Newsletter

Summer Newsletter 2017

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Newsletter: Summer 2017

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Summer is here and it’s time to say goodbye to Cohort V as they leave us and go back to their home countries. We are looking ahead to welcoming Cohort VI this coming October.

We are happy to share with you some of the highlights of the last few months, which include our students’ study tour to Poland and the publication of a new issue of our journal Dapim: Studies on the Holocaust.

We are always on the lookout for excellent and motivated students. Please share our newsletter and help us reach those who are committed to the research and study of the Holocaust.

Dr. Arieh J. Kochavi & Dr. Yael Granot-Bein


Program News

It is with a heavy heart that we said goodbye to the program’s dear friend and partner, Yitzhak Livnat. We will greatly miss Yitzhak, a survivor of Auschwitz and the most generous man, who shared his story with our students every year, since the program inauguration. We are forever thankful for Yitzhak’s and his family’s generosity and support of our students.

Yitzhak Livnat’s Legacy

In March, faculty and students joined the Weiss-Livnat family in mourning the passing of Yitzhak Livnat.

Read More…


Internship with the USHMM

We are proud to announce a partnership with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. One student will be chosen for an internship with this important organization. This also joins other internships with museums in London, Warsaw and Budapest.


New Course with Professor Jan Grabowski

We are proud to announce that Prof. Jan Grabowski will be giving  a course in our program starting this coming academic year. Prof. Grabowski is a Professor of history of the Holocaust at the University of Ottawa and the co-founder of the Polish Centre for Holocaust research at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences (Warsaw). His research interests include the issues surrounding the extermination of the Polish Jews as well as the history of the Jewish-Polish relations during the 1939-1945 period. His latest book, Hunt for the Jews. Betrayal and Murder in German-Occupied Poland was published by Indiana University Press.

Read More…


Poland Study Tour

In June, our students took a study tour to Poland. Our tour included Warsaw, Lublin, and Krakow, as well as the many historical and memorial sites around these cities. We also had the privilege of meeting with students in Poland. We are happy to share some of our experiences with you here, you can also read more on the program’s blog. Read more here. 

Student, Chenda, reading documents from the Auschwitz archives.

 

Behind the Scenes of the Museum and Memorial Auschwitz-Birkenau

We were fortunate to arrange a tour through the conservation lab with a specialist in paper conservation. Our tour guide took us through many different offices in the lab.

Read More…

 

Majdanek

Our students learned about the death camp Majdanek, near Lublin. This photo is of students, Coos and Chenda, standing in the former gas chambers.

Read More…

 


End of the Year

Hana Green

United States | BA in History from the University of Florida

As the school year winds down, I find myself looking back on this experience as perhaps the most profound and impactful of my life. Choosing to attend graduate school across the world and in a discipline so powerful and relevant to the turmoil and instability of our time has been utterly awe-inspiring. I am grateful beyond words for the opportunity to study at this institution and alongside such kind, passionate and helpful peers and professors. This community has fostered a sense of belonging in a place foreign to many, and has allowed for its students to thrive and achieve. What I have found to value most is the diversity surrounding this program, which can be seen in our course listings, our wide range of research interests, and backgrounds. Every student brings something different to the table. Whether it’s a fresh perspective, positive outlook or a controversial debate, this program is enhanced by the diversity it inspires and embraces. Too, valuing diversity honors and pays homage to our field and area of study. It is crucial that we not only memorialize and attempt to understand the past, but that we learn and grow from its consequences. Engaging in a diversity of activities has greatly enriched my experience of studying the Holocaust. Completing an internship at Yad Vashem in the Echoes and Reflections division, participating in seminars at Yad Vashem and The Ghetto Fighter’s House, and traveling to Poland on the study tour have all contributed to the well-rounded experience I have had during my time in the program. These enrichment opportunities were invaluable in their bearing on my overall experience, and moreover, in my education. It is through these extra-curricular experiences as well as the wide-ranging and impressive courses offered through the program that I feel prepared to take the next steps in my studies and future. The Weiss-Livnat MA in Holocaust Studies program has greatly invested in its students, and I am so very grateful for this experience and the impact it has had on not only my academic and career aspirations, but also, on my personal growth and development.


