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/

Faculty, Research

A Nation Destroyed: An Existential Approach to the Distinctive Harm of Genocide


Professor Shmuel Lederman

In his recent article in the Journal of Genocide Research, Professor Shmuel Lederman – a professor a the  Weiss Livnat International MA Studies Program in Holocaust Studies at the University of Haifa – examines the distinctive harm of genocide. He makes specific reference to Hannah Arendt’s conceptualization of the harm of genocide, positing that despite its flaws it brings a valuable perspective to the issue.

Lederman opens by citing the views of historians who distinguish the harm of genocide as stemming from the loss to the world of a unique culture. As he notes, culture is difficult to quantify. If one understands culture as referring primarily to high culture, one would have to argue that the genocide of the Jews is ‘worse’ than the genocide of the Roma, who have not made the same level of cultural contribution. On the other hand, Lederman writes, one could approach cultural loss as the destruction of a distinct way of life. This viewpoint is also difficult to defend, since for example the majority of German Jewry killed in the Holocaust were assimilated into German society and did not live in any way that differentiated them from their non-Jewish compatriots.

Portrait Of Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt

Yet another conceptualization of the harm of genocide is the effect that the destruction of the group has upon the survivors, who are left without a group to which to belong. The evident drawback to this position, is that this harm would be avoided by destroying an entire nation and leaving no survivors. Yet other writers point to the harm of genocide as lying in its destruction not just of individuals but of the mass of accumulated knowledge and wisdom within their group memory. This perspective, Lederman comments, comes close to that of Hannah Arendt, on which he wishes to focus.

According to Arendt’s philosophy, every nation shares similar views to those of other nations but also possesses unique perspectives. If any one nation is destroyed, the entire world will have lost a unique perspective without which we as a whole become conceptually poorer. Arendt espouses a view that she sources in ancient Rome, that only when an idea is fully exposed from every facet can it be said to truly exist. Thus lacking one nation’s perspective on an idea effectively means that the idea is not fully revealed. Arendt writes that the more we are exposed to other points of view, the richer we are both as individuals and nations. In this way, Arendt encompasses cultural genocide, which strips a nation of its differentiated perspective without bloodshed, as a crime for removing some of the plurality of viewpoints from this world. Lederman adds that Arendt also valued the richness of individual viewpoints within each nation. Thus, to Arendt, even partial genocide weakens the whole world by reducing the spectrum of viewpoints therein.

Lederman points out that Arendt’s approach is not the same as any of the earlier-stated concepts of genocide as destroying a culture. Instead, she viewed the harm of genocide as stemming from the loss of that nation’s unique point of view, as formed by their unique political, social and historical experiences. From this perspective, assimilated German Jews had a different point of view to those of their non-Jewish German neighbors, despite sharing the same culture, thus defining the act of genocide.

Lederman summarizes that this approach underlies Arendt’s consideration of the Holocaust as worst of all crimes The Nazis specifically wished to wipe out the plurality of viewpoints. Lederman acknowledges that it is a failing in Arendt’s philosophy that in contradistinction to the Holocaust, she viewed other attempts at genocide to constitute a loss to humanity (through the loss of plurality of perspective) but not a crime, since they were not motivated by a desire to remove a plurality of viewpoints.

Lederman concludes that Arendt distinguished between morality, and existential or political values. To Arendt, genocide is a unique crime because of the existential loss it causes to plurality of humanity, not because it brings a moral loss of human lives. Lederman presents this as a flaw in her philosophy, but nonetheless wishes to add her unique categorization to the understanding of the true harm of genocide.

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 Hospitality: Michal Rovner’s Living Landscape at Yad Vashem

img_3204Writing in the journal History and Memory in 2016, art historian Rachel Perry of the University of Haifa’s Holocaust Studies Program considers the impact and implications of Living Landscape, the entrance art installation created by Michal Rovner at Yad Vashem’s new Holocaust History museum. Perry discusses the message and thematic expression of Living Landscape as embodying the message of the new Holocaust History museum, with reference to the concept of hospitality as conveyed by Emmanuel Levinas and Jacques Derrida.

