculty, Holocaust Education, Program News, Research, Uncategorized

Faculty Feature: Professor Stefan Ihrig

Ihrig2016Professor Stefan Ihrig received his BA degree in Law and Politics at the Queen Mary University in London, his MA degree in History, Turcology and Political Science at the Free University of Berlin and his PhD in History at the University of Cambridge. Professor Ihrig spent four years as a project assistant and researcher at the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research and has also spent four years as a Polonsky Fellow at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. He has previously lectured at the Free University of Berlin and the Univesity of Regensburg. In 2016 the Weiss-Livnat International MA Program in Holocaust Studies had the pleasure of welcoming him to the faculty. He is also a professor in the Department of General History at the University of Haifa and at the Haifa Center of German and European Studies.

justifyinggenocideProfessor Ihrig’s recently published book Justifying Genocide: Germany and the Armenians from Bismarck to Hitler focuses on some of the connections between the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust. Justifying Genocide shows that the two are much more connected than previously thought. Professor Ihrig focuses on Germany’s close foreign relations with the Ottoman Empire, as well as responses and reactions to the violence and genocide against the Armenians. Professor Ihrig finds that for many Germans, Armenians represented a racial problem and that Germans had portrayed them as the “Jews of the Orient”. After World War I German nationalists and Nazis had justified the genocide in a German genocide debate lasting almost four years. For the Nazis, the Armenian Genocide showed that it was possible to get away with committing such atrocities.

In his course, German Colonialism, Late Imperialism and Racial Theories: Pre-Histories of the Holocaust? Professor Ihrig examines the “long road to Auschwitz” or the “pre-histories” of the Holocaust doing so from the context of German history, including the abovementioned justification of the Armenian Genocide. The course explores topics such as German nationalism and the creation of the Reich, the development and prevalence of racial theories, cultures of violence before and during World War I, as well as the rise of far-right politics and the Nazis. The course has a special focus on colonial and imperial experiences. It debates whether these can help explain the Holocaust. Professor Ihrig says that he enjoys teaching this course because it makes students think critically about the path to the Holocaust.

We are grateful to have outstanding individuals like Professor Ihrig as part of our program and look forward to seeing how our current students enjoy his course this semester.

To read more about Professor Ihrig’s work, see his articles summarizing his last two books in the Daily Beast and Tablet. To buy his book Justifying Genocide: Germany and the Armenians from Bismarck to Hitler, click 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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Alumni, Current Students, Holocaust Education, Holocaust Internship, Internships

Cohort V Student reflects on her year in the Weiss-Livnat International MA Program in Holocaust Studies

Mallory

Cohort V Student Mallory

It has already been a month since we said goodbye to Cohort V. Our student Mallory reflects on her life changing year, shares her plans for the future, and gives advice for the students of Cohort VI, who we have the pleasure of welcoming to Haifa later this month.

What were some of your highlights from the past year?

Highlights from the past year circled around learning from the wonderful professors who are instrumental in the field of the Holocaust. Every single professor has a unique teaching style and they all have their own niche. I can only wish we had more time with them! Another major highlight was to see classmates grow into colleagues. Meaning, I look forward to the next few years, staying in touch to learn who earned what job position, or doctorate, or where they will be speaking next – or, how I can get an advanced copy of their amazing book or article! I am certain there are some of us who, because of the education we received at Haifa, will contribute greatly to the new generation of Holocaust academics. We have experienced something special and I think that experience will sustain for years to come.

What impact has the Weiss-Livnat International MA Program in Holocaust Studies had on your life?

The impact of this Program will continue to reverberate in my life for years to come but for now, the greatest impact has been the chance to grow as an academic with those interested in this field. The discussions in and out of class were thought provoking and unique. Moreover, the networking and introduction to possibilities that extend beyond the classroom such as internships and fellowships are the start to my academic career, and a strong one at that. It is only through the Program that such a firm foundation could have been built.

What advice do you have for the students of Cohort VI and beyond?

Seek out, and take advantage of, every opportunity beyond the classroom hours. The professors have dedicated office time, are responsive to email, and will help you flourish in your writing and thinking more than you could imagine. Additionally, the internships and fellowships that are granted exclusively to us are incredible – APPLY! More practically, find a study schedule and stick to it, but remember that you’re in a once in a lifetime opportunity both academically – and geographically! Study, but travel, too. That said, don’t forget why you’re here. You wanted to earn a degree – so earn it. Do the homework, contribute to class dialogue, and enjoy your time. (But definitely travel.)

What are your plans for the future?

My only aim is to finish my thesis. I think once I find myself close to completing that goal, more opportunities and ideas will crop up. In the meantime, it’s research, research, and writing!


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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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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