Eugenia Mihalcea

Romania | BA in Journalism from Hyperion University and BA in Jewish Studies from University of Bucharest MA in Hebrew Culture and Civilization from the University of Bucharest

As an MA student at the Weiss-Livnat International MA Program in Holocaust Studies at the University of Haifa I had the opportunity to intern at Yad Vashem. The project I am working with is called Deportations of Jews – a project that started in 2007.  The International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem has been studying the organized deportations of Jews as an extensive phenomenon. The resulting database will reconstruct all the transports that took place during the Holocaust from territories of the Third Reich, from countries under German occupation, from the Axis states and from the satellite states.
I am working on documents in Romanian, identifying all the relevant material about the transports from Romania during the Holocaust. During the internship, I learned how to search for documents, how to read them carefully, how to connect documents. In other words, I learned how to do archival research.
For an MA student who wants to do research in the future this is not only an opportunity, but also a chance to work in the same office with researchers and Professors that you want to follow in your career.
Being an intern at Yad Vashem and an MA student at the Weiss-Livnat International MA Program in Holocaust Studies were my strong points when I applied this year for an EHRI (European Holocaust Research Infrastructure) conference.
Alongside researchers, archivists, historians and professionals in Digital Humanities and Data Protection policies from United States, Israel, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Switzerland, Germany, Poland, Republic of Serbia and England I took part, in June 2016, in the international workshop ”Online Access of Holocaust Documents: Ethical and Practical Challenges” organized by the ”Elie Wiesel” Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania. Enabling online access to Holocaust testimonies and the challenges of multilingualism was the topic that I presented.


Tamar Taylor 

United Kingdom | BS in Critical Care Nursing from Kings College and MS in First Contact Care from Sheffield Hallam University

Being on the Holocaust Studies course has exceeded my expectations in so many ways.
First, the location. To see that beautiful view each time I come to Uni, the Bay of Haifa, and even Mt. Hermon in the distance on a clear day! Spectacular!
As I was slightly apprehensive about studying in such a different discipline, I have really loved the challenge, and have found the multi-disciplinary aspects of the course enjoyable and challenging. To go from pure historical fact, to memorialising and curating, to psychological aspects, and even learning German, has widened my whole perspective of the Holocaust into a multi-dimensional experience.
It has been fantastic to meet people from so many nations and different cultures, and I have loved the interaction between us, and especially getting to know the Israelis on the course.
The special highlights for me have been the Research Forum, hearing testimonies and some of the documentaries. The Yad Vashem and Ghetto Fighters Seminars were amazing. I am also so excited to be doing an internship at Atlit as it is a place that has a lot of meaning for me as a Brit!!
Finally, the trip to Poland was a very special experience, intense, emotional at times, but so worthwhile and has made me want to return one day. For all of the hard work that you Yael and your team have put into making this programme, I would like to say a huge thanks. I know that what I have learned so far will have a lasting effect, and equip and enable me to educate others and keep the memory of the Holocaust alive.


Prof. Hagit Lavsky Reflects

Professor Hagit Lavsky received a Ph.D. in Jewish contemporary history, an M.A. in contemporary Jewry and economic history, and a B.A. in history and philosophy from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. During her fellowship at the USHMM, she was the Samuel L. and Perry Haber Chair in Post-Holocaust Studies at the Institute of Contemporary Jewry, and Director of the Cherrick Center for the Study of Zionism, the Yishuv and the State of Israel at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. 

Read more about Prof. Hagit Lavsky’s Research Here… 

She shares some remarks about this academic year: We are about to conclude the 5th year of our program. Each year brings a different variety of students but it seems that all those who have opted for our program share in common a deep commitment and are highly motivated to study profoundly about this fateful unprecedented chapter in world history. Our program is the place which brings together a whole range of scholarly perspectives in the effort to develop new generations of committed scholars, public leaders, and educators and it never stops from introducing and opening up new directions in expanding and deepening the study of the Holocaust and its impact everywhere around the globe. As the Academic Consultant of the program’s students, I am privileged in accompanying each and every student in the process of adjustment, in overcoming obstacles, in defining their goals, in their growing confidence while paving their road to become mature scholars. The highlight of this year was in my view the Poland tour, which revealed and consolidated the yield of the program, as reflected in our discussions. It brought us together, sharing our experiences and insights. A Poland tour or a Germany tour should become an integral mandatory component in our program, and the goal should be to establish an earmarked grant for that important project.


Dr. Lea David Reflects

Lea David finished her PhD at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Ben Gurion University, Israel. Her work examines how a transition to democracy is changing a content of a collective memory in Serbia and is producing new social categories. She explores how a contested past is managed through the clashes of the local and the global memory cultures. She has also been lecturing on the memory studies, conflict in the Former Yugoslav countries and transitional justice at various Israeli Universities and Colleges. Her postdoctoral research under Dr Carol Kidron supervision (Anthropology Department, Haifa University) at the Strochlitz Institute for Holocaust Research, Haifa University deals with Memory Politics and Human Rights regime in International Relations.

