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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Holocaust Survivor, Program News

Doron Livnat: “My fearless father”

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Every year, Yitzhak Livnat would proudly welcome the new cohort of students and share his remarkable story of survival. He did so “in a very authentic way”, his son, Doron, tells us. “My father was always very genuine and very honest.” Sadly, Yitzhak passed away in March 2017, and so, Doron now carries the torch in his father’s honour.

Cohort VI joined Doron, together with his wife Marianne, at the Yitzhak Rabin Centre for a tour of the Israeli Museum. After all, Yitzhak Livnat was a devoted Zionist and his story, just like Rabin’s, is deeply entangled with that of the birth and development of the State of Israel. The perfect setting, then, in which to remember a dear friend of the programme.

Thankfully, Yitzhak’s story is well documented. He survived internment at Auschwitz, as well as subsequent death marches to Mauthausen and Gunskirchen, where, finally, liberation arrived in the form of American troops. From there, he began an arduous, improbable journey to Eretz Yisrael, one that took him to Bucharest, the Alps, the Vatican, Cyprus and, at long last, Haifa.

Doron repeatedly described his father as fearless and, certainly, where discrimination is concerned, Yitzhak was unafraid to speak his mind, no matter the setting. Four years ago, he was invited to attend the official reopening of the Mauthausen museum. It was a huge ceremony, Doron recalls, with no fewer than eight European presidents in attendance. As part of proceedings, a time capsule was to be buried. Yitzhak, on behalf of the camp’s former internees, was asked to contribute. His route to the podium would take him directly past the presidents and Yitzhak took the opportunity to share a strong word, or two, with the Hungarian statesman.

“I couldn’t understand what he was saying, of course, but it wasn’t nice, that much I could tell,” Doron explains. “It’s live on TV. The cameraman didn’t know what to do and nor did I. I’m the responsible adult now! Eventually, we climb the podium, he does what he has to and when we reach backstage, I ask: “abba, what was that?”

“I had to give him a lesson”, Yitzhak responds. “He should stop the anti-Semitism going on in Hungary. It’s unacceptable.”

As the ceremony reached its conclusion, each delegation was invited to light a memorial candle. Yitzhak, now in his wheelchair, lead the Israeli representatives.

“Suddenly, I could see the Hungarian president with his entourage walking towards abba,” adds Doron. ‘This could be interesting’, I thought. The Hungarian president stands on his haunches in order to be on the same eye level as my father. This time, my father is not angry. They start to laugh. There is a whole conversation and they almost hug each other. Again, I ask my father, ‘what was that?'”

“He told me that he wants to discuss this more, and he came to introduce himself and to ask to keep the dialogue open.”

“And what did you say?”

“I told him that next Monday I am coming to Budapest and I’m staying in the Kempinski Hotel. I told him, look for me!”

There began an unlikely friendship. In fact, Doron reveals that when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Hungary last summer, the Hungarian president asked if he knew who ‘Itzik’ was and, for some 20 minutes, proceeded to tell him the very same stories that he had heard from Yitzhak. Hungary would soon make an official apology for its treatment of Jews during the Holocaust and Doron is certain that his fearless father’s intervention had more than a little something to do with it.

Doron and Marianne have been devoted friends of our programme since its inauguration and have supported dozens of students in their pursuit of careers in Holocaust research and study. In appreciation of this dedication, the University of Haifa awarded Doron an Honorary Doctorate. We wholeheartedly thank Doron and Marianne for their longstanding commitment to the programme and hope that they share our belief that we honour Yitzhak’s legacy each and every day.


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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Holocaust Movies, Holocaust Survivor, Research Forum, Uncategorized

There and Here

thereandhereIn a recent Research Forum, our students watched 2014 Israeli documentary There and Here, directed by Avida Livny.

There and Here tells the story of three former Israeli Air Force pilots and one former Israeli Air Force navigator. These four men all have something in common. They all survived the Holocaust as children and, since making it to Eretz Israel, tried to forget their European pasts and reinvent themselves as real Sabras. In this documentary, Shaya Harsit, Harry Klausner (Arieh Oz), Itzhak Birnbaum (Itzhak Biran), and Moshe Simigram (Simi Sa’ar) open up about their story of survival, their journeys to Israel, their desire to fit into the new nation and the challenges that accompanied doing so.

The film also shows their families and reveals a contrast between how they see themselves and how their families see them. While Shaya, Arieh, Itzhak, and Simi see themselves as having moved on and disassociated themselves from their histories as child Holocaust survivors, their families speak of difficulties and their realisation that something was different.

There and Here is a film which provides a fascinating insight to the experiences of survivors in Israel and reminds us of the struggles and triumphs of survivors after 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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Faculty, Genocide Studies, Holocaust Survivor, Research, Uncategorized

Faculty Feature: Dr. Carol Kidron

s200_carol.kidronDr. Carol Kidron is a senior lecturer in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Haifa. She teaches Anthropology of Memory, Trauma and Commemoration in the Weiss-Livnat International MA Program in Holocaust Studies.

