Research Forum, Seminars

Attacks on Holocaust survivors and pogroms in post-war Poland – a lecture by Dr. Edyta Gawron of Jagiellonian University

Dr. Edyta Gawron from Jagiellonian University in Krakow is visiting the Weiss-Livnat International MA in Holocaust Studies this week, offering one-on-one time with students who are particularly interested in her research, as well as giving two lectures to our students. She is an assistant professor at the Department of Jewish Studies, as well as the Head of the new Centre for the Study of the History and Culture of Krakow Jews.


Dr. Edyta Gawron


In her first lecture, she discussed Jewish survivors in Poland and Jewish life in Poland after the Holocaust. Before the war, there were 3.5 million Jews in Poland who made up about 10% of the population; only 10% of the Jewish population survived the Holocaust. Approximately 250,000 Jews returned and stayed in Poland, after the war, while roughly 100,000 survivors found homes elsewhere. The majority (50-60%) of Polish Jews survived by fleeing to the USSR, which was by no means a safe haven, however it offered more security for Polish Jews during Nazi occupation. An additional 10% of Polish Jews survived German Nazi camps. 10-18% survived among Poles, meaning they could pass as Aryan, however they needed access to forged identification papers and they needed to remain anonymous: Jewish leaders or any other recognizable or renown Jew could not have survived among Poles. Another minority survived as partisans living in makeshift villages in the forests of Poland, such as the Bielski Otriad. After the war a minority of survivors fled Europe entirely to Asia, South America, Australia, Palestine, and more.

When Jewish survivors returned to Poland, they returned to a culture of survivors: six million Poles died in WWII, meaning that, on average, every Polish family lost as least one family member in the war, while among Jewish survivors on average only one family member survived the war. These survivors of war-torn Poland made for a hostile community for those returning to Poland.

There were challenges in identifying Jewish survivors returning to Poland. Among the surviving community, there was an extreme fear of registering with any Jewish organization because these registries were used by Nazis to round up Jews prior to the Holocaust. Furthermore, many of the survivors were forced to change their names with new identification papers, and giving up what had been their lifeline was difficult and sometimes impossible.

Within the Jewish survivor community there were further challenges of dissonance: those who survived camps felt their suffering was greater than those who had hid or those who were forced laborers in Gulags, and visa versa. Many Jews who were in the USSR had no knowledge of the gas chambers, and those who survived in Poland had no clear idea of the torture of the Gulags. These comparisons and lack of knowledge led to challenges in the organization of Jewish welfare groups and the revival of religious life after the war.


Dr. Edyta Gawron speaking about “adult orphans.”

Yet, these organizations were desperately needed. All survivors, children and adults, had no one left; there were boarding houses full of children as well as adults, a phenomenon known as “adult orphans.” The Jewish organizations in Poland were needed to provide shelter, as well as food and government representation, all of which were sorely lacking.  These organizations also started the important work of starting the initial database of survivors and those who had perished.

These organizations also provided documentation for post war trials, which were held locally, nationally and internationally depending on the crimes and sometimes perpetrators were tried three times. These trials attempted to offer a sense of justice, which introduced the thought of normality through closure. The perpetrator’s punishment for these trials varied but the most common was exile from the community. Factors of normality included age, whether family members had survived, and the establishment of Jewish religious life. Still, the road to normality was long, and upon return to Poland most Jews still found anti-Semitism prevalent among their communities, and pogroms continued even after the war. (Dr. Gawron spoke more on this in her second lecture, which you can read here.)

After WWII, some 250,000 Jews returned and remained in Poland, and after several mass waves of immigration, only approximately 8,000 Jews remain in Poland today. Despite the numbers, the Jewish community is active within Poland, with many synagogues specifically in Krakow, Warsaw or Lodz hosting Jewish visitors every week, making the community seem larger than it is.

The Jewish Holocaust wasn’t at the forefront of discussion in Poland until after the collapse of communism in 1989, and as a result, Holocaust education was decades behind other perpetrating countries. Scholars, like Dr. Edyta Gawron and her research, continue to better Holocaust education in Poland. We were happy to host her and glean from her knowledge.