Read more about Dr. Lea David’s Research Here… 

Reflections from Lea David: Politics of Remembrance! In the world in which neoliberal concepts of academia reduce “student-teacher” to “customer-service provider” relations, to be able to have a mind provoking conversation with students about the world we live in is truly rare experience.Dr. Lea David, teachers the course: “Human Rights, Holocaust, Genocide: the Politics of Remembrance”
Here are some of her remarks about this academic year:
I was truly blessed I had a chance to teach this year course on Human Rights, Holocaust, Genocide: The Getting the opportunity to teach this course allowed me to create a platform where students of all life-paths, ages, religious and cultural backgrounds and geographical areas can freely discuss and deliberate why understanding Holocaust matters today. By asking difficult question of intersection of the prevailing ideologies of human rights and nationalism, we raised questions on the trade-offs and dilemmas various mnemonic groups face, the types of commemorative practices they produce and the ways Holocaust memory is being brought to the fore as a platform for articulating national interests. Is the Holocaust a single universally shared memory or the template through which other genocides and historical traumas are perceived, presented or shuttered? Does the Holocaust really have the capacity to serve as a universal memory and to replace other traumatic memories around the globe or does it merely enable a language for their articulation and thus create a wider context that provides a reframing of the past? What moral choices are involved in representing past events as “genocides” as opposed to “ethnic cleansings” or “mass-murders”? What are the real outcomes of the meaning-making processes of human suffering at different societal levels and what are the strengths and the limits of linking various historical injustice across the globe with the Holocaust?
However, the most important issue during the class was to try to solve the riddle: What this famous, yet ambiguous notion of “never forget” really mean for each and every one of us? Is it about a singular Jewish past, our embodiment in the present, or a global outlook for the future? Answering those question is challenging and thought-provoking but it ultimately means understanding why Holocaust matters. If I succeeded in that task, even partially, I rest my case!


Graduation

We have the honor to announce the graduation of 26 students this June. We’re very proud of our students and wish them well as they continue on in their careers.

Following the University’s general ceremony, the graduating students, gathered with the program’s staff headed by Prof. Kochavi, to receive their diplomas.

Lisa Krebs
from England wrote her research thesis under the supervision of Professor Maoz Azariahu and Dr. Shosh Rotem, on the representation of Orthodox Jews in Holocaust museums. She was awarded an excellent grade and graduated Magna Cum Laude

Omri Horesh
from Israel, graduated Magna Cum Laude after completing a final exam in the Psychology of the Holocaust.

Rachel Levitan
from Israel already has an MA in Law and is a practicing lawyer. She is already planning to continue her studies in the field and pursue a PhD degree.

Effi Admoni 
from Israel, focused during his studies in the program on military history of the Second World War and wrote his final exam on the topic.

Daphna Small 
from Israel has a BFA in Film from SUNY Purchase. In our program she focused on the Nazi ideology and the occult.

Jan Kirshenbaum 
from Poland has a BA in Russian Studies with a minor in Jewish Studies from the University of Wroclaw. He plans to continue his research into Jewish Russian perspective of the Holocaust.

Maura Finlay 
from the United States focused in her studies on the anthropology of trauma.

Congratulations to all of our graduates!


New Students

We are very excited to welcome our new students, who will start their studies with us this coming October. We are happy to introduce 3 of them.


Hendrik Schemann

Hendrich is 26 years old, born in Germany. He has a B.A. in history and protestant theology, he will finish his Master of Education in the same subjects this September before he comes to Haifa to study with us. Simultaneously with these studies, he was working at the University of Osnabrueck. Therefore, he had great support from his professors and even greater opportunities to write a significant bachelor’s thesis. He chose to write his thesis about the legal consult of a Jewish organization in Germany in 1933/34. This showed him that there is a lot to research in context of the Holocaust. Currently he is working on his Master’s thesis about a German-Jewish persecuted artist and he is curious about where this will lead. It is his long-term goal to stay in the field of academic research at the university and therefore he plan to write a dissertation after his Studies. Fencing, swimming, and reading helps him clear his mind and stay focused on his goals. He is looking forward to the next year and he is curious what to expect in detail.


Rivka Baum

This October Rivka will start the MA Holocaust Studies. She is 22 years old and originally from Amsterdam, the Netherlands. She attended the St. Ignatius Gymnasium high school, where apart from the regular subjects she also had the opportunity to learn Latin and Greek.
She’s recently earned her BA degree in History at the University of Leiden. During her studies she realized she wanted to learn more about and research the Shoah. When she read about the multidisciplinary features of  the Weiss-Livnat International MA program in Holocaust Studies, she applied immediately because she knew she wanted to join this wonderful program. She recognizes the challenges but aspires to be part of a new generation of Holocaust researchers. She loves to cook, to read,  go to the Opera, make friends  and explore new places.