Perry opens with the question: How does one greet the Holocaust, and how should a Holocaust History museum welcome its visitors in to face the history that it presents? Michal Rovner’s huge permanent installation in the entrance foyer of Yad Vashem’s new museum answers this question in a particular way. Rovner covers the entirety of one wall with a projected loop of film gleaned from footage shot before the Holocaust that depicts ordinary European Jewish life in all its variety, without any signs of Nazism, ghettos, death or humiliation. Perry cites Henri Raczymov’s description of ‘pre-history’ for Rovner’s choice of material for visitors about to plunge into the history of the Holocaust.

Perry comments on the radical nature of Rovner’s artwork. Yad Vashem’s other large iconic art pieces follow the trope of the downtrodden, passive ‘ghetto Jews’ set alongside the self-actualized, proud and fulfilled Jews of Israel, for example Nathan Rapoport’s 1948 Memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. In contrast, Rovner’s work shows European Jews as living full, contented lives in the Diaspora as their home, without dejection or passivity.

Living Landscape uses only ‘found footage’ – that is, restored footage that was shot by Jews, in place of film that was created by either the liberators (such as US army cameramen) or perpetrators (Nazi cinematography). Perry emphasizes how Rovner’s intimate use of Jewish-created film celebrates the living, not the dead, welcoming you into their lives. She notes that the welcoming nature of Living Landscape epitomizes the new museum’s approach to Holocaust history, presenting it from point of view of the vanquished. She terms it ‘repersonalization’. The old museum told story of ‘them’, six million anonymous and faceless victims, from a neutral perspective, but the new museum tells the story of the individual. Repersonalization, Perry notes, does not mean that the visitor is absorbed to become them but rather is encouraged to empathize with them.

Rovner’s work shows the leitmotif of waving and hands stretched out towards the visitor, expressing a theme of welcome and hospitality. It is here that Perry references Levinas’ philosophy of hospitality. Levinas and Derrida expounded on the home as the beginning of all memory and the locus of hospitality, and the subjects of Rovner’s work welcome you in and greet you from this place where memory begins, before you step into their memories. Levinas conceptualized of greeting another as the foundation of ethical interaction. The welcome of hospitality demands recognizing the face of the Other and permitting them to enter one’s home and one’s life. Similarly, the visitor is here welcomed in and made to feel at home at the beginning of this foray into the lives and homes of another.

Waving connotes a relationship, bridging a distance between two people who have a connection. But waving can also express farewell. The ominous mournful score and the visitor’s knowledge of what is to come overshadows the welcome in Living Landscape, even though there is no hint of it in the footage. Perry concludes that this is one of the ways that Rovner’s installation crosses the binary lines usually present in a Holocaust history museum – between outside and inside, between dark and light, between mourning the loss or celebrating the victory of ongoing life – forcing the visitor to reflect on his own responsibility to memory and to ethical behavior today.

Rachel Perry is a Professor of Art History 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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Inciting Hate through Posters, Films, and Exhibitions: German Anti-Jewish Propaganda in the Generalgouvernement, 1939–1945

grabowski_smallJan Grabowski is a professor of history at the University of Ottawa. In the academic year of 2017-18 he will be teaching on online course to the students of Weiss-Livnat International MA program on the Jews of Poland during the Holocaust.

In his 2009 article for the journal Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Professor Jan Grabowski of the University of Ottawa discusses the little-examined issue of the German anti-Jewish propaganda that was distributed in the General Gouvernement (GG) area of Poland during the years of German invasion and occupation, from 1939 to 1945. He notes the resources that were dedicated to this branch of propaganda in particular, with the use of visual media and the involvement of Polish artists and existing Polish anti-semitic material.

The German propaganda effort in GG Poland was considerable, led by a number of German propagandists brought in from Goebbels’ own office in Berlin. In addition, scores of local Polish workers were employed and a great deal of resources poured into the Polish propaganda effort. This was partly because Polish hatred for Germany was already high before the catastrophically destructive German advance into Poland worsened it further. The sole point which united Germans and Poles was their hatred of the Jews and the Bolsheviks. While Germany initially kept their anti-Bolshevik propaganda to a low level, once Russia entered the war the Germans increased to a flood propaganda that linked the Jews and the Bolsheviks as the cause of every Polish woe.