At the start of her career, Dr. Kidron researched the collective memory and transmitted trauma of second and third generation Holocaust survivors. She then began to compare it with other groups who suffered genocide to assess whether or not the way Jews approach the memory and commemoration of the Holocaust is universal. Dr. Kidron closely examines the case of Cambodia. She found that there is a very different view among descendants of survivors of the Cambodian Genocide and descendants of Holocaust survivors. Overall, Dr. Kidron found that many Cambodians are disinterested in the genocide. Dr. Kidron attributes this in part to Buddhism’s role in their lives. Contrary to Judaism, Buddhism is not so concerned with the past and stresses the importance of the present and the future. Under the Buddhist perspective, one should accept their karma and move forward. Furthermore, through the Buddhist perspective, the suffering of the genocide is not different to other instances of suffering and therefore does not hold an overly special place in the collective memory of Cambodians.

Despite this perspective, there are still many memorial sites around the country. However, Dr. Kidron argues, these are not primarily set up as places of memory for Cambodians themselves, but rather for the international-Western community (including tourists) who are expecting to see a discourse which perpetuates the message of “never again”.

In her multi-disciplinary course Anthropology of Memory, Trauma and Commemoration, Dr. Kidron teaches about the role of the commemoration of traumatic pasts in the person-private and public-collective works of culture. The course explores themes relating to the anthropology of memory, traumatic memory and commemoration and examines the following concepts: representation, history, genocidal trauma, personal and collective memory, testimony and witnessing, and survivorhood. Dr. Kidron says that teaching the course is fascinating for her and that she enjoys the multicultural classroom. For Dr. Kidron, because of the diversity of our students, it is interesting to hear students’ views and critiques.

We are fortunate to have Dr. Kidron as part of our faculty and to contribute to the success of the program’s multi-disciplinary nature. We are looking forward to seeing how our students enjoy her course this coming spring.

To read Dr. Kidron’s article about Jewish-Israeli Holocaust and Canadian-Cambodian genocide legacies click here and to read her article about the presence of the past in the everyday life of Holocaust survivors and their descendants 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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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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Holocaust Survivor, Research Forum

Holocaust Survivor: Zev Kedem Shares with Cohort V

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Zev Kedem and Hana Green

Earlier this year, Hana Green, a student in Cohort V, met Holocaust survivor Zev Kedem. She and Dr. Yael Granot-Bein invited him to shared in a Research Forum. We were very fortunate to hear his story. Here’s what he shared:

The Germans invaded Poland in 1939, Zev was only 5 years old. He and his sister were on holiday, which was cut short, his mother made them leave early. Zev remembers being so upset, he said, “Little did I know that this darkness of the Holocaust would pursue me for six years.” They took the train back which stopped short of home, he and his family had to walk through Krakow in the middle of the night, to their grandparent’s home.

Zev shared about another time they traveled together; they were walking when they came upon a German checkpoint in the road, many cars were lined up to go through the checkpoint. Zev’s mother was very beautiful and charismatic, she went right up the a German soldier’s truck and convinced them to give her and Zev a ride into Krakow. Alone, they would likely suffer at the checkpoint. As they got into the car, Zev’s mother looked down at him and said, “See, the impossible is possible.” He remembered this the rest of his life, and made it a sort of mantra.

In 1941, all Jews in the area were forced into the Krakow ghetto, before this Zev’s family was living outside Krakow in poor conditions. Zev and his family were hoping to live with his grandparents in the Krakow ghetto, but they already had three other families living in their apartment. Zev and his family moved into the apartment next door in order to be close, Zev said they were proud to had a whole, small, room to themselves, and even a bed. Food was scarce, life was hard and then the deportations started.

The deportations forced a division in the ghetto, those with a work permit lived in one section of the ghetto, those without lived in another section. Zev’s mother had a work permit, and she was the only one in the family with one. Hunger forced Zev to smuggle food. Children were less suspicious, so he snuck out of the ghetto with his head down and shoulders up. A habit, he admits, he still keeps today. While he was out two German soldiers called him out and started asking questions, but two pretty Polish girls came and talked to the soldiers, giving Zev an escape. He went to the farms he had stayed at, along with his family, and they gave him some food, not much but as much as they could afford. When he returned his mother was frantic but they had food.

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The square in the Krakow ghetto where deportations took place. The chairs were installed as a memorial to those that were killed here. (Photo was taken during Cohort V’s study tour to Poland) 

In March 1943, the Krakow Ghetto was liquidated; as Zev stood in the crowded square, a man was shot and fell next to him. His mother came and grabbed him from the crowd, she hid Zev, his sister, and his grandparents in his uncle’s pigeon coop. She told them to stay there, she closed the coop, locked the doors leading to the coop and went back to work. They could still hear the deportation for two or three more hours, then silence.

A truck came through and announced to anyone in hiding that if they didn’t come out they would be shot on sight. Then they heard shooting gradually coming toward them. Zev heard a Nazi making his way up to them. He stood at a metal door which his mother had locked, so as to look like no one could be behind the door. Zev’s grandparents had vials of poison but Zev realized they only had two, so he and his sister would have to endure what the Nazis had in store. Zev said, “You can’t realize how a child of seven or eight has to internalize the direct fear of death.” But the German didn’t come through the locked door, his mother had hid them well.