In order from left to right: Anat Bratman-Elhalel (Director of Archives at the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum), Lindsay Shapiro (Cohort IV), and Dr. Edyta Gawron.

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

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

Research Forum, Seminars

Dr. Dan Michman | Holocaust or Shoah?

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 second topic: “Shoah, Holocaust and More: The Emergence and Distribution of Terms Designating the Holocaust.”

Dr. Michman says, “there is an importance to names, because a name is a definition.” Some names are invented like “computer.” This name had to be designated with the invention of the computer. Other times, an old word is used to describe a new phenomenon, but the semantics are different. This is the case with the Nazi and collaborator persecution of the Jews within the period of time that includes the murder of six million Jews during World War II.


The first term Dr. Michman discussed is Shoah (Show-AH). This is a Hebrew word for destruction or ruin, see in Isaiah 10:3, and Psalms 35:8. The more common translation is destruction. Ben-Zion Dinaburg’s used the term in a speech, “Fate and Destiny in our Generation,” June 1945. Other documents use the term Shoah as early as 1933. Michman says, “The term became so loaded it became sanctified.” Now the only proper use of the word Shoah is in relation to the specific murder of about six million Jews by Nazis and their collaborators. It used to be that one could use the term Shoah for an economic depression, in modern Hebrew they now use other words.

Some survivors use the term “catastrophe.” When Phillip Friedman was liberated his first order of business was documenting the Jewish Catastrophe. One of his students, Hilburg, uses the term Jewish Catastrophe in a letter from 1955. The popular name in modern Russian is something close to Catastropha. While the common modern French reference is, “Shoah.”

Another popular name was “Hours/Days/Years of Wrath.” In the Warsaw cemetery a memorial stone says: “In commemoration of martyrs, to those murdered by the Nazis in the Years of Wrath, 1939-1945.” This also gives a time period of the Years of Wrath, as 1939-1945. In September of 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland, some say this is this the start of the Years of Wrath. Others would argue that they Years of Wrath started in 1933 when the Nazis came to power. Very Orthodox circles still use this term, “The Years of Wrath,” which has religious significance in the Torah.


Other terms include: Cataclysm, Extinction, The German Extermination of the Jews, Untergang (German: Downfall), Hurban (Chour-bahn | Hebrew: Destruction, Talmudic term).

Finally, we arrive at the term Holocaust. The origin of the word Holocaust is Greek. In Greek, Holokauston means an entirely burnt sacrifice, which is used in the Greek translation of the Bible. Before the Holocaust, the word was used for a wide variety of significant disasters. In the 1950’s Yad Vashem started using the term, but the use of “Holocaust” was not singular, still the word was used to describe other atrocities such as the America’s Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee, WI, which is about slavery in America. The term was popularized as the term we use today, in singular reference to the Holocaust, by the 1978 TV series called “Holocaust.” Since then it has been cemented as the only term to describe the Holocaust in English. The term has been broadening in recent years to include other people groups killed by the Nazis: Roma, the Mentally Handicapped, Poles, and more other groups, in total approximately 12 million people murdered.

In 1948, the UN used the word, Genocide to describe the event. For several decades afterward genocide was used exclusively in relation to the specific persecution of the Jews. Unfortunately, genocide now applies to many other global events. Despite human effort to say “Never Again,” genocide continues.

Holocaust Survivor, Research Forum

The Hidden Children

Hidden children, like Tswi, were told to be quiet. They were given new names, a new family, a new religion, and a completely different and new identity. The were told not to remember their old lives. Their new identity was their lifeline. Even after the Holocaust caretakers and professionals told them not to talk about it. There was no possibility to express oneself. The adult survivors, those of concentration camps, were easily recognizable, but the hidden children had suffered different traumas.


Dr. Kobi Kabalek introduces speaker Tswi Herschel.