Grabowski points out that the anti-Jewish messages were heavily promoted using visual media, including posters, newsreels, and traveling exhibitions, so as to reach even the 23% of Poles who were still illiterate. Short ‘newsreels’ depicted the Germans as saviors of the Poles, who corralled Jews into ghettos to prevent them from spreading typhus. Hybrid newspaper-cum-cartoons were distributed across rural villages, using large images and short texts that could be understood by the undereducated Polish countryfolk. Huge posters with eye-catching anti-Semitic images were plastered everywhere, and a number of traveling exhibitions used sculptures, images and art to bring German anti-Semitic messages across the GG region of Poland.

Anti-jewish propaganda was not only created by imported German professionals. Notable local Polish artists were employed to create posters that repeated the message that Jews were to blame for world affairs. The traveling exhibitions used original images, sculptures and pictures created by notable top Polish artists to portray Jews as black market profiteers causing food shortages and the menacing puppet-masters inciting America to enter the war and instigating Bolshevik Russia’s aggression.spread German anti-Semitic propaganda. Anti-Jewish poems and rhetoric written by local Polish writers were printed and distributed en masse. The Nazi propagandists often suppressed any indication that the material originated from German sources. In order to encourage the Poles to view Jews as the shared enemy from whom they had been saved by the Germans, they acted to reinforce impressions of pre-war Polish anti-semitism.

While the Germans pulled anti-Western propaganda after just a few months due to its ineffectiveness, anti-Semitic propaganda continued and increased. Even after 1942, when it was toned down elsewhere in Europe in the wake of Western outcry, anti-semitic propaganda was ratcheted up in Poland. With tens of thousands of Polish Jews hiding on the Aryan side of the ghettos, propaganda was a vital tool to prevent Poles from agreeing to help any Jew to survive. Anti-Semitic propaganda continued in Cracow and Warsaw up to the very last days of the war – with anti-Jewish posters distributed in early January 1945, a few days before the Russian army rolled in.

As Grabowski notes, it is difficult to be sure of the impact of German anti-Semitic propaganda in Poland, simply because it did build upon existing anti-Jewish feeling. But he builds upon anecdotal evidence from diaries, eye witnesses and other sources to indicate that such largely visual propaganda did have an effect on Polish Jew-hatred which lasted beyond the end of the war, as can be seen from the Kielce pogrom and other acts of violence against returning Jews.

In short, Grabowski concludes, German anti-Jewish propaganda harnessed existing anti-Semitic sentiments using multiple visual channels in order to override Polish hatred of Germany. They modified their previous successful propaganda with Polish input and the work of notable local Polish artists to better appeal to the local, and largely rural, population. While the impact of this propaganda is difficult to assess, it is concluded to have been significant.

Faculty, Research

Holocaust Discourse as a Screen-Memory: The Serbian Case

IMG_3450Professor Lea David, a Professor of the Weiss-Livnat International MA Program in Holocaust Studies at the University of Haifa, writing in the journal History and Politics in the Western Balkans: Changes at the Turn of the Millennium, addresses an aspect of Holocaust memory discourse in Serbia. Through examination of agendas within Serbian Holocaust discourse, she argues that Holocaust memorialization in Serbia is utilized in a way which is far from the human rights’ ideal of preventing future human rights violations. On the contrary, David concludes that Holocaust discourse is being used as a form of ‘screen-memory’ to conceal the true role that Serbians played in the 1990s Balkan Wars. Instead, the Serbian political elite has hijacked Holocaust imagery and symbolism to present Serbians as righteous victims and justify a new nationalist ideology.

David begins by noting that during Communist rule in the former Yugoslavia, the Holocaust was mostly ignored and neglected by the government. When marked at all, it was in the context of the wider ‘anti-Fascist’ struggle which did not single out the genocide of the Jews. Under the government of Milosevic in the 1990s and early 2000s, Serbian suffering in the Holocaust began to be commemorated within Serbia. The focus of Serbian Holocaust remembrance is the Jasenovac concentration camp, which was operated not by Germans but by the Croatian Ustasa. But Serbian officials continued to show indifference to non-Serbian victims of the Holocaust and did not participate in any international Holocaust memorialization events.

Professor David focuses her study on the sudden adoption of Holocaust discourse in Serbia from 2005, when the UN established International Holocaust Memorial Day and the EU made membership contingent upon Holocaust remembrance. In the same year, the EU’s Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) recognized the Jasenovac Committee of the Synod of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church as an example of excellence in educating about the Holocaust. The Jasenovac Committee was part of the Serbian Orthodox Church, a body that had become increasingly powerful through the 1990s and emerged as a right-wing nationalist force by the new millennium.

