Faculty, Research

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


Internships Available for Students of the Weiss-Livnat International MA in Holocaust Studies

The Weiss-Livnat International MA in Holocaust Studies program is proud to announce another call for applications for our prestigious international internships. The program will allocate six internships to our students who have not yet graduated.

  • Two students will be selected to intern at the Wiener Library for the Study of Holocaust and Genocide in London. (www.wienerlibrary.co.uk)

  • Two students will be be selected to intern at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. (www.polin.pl/en)

  • Two students will be selected to intern at the Jewish Museum in Budapest. (www.enmilev.weebly.com)

Each unpaid internship will be four to six weeks long, and the Weiss-Livnat program will provide costs of flights and rent for the duration of the internship (up to $1,500).

The candidates will be selected by a committee of staff from the Weiss-Livnat MA Program together with each institution

This offer is exclusive to the students of the Weiss-Livnat Program. The selected students will start their internships in the autumn-winter 2017-18. The exact dates will be decided upon by the students and each museum.

Those interested in applying please send these documents to Dr. Eila Perkis (eperkis@univ.haifa.ac.il)

  • Updated CV with details of the languages you speak, write and read in.

  • One letter of recommendation.

  • One page essay explaining why you would like to intern at the specific institution (it is recommended to apply to more than one position to improve your chances of being accepted.)

If selected, students will conduct a Skype interview with the museum(s).

Deadline for submissions is June 30, 2017.

To read about the experiences of our students during their internships or about the internships themselves, read the articles tagged below.





Yom Hashoah

On Holocaust Denial at the Yom Hashoah Ceremony: Israeli President Ruvi Rivlin

GFHMeredith Scott, one of our students attended the Yom Hashoah ceremony at The Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum. The following blog is from her experience. Meredith, Cohort V, is an intern at the Ghetto Fighters’ House, she’s working with art made in the Theresienstadt ghetto.

The President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, spoke of a new type of Holocaust Denial whichIMG 3535 allows perpetrating governments to bring victimhood on themselves rather than accept their part in implementing the Holocaust. When these nations push the responsibility back on Germany, and Germany alone, they themselves resist the Holocaust, effectually denying the Holocaust.

Rivlin said, “We must wage a war against the current and dangerous wave of Holocaust denial. We must resist the renunciation of national responsibility in the name of alleged victimhood.” Furthermore Rivlin spoke of what he foresees as the alarming outcomes of this denial, “…the denial of the Holocaust, which is growing before our very eyes, strives towards a more sophisticated goal, and is much more dangerous. This is not a denial of the very existence of the Holocaust, but a denial of the distinction between a victim and a criminal.” Rivlin made the plea for “…moral internal reflection from all those who assisted carrying out of the systematic annihilation.”

IMG 3541The former President of Germany (as of last month), Joachim Gauck, also spoke at the ceremony. This is the first time a German official has spoken at a Yom Hashoah ceremony. Gauk spoke of the silence after the Holocaust and how that silence has broken in the last 50 years. He said, “It was a painful process but it created a new Germany.” Still in this new Germany, a guilt remains. Gauck said that Auschwitz stained him, and it will stain his children and their children, so all future generations of Germany will not forget. Gauk recalled, “I was unable to like my country. I hated it even.” Holocaust remembrance is central in Germany today, and it has an important place there, which, in a way, forges a bond between Israel and Germany.

The Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum and the Weiss Livnat International MA in Holocaust Studies have a long standing relationship. Over the years our students have had the priveledge to have internships with the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum. Our students also have access to their excellent library and archives, and they host an annual seminar for our students.

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Faculty, Research

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

Faculty, Research

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

Tsafrir_GoldbergProfessor 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


Was Soviet Jewish Identity Strengthened by Russian Anti-Semitism During the Second World War?

ZeltserProfessor Arkadi Zelster teaches the “Holocaust in the former USSR”- here’s a link to the syllabus. 

In a recent article in the academic journal “Eastern European Jewish Affairs”, Professor Arkadi Zeltser of the University of Haifa examines suspicion of Jews by non-Jewish Soviets during the latter phase of the Second World War, in the years 1941-45. In this time period, many non-Jews asked the question “Where are the Jews at the Front?”, with particular unintended consequences for Soviet Jewish identity.

As Professor Zeltser summarizes, there were a variety of reasons for a rise in anti-semitic expression from 1941. The rapid German advance was a shock to the Russians, who had been promised a swift victory. A desire to encourage dedication to the war effort led to a newly positive promotion of love for the ‘homeland’. Lack of reliable information brought instability which was fanned into panic by the scarcity of food and influx of Jews evacuated from the areas of the front lines. In a natural human response, ordinary Russians looked for someone to blame, and found traditional scapegoats in the Jews.

Alongside this, a breakdown in the Stalinist control of propaganda brought a rise in Slavic glorification. Russian peoples were seen as warlike and brave, while other ethnicities were presented as inferior and ‘merchantlike’. In this climate, old Russian ethnic anti-semitic tendencies resurfaced, bringing with them traditional views of the Jews as cowardly, unreliable and unpatriotic. As Professor Zeltser notes, these tropes were old, but to Soviet Jews they seemed like a new and inexplicable wave of persecution.