An announcement was made among the workers of the ghetto for volunteers to go through the quarter and salvage valuables. Zev’s mother, of course, volunteered. She came and saved them, Zev’s grandparents could pass as laborers but she knew she needed to hide the children. She negotiated with her wedding ring to hide them in a wagon which was used to bring the valuables back to a warehouse.

But he didn’t make it to the warehouse. He was pulled from the wagon and told to go to an unfinished barrack alone, it was dark and he heard someone moaning in pain next to him. He didn’t know this was part of the plan. Then his mother came in with a doctor, he said to Zev, “if you want to stay alive you will have to be silent and invisible.” Zev attached himself to a group of older boys; they became his camouflage. He followed them wherever they went.

He ended up working with them in a brush factory. He sat in the back row on top of a box to make himself look taller, and older. He was only eight years old, the age limit was thirteen, any younger than thirteen, and the children couldn’t work so they were killed. Zev shared his perspective while at the factory, he said “I realized I had no right what so ever to be alive in the concentration camp. Many of the inmates had lost their children, so they resented me.” In order to prove his worth, he made more brushes than anyone in the factory. He sat next to a man who had been a teacher, all of his students had been killed, he said to Zev, “If you survive, you won’t be a human being unless you learn to read and write.” Somehow he got Zev a Jules Vern novel, and taught Zev how to read.

One day in the factory, a man was shot by a German guard. The guard said the man was working slowly, the thought was that it would terrorize everyone to make them work harder. Then the small boy in the back, Zev, caught the eye of this German. Luckily, Zev spoke German, he told the guard admittedly that he was smaller, but this meant that he ate less, and he proved his productiveness with his hard work. The guard was conflicted but left Zev alone. Zev explained that he never gave himself the luxury of feeling like he was suffering, rather he told himself he was playing a game, and winning the game meant survival.

Dr. Gross, the doctor that Zev had met before, was on Oscar Schindler’s list, Zev and Dr. Gross became very close, he was something of an adoptive father to Zev. Dr. Gross pulled strings to get Zev, Zev’s sister and Zev’s mother on Schindler’s list as well. Zev recalled that they travelled all over the Third Reich to different factories with other people on the list. During one of the their travels the women’s train, where Zev’s mother was, was sent to Auschwitz but Schinder negotiated for their return before they were killed, he sent a train to pick them up. The train conductor took five boys with him to Auschwitz on this train meant to save the women. Zev was abducted onto this train.

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Crematoriums at Birkenau. (Photo taken during Cohort V’s study tour to Poland) 

Zev arrived to Auschwitz in October 1944, he remembers the gates were closed so they were ordered to walk around the entire perimeter of the camp to the crematoriums in the back. They were ordered to strip naked, Zev knew about the gas chambers and he was sure he would be killed. But they were taken to a table, and a man started tattooing a number on Zev’s arm; Zev cried, not because it hurt, which it did, but because he was so happy, a number meant registration to the camp, which meant a chance for survival.

He and the four other boys were taken to the children’s barrack. Zev explained that they were on reserve for Dr. Mengele’s experiments. He remembers a young handsome looking German coming into the barrack and offering sweets, Zev hid under a mud covered blanket, he didn’t trust this man. The children that left with, who he assumed to be, Mengele, never came back.

When the Russians were closing in on Auschwitz, Zev was convinced that those who couldn’t march would be killed: the sick and the elderly (and the young), so he volunteered to leave. Eventually he made it to Mauthausen Concentration Camp, he worked in one of the fifty sub-camps but towards the end of the war he returned to Mauthausen. In Mauthausen there were two fields of labor: the death industry, and the quarry. Zev knew he wouldn’t be strong enough for the quarry so he worked as a Sonderkommando.

One day, he recalls, he came out of the hospital (where he worked clearing dead bodies) and the gates to the camp were open. Soldiers were standing at the main entrance to the camp, and he was convinced they would kill him because he was still under thirteen years old, so he ran. He discovered that the kitchen of the SS was completely empty so he ate as much potato salad as he could, which wasn’t very much. He remembers, “To this day, I have never had a better meal.”

As he left, he came upon more soldiers, one of them threw him a chocolate bar, but he still didn’t trust them, because of Mengele and his sweets. He took a closer look at the soldiers and realized one of them was black, so he knew these soldiers weren’t German, and that he could trust them.

He left Mauthausen and sought refuge in nearby villages, but he says “I got shot at more during this time than ever before.” Austrians were afraid of the inmates because they were scared of them for two reasons: the truth they held and of their illnesses.

After the war, the American troops organized for Zev to be sent to the UK. There he grew up with an adoptive family, and received an Oxford education. After forty years, Zev met his mother again in communist Poland, on her deathbed. It was hard to get a visa to Poland, but he managed it. One of the after effects of the Holocaust was divided families, and this was very much Zev’s case as well.

Today Zev lives in Haifa, Israel. He lives a very active life sharing his education and experience with University students. We were pleased to host him and hear his heart-wrenching story.


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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