From 2005, David notes, all Holocaust discourse in Serbia was directed by the Jasenovac Committee, so as to keep Holocaust education within the bounds of Serbian memory. The Holocaust was the context in which the massacres of Serbs took place, with Jewish and Roma victims remembered as ‘our brothers in suffering’. Enabled by monk Jovan Culibrk, the Jasenovac committee immediately made ties with Yad Vashem, who did not realise what Holocaust memorialization would be made to serve in Serbia. The Serbian political elite then hijacked the images and symbols of the Holocaust in order to equate Serbian victims with Jewish victims, and promote Serbian righteous victimhood as enduring throughout the 1990s wars. In this way, the Holocaust serves as a screen-memory, used to repress another aspect of history which the Serbian political elite does not wish to be seen.

Having established Serbs as victims of the Holocaust, the Serbian government then moved to sideline the roles of Serbian Communist partisan fighters and to rehabilitate quisling Cetnik members and other right-wing figures. As part of their nationalist resurgence, Serbian responsibility in the 1990s wars is deliberately ignored. Holocaust discourse is utilized to close off every arena for public debate about the wars, which are only mentioned to reinforce the image of Serbs as victims.

International human rights’ bodies intended that Holocaust memorialization would go hand in hand with addressing human rights violations of all types. But in Serbia, Holocaust discourse is not promoted as a way of grappling with human rights abuses. Holocaust discourse is used as a tool to improve Serbia’s international image, but domestically it is solely utilized to promote Serbian nationalism. The Holocaust is only remembered as a screen-memory, in order to contextualize the suffering of Serbian victims as being on a par with the Jews and to justify a new right-wing mindset to sideline the 1990s wars.

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 and Genocide Memorialization Policies in the Western Balkans and Israel/Palestine

In a recent article the journal Peacebuilding, Professor Lea David, for the Weiss-Livnat International MA Program in Holocaust Studies at the University of Haifa, discusses the consequences of human rights-based Holocaust and genocide memorialization policies on conflict and post-conflict situations. She examines the effects of such policies on specifically Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovnia after the 1990s Balkans conflict, and on Israel/Palestine.

David acknowledges the importance of memorialization after a conflict, but notes that memory can transition from a sense of ‘duty to mourn’ for those lost to an externally-imposed and internationally-supported ‘proper way to remember’. Human rights’ policies have elevated the importance of memorialization in strengthening human rights values after a conflict. In fact, she argues, enshrining memorialization in a ‘proper way to remember’ can reinforce ethnic boundaries and nationalism as it causes competitive victimhood over who is the ultimate victim and thus perpetuates the very conflict that it intended to soothe.

David references the recent demand for ‘transitional justice’. In lieu of punishment, countries that have committed mass human rights violations are required to face their past by expressing broader accountability and responsibility as well as accepting criminal prosecutions and reparations. Since the 1980s, she notes, there has been a rise in the belief that ”by compelling the act of honouring the memory of those who died, the ‘duty to remember’ would be an insurance policy against the repetition of such crimes.” This viewpoint became enshrined as part of international human rights policy by the UN.

David cites the establishment of International Holocaust Memorial Day, which enforces memorialization of the Holocaust in Western formats even for countries far beyond the original genocide. Mandatory Western-style Holocaust education in EU member states further reinforces the Holocaust as the ultimate genocide and Jews as the ultimate victim group. While this was intended to prevent a recurrence, the unintended consequence has been to create a jostling for position as victims among other peoples. David conjectures that the Holocaust has been unintentionally established as the paradigm through which other genocides are perceived; thus, even Palestinians have accepted Holocaust education to some extent. By memorializing the Holocaust, Palestinians, Serbians, Croatians and others assume a platform of morality that allows them to push their own claims for victim status, and for similar reparations and memorialization of their own genocides.