Tswi outlined the different traumas common among child survivors. They had to part from their parents, losing security, shelter and identity. When they were taken in by a new family, they were in the constant fear of losing them. Many children were taken from family to family, one of Tswi’s friends had twelve different homes during the war. Every time they were moved to a new home, they got new names, new families and new religions (different Christian sects, so they had to learn new prayers). Tswi said, “You don’t know to whom you belong, your foster family didn’t know either how you had to be.” He had no role model, later in his presentation, Tswi told us that he found his father’s diaries and in them he found a role model. These children were also subject to the same terrors as any wartime civilian, running from cellar to cellar to escape bombings.

After the war, 8,000 Jewish children were without homes and without parents. If family members survived they could take the children from the foster homes they had known for years. Then the children would have to learn their true identities, some in the case of Twsi never knew their real name. (Twsi was an infant during the war.) They were introduced to Judaism again. But it was not always easy for surviving family members to get custody of their children. A mother, who had survived Auschwitz, came back to Holland to claim her two daughters, but the state deemed her unworthy to care for her children. They stayed with their non-Jewish family, and this was often the case; the government made it difficult for the children to leave their non-Jewish homes. In many cases too, the Dutch government kept inheritance from child survivors for many different reasons. Unfortunately, in order to get the inheritance money was needed to pay for lawyers, money that they just didn’t have.

In Tswi’s case, his grandmother had survived and was able to care for him after the war, but their relationship was strained. She always introduced him as, “this is the son of my son,” not grandson. Tswi said this was common among child survivors, that a depersonalization would happen. Tswi’s grandmother didn’t actually tell him his real name, she said he was called Hermann. When Tswi found his father’s diaries he also found out his name, he was nine years old at the time.

Tswi’s grandmother emphasized another common trauma for the child survivors, the unimportance of the past. Fortunately, Tswi was able to stay with just one family during the war. After the war without a moment to say goodbye, Tswi’s grandmother came to get him. He was not allowed to see them again. She said, it’s not important, you have a new life now. He was expected to forget his past but this is impossible. The general attitude in Europe was that the war was over and they wanted to wash their hands of it. But they couldn’t because it wasn’t over. Many child survivors could never stabilize themselves, they led lives that led them into addictions and unhealthy relationships, so even in adulthood family was taken from them.

When Tswi went back to school, he was going back to school with children of the collaborators. They said to him “They forgot to gas you, dirty Jew.” But Tswi didn’t even know that he was Jewish, he had to come home and ask his grandmother about what it meant to be a Jew. She was too traumatized to help him. She didn’t know where to start. Some child survivors even today do not know their Jewish identity. Tswi lived a sort of double life: one at school and in public, and one at home and they never mixed. He had no one to talk to about his public life, and no one to talk to about his Jewish life. When we asked Tswi why his grandmother lied him, he couldn’t answer. He said I had enough on my hands to analyze myself, I couldn’t analyze her also.


Tswi talking questions from Cohort V- and Dr. Yael Granot-Bein

Tswi also talked about the lack of family. All of his family on his mother’s side and father’s side vanished, “my entire family… and they were good Dutch citizens.” In his coming of age Tswi had no one to rely on. No one to celebrate holidays with, no one to ask for a loan, no one to consult on how to be a parent. These are the lasting traumas of a child survivor.

We asked Tswi if he had a community with the other child survivors. He said “in principle we don’t talk about these things.” At a conference for child survivors, another survivor of a concentration camp told him that he wasn’t a survivor. She said Tswi had it easy at home, and that she was truly a survivor. It was very hard to be told even by the community that you belong to, let alone the world, that you were not a survivor.

A normal Holocaust presentation has a life before the war, life during the war, and life after the war. Tswi’s story is very different. It doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending, but that makes it more realistic and more useful. Tswi said,  “The Shoah did not stop in May 1945…”


Tswi talking about his two daughters and grandchildren.

He often goes to high schools  in Germany and tells his story. At the end of his presentation one of the students generally asks him, “do you hate us?” He says, “how on earth can I hate you for something your grandparents did?” As he parted ways with us, he said what he also says to students in Germany: “Learn your history so that you know your future.”

You can read more about Tswi Herschel’s story here:


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