The most commonly repeated accusation against the Jews was that they were cowards, evading having to fight while the brave Russians risked their lives. Jews were portrayed as being unpatriotic and incapable of feeling true love for the ‘homeland’. The question that Professor Zeltser refers to in his title was asked again and again both on the front and in the rear, “Where are the Jews on the front line?”

Professor Zeltser writes that Jewish soldiers fighting on the front lines did not report many incidences of anti-semitism. He gives various reasons why anti-semitism may not have impinged strongly upon Jewish soldiers, but emphasizes that Jewish soldiers were nonetheless hurt by accusations of cowardice and lack of patriotism. To a greater extent, Jewish soldiers were pained by reports from non-combatant relatives of experiencing anti-semitic speech and acts, as they viewed themselves as protecting their family and friends by serving in the army.

As Professor Zeltser outlines, Jewish Soviets in the years 1941-45 largely saw themselves as fellow Soviets, on an equal footing with all the rest of their brother communists. They believed that in the USSR, all people were equal regardless of ethnicity or religious origin, and were particularly upset by the resurgence of anti-semitism which excluded them from the Soviet common weal. Soviet authorities mostly did little to crack down on anti-semitism during this time, largely out of simple uncertainty as to how to proceed, but their inaction was taken as a further slap in the face by Jewish Soviets.

Professor Zeltser notes that the instability of war, lack of reliable information and fear of defeat combined with the general rise of Russification and Slavic glorification to revive old anti-semitic tropes of Jewish cowardice and lack of patriotism. In response, Jews felt that it was a Russian mindset which despised them while the Soviet worldview still represented equality of all peoples. Perhaps ironically, as Professor Zeltser concludes, the return of Russian anti-semitism in Soviet clothing stirred the hitherto neglected sense of Jewish feeling among Jews who were proud Soviets. It may well have been a factor in reinforcing Soviet Jewish identity within both Jewish civilians and Jewish officers and soldiers in the Red Army.

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

Faculty, Research

On Failed Intersubjectivity: Recollections of Loneliness Experiences in Offspring of Holocaust Survivors

Hadas_Wiseman_2_2Dr. Hadas Wiseman teaches “Psychological Aspects of the Memory of the Holocaust” for the Weiss-Livnat International MA in Holocaust Studies, as an elective course. Here’s a link for the syllabus to this course. 

In a 2008 article for the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, Hadas Wiseman of the University of Haifa examines accounts of loneliness from children of Holocaust survivors and considers them in light of the psychiatric theory of failed intersubjectivity.

While feelings of loneliness are part of the universal human experience, persistent and severe loneliness is not. In her study, Wiseman focuses on childhood and adolescent loneliness in the children of Holocaust survivors. She notes that loneliness was one of the types of trauma experienced by Holocaust survivors, but adds that loneliness trauma in their children does not seem to have been caused by a transmission of traumatic memories. Rather, she writes, it was provoked by the interpersonal relationship and parent-child dynamic between Holocaust survivors and their children, which was itself shaped by the echoes of the loneliness trauma of the survivor parents.

Wiseman cites previous studies which clarified various ways that parental behavior can provoke severe loneliness in children, such as quality of attachment, parenting style, warmth of connection and promotion of healthy peer relationships. She posits that these were the causes of loneliness in the children of Holocaust survivors, too, as the parents’ traumatic experiences of loneliness during the Holocaust impacted on their parenting approach.

Wiseman interviewed 52 children of Holocaust survivors, using narrative analysis to examine their recollections of loneliness experiences. She found that the children of holocaust survivors shared experiences from childhood or adolescence which fell into one or more of four categories of loneliness.

Two types of loneliness were considered to be directly related to manifestations of echoes of the parent’s traumatic Holocaust experiences: Echoes of parental intrusive traumatic memories impact on a child’s sense of loneliness when the child feels they are carrying the burden of their parent’s memories. In addition, echoes of parental numbing and detachment cause the child to feel lonely because their parents, overwhelmed by the trauma they had experienced, detach from an emotional connection with their child, leaving the child uncertain of how to form strong emotional connections in the future.

A further two categories of loneliness were caused by indirect manifestation of echoes of the parent’s trauma. One of these is the parent’s caregiving style, which causes the child to feel a sense of loneliness and abandonment, with no one to care for them physically and/or emotionally. The caregiving style of Holocaust survivor parents could crush a child’s desires due to the parent’s overwhelming anxiety, leave a child to manage alone prematurely, result in a role reversal for the child and parent, or see the parent incapable of showing concern for the child’s emotions or feelings. Finally, the child’s social comparison between their own family and that of others around them provokes a sense of loneliness as they realize the emptiness left by the loss of all their parents’ extended family.

Wiseman note that there are many theories to explain the incidence of severe loneliness, and explains that she chooses the proposition by L. A. Wood that “loneliness is the individual experience of failed intersubjectivity”. Failed intersubjectivity involves not being understood by others as well as not understanding others and an overall absence of shared understanding. Wiseman’s study matches this explanation, as the children of Holocaust survivors were unable to understand their parents and were not understood by them. The parent could not communicate with the child due to the magnitude of trauma experienced, and the child could not communicate with the detached parent.

Wiseman concludes on a positive note, commenting that later in life, when the parent is able to communicate their traumatic experiences, the relationship between parent and child is somewhat healed and the child’s loneliness may be somewhat eased by their new ability to understand and be understood by their parent.

Hadas Wiseman, PhD, is a professor of psychology 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