In the Balkan states in particular, the unintended consequences of enforced memorialization have been high and are still evolving. The Srebrenica massacre was recognised as genocide by the EU and the 11th of July was established as an official European Day of Remembrance. For Bosniaks, this was an important conferral of victim status upon their people, bringing with it permanent claim to moral rectitude and evasion from guilt for future or past actions. But to Serbians, the recognition of Srebrenica as genocide rubs salt into the wound of the deliberate sidelining of the massacre of Serbians by the Croatian Ustasa in the Jasenovac concentration camp in World War Two. Thus the attempt at reducing human rights abuses by enforcing memorialization of the Srebrenica genocide only fuels local ethnic conflict by exacerbating the Serbian struggle for victim status.

Based on her examination of events in the Balkans and in Israel/Palestine, David concludes that the transition from an internally-motivated, natural ‘duty to remember’ to an external and out-of-context mandatory ‘proper way of remembrance’ is not just ineffective in preventing a repeat of genocide. It is instead actively harmful to the restoration of peace in the conflict region. Obligatory memorialization brings justice for some, but also renders them sanctified victims and ignores other victim groups. This instigates competing hierarchies of suffering laid out across ethnic lines, thus reinforcing the very tensions that first provoked the conflict. While we should acknowledge human suffering, David writes, we must also be aware of the unintended consequences of mandatory memorialization.

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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The Third Generation’s Encounter With Their Survivor Grandparent’s Holocaust Memories

studyTogether with Adi Duchins, Hadas Wiseman of the University of Haifa examined the impact of learning their grandparents’ experiences of the Holocaust on the third generation. Many Holocaust memoirs have been written in the last number of years, partly out of a sense that time is running out for survivors to share their memories, and partly due to a shift in attitudes to the Holocaust. As survivors increasingly share their stories and the third generation from the Holocaust grows up, the question arises of how these experiences affect the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors.

As Wiseman and Duchins note, the children of Holocaust survivors are heavily impacted by their parents’ silence about their Holocaust lives. They grow up in a double silence, as the parents don’t tell and the children don’t ask. In Wiseman’s words, the children of survivors often have a strange experience of ‘knowing not-knowing’, as they absorb the existence of their parent’s traumatic memories without knowing the details or ever being told.

While the second generation of survivors experience strong echoes of trauma, those echoes are weaker by the third generation. Wiseman and Duchins refer to clinical studies which have produced mixed opinions about the impact of Holocaust trauma on the third generation, and empirical studies showing that it has had no physical or emotional effects on. For this study, Duchins and Wiseman interviewed five young Israeli adults whose grandparent had published Holocaust memoirs, to discover how they relate meaning and impact to their own family’s Holocaust story. Through narrative analysis, they examined how these adults respond to their grandparents experiences and the ways in which those experiences shaped their own lives and those of their family.

Of the adults interviewed, four expressed some measure of distance from their grandparent’s story. Two of them had not read all of their grandparent’s book of memoirs. Duchins and Wiseman note that these individuals wanted to keep their relationship with their grandparent separate to their grandparent’s Holocaust experience. One wished that the memoirs had not been published publicly but kept as a private family matter, which the authors take to indicate that she has not fully processed the impact of her grandparent’s experiences. In some way, these interviewees feel that their grandparent’s survivor identity takes them away from being Grandma or Grandpa. Most of the interviewees relate to their grandparent’s Holocaust experiences through the prism of their parent’s response. All of them refer to how difficult it was for their parent to be the child of a Holocaust survivor.

On the other hand, two of the young adults interviewed expressed that reading their grandparent’s memoirs brought them closer to them. It formed a connection between the generations and strengthened their relationship. One noted that his grandfather could express in writing memories that he could not verbalize in speech. Wiseman and Duchins comment that the third generation felt a responsibility to bear witness and pass on their knowledge of their grandparent’s experiences, although not all to the same degree.

In summary, the authors comment that all five grandchildren of Holocaust survivors feel a sense of ‘partial relevance’ to their grandparent’s experiences, and at times a ‘paradoxical relevance’. That is, each one felt that their grandparent’s memories relate to their own lives and identity in some way, but none of them felt that it defined them. As some of the interviewees note, the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors are able to communicate with their grandparents in a way that was never open to their parents. In contrast to second generation Holocaust survivors who feel locked in to bear their parents’ burden, Duchins and Wiseman conclude that the third generation feels a freedom to choose how to relate to their family’s Holocaust narrative. They can choose to examine the responsibility to pass on their grandparent’s story, to reshape it and to accept or refuse it in a way that their parents could not.

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