Ricki Birnbaum

Ricki Birnbaum is from Toronto, Canada. In April 2017, she completed her BA in Jewish Studies at York University in Toronto. Her paternal grandparents were Holocaust survivors and her great-grandparents on her mother’s side escaped from Europe before the war’s outbreak. For as long as she can remember, she has been interested in the topic of the Holocaust. She is particularly interested in survivors’ stories. Holocaust survivors truly inspire her. She has made it her goal to publish a memoir about her family’s experiences during the Holocaust, with a focus on her grandmother. Additionally she strives to make the Holocaust meaningful to others just like it is meaningful to her.

 


News From Dapim

We are happy to announce the publication of a new issue of the academic journal: Dapim Studies of the Holocaust, published by our Research center.

Volume 31 ,Issue 2
Dapim – Studies on the Shoah, is the interdisciplinary academic journal of the  Strochlitz Institute for Holocaust Research. Dapim is devoted to the interdisciplinary study of the Holocaust, the Second World War and anti-Semitism.  Scholars from around the world contribute to this journal, and we are excited to share our most recent issue with you.

The newest addition, Volume 31, Issue 2 features:

The Memory of the Archive: The International Tracing Service and the Construction of the Past as History by Dan Stone
°
‘A Shower of Hail to All Orchards’: On the Consumerist Interpretation of National Socialism by Ishay Landa
°
Performative Environments of Polish Memory: The Grodzka Gate – NN Theater Center’s
Approach to Lublin’s Jewish Pasts by Diana I. Popescu
°
Scholars’ Forum on Holocaust Historiography in Eastern Europe (Part 1)
edited by Kiril Feferman and Kobi Kabalek.
°
The forum offers an opportunity to gauge the evolution of attitudes toward the Holocaust in Eastern Europe with an eye to the current state of affairs in Holocaust historiography, as well as to Holocaust-related events and present-day political and “scholarly-political” configurations in these countries.
°
Holocaust Scholarship in Belarus: General Trends by Leonid Rein
°
The Holocaust in Bulgaria: Rescuing History from ‘Rescue’ by Steven F. Sage
°
Holocaust Research and Infrastructure in Hungary by László Csősz and Ádám Gellért
°
The Evolution of Holocaust Studies in Moldovan Historiography: 1991–2017 by
Diana Dumitru
°
Studying Russia or the Soviet Union? Holocaust Scholarship in Contemporary Russia by Kiril Feferman

Find the articles online under: http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rdap20/current

Inquiries and requests to submit materials to “Dapim – Studies on the Holocaust” should be sent to dapim_h@univ.haifa.ac.il

Head of the Editorial Board: Arieh Kochavi
Editors: Kobi Kabalek, Wendy Lower, Gavriel Rosenfeld
Deputy Editor: Michal Aharony


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Special Tours

The Jewish History of Krakow

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Our students meeting with students from the Jagiellonian

While in Krakow, we visited the Jewish Studies students of Jagiellonian University. At the Jewish Studies Center, in the heart of the vibrant Jewish Quarter in Krakow, the students study Yiddish, Jewish History specifically in Poland, and the Holocaust. We divided into small groups and met with a selection of students. We talked about different research projects and research ideas, they exchanged resources and angles for their studies. It was a pleasure to meet with these scholars and learn a Polish perspective on the Holocaust.

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Our students with students from Jagiellonian University

After our meeting with these students we explored the lively Jewish Quarter in Krakow. In the streets you can find markets, which have been preserved since pre-Holocaust Poland. You can also find bookshops selling books in Yiddish and Hebrew.

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Our group in the Remah Synagogue

Many of the synagogues in the area have been converted to museums and are no longer active, but they still tell the long story of Jews in Poland. Many of the buildings there have murals of Jewish life with Yiddish text. Though there aren’t many Jews left in Krakow, their lack of presence is noted, it is not ignored. The people of Krakow keep the memory of the Jews that used to live amongst them alive.

The next day we took a tour through Krakow. First we stopped at the Remah Synagogue and the accompanying cemetery. The synagogue was named after Rabbi Moses Isserles, whose name abbreviated is Ramah. Rabbi Moses Isserles was an eminent Polish Ashkenazi Rabbi, and talmudist.

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Our group at the grave of Rabbi Yom-Tov Lipmann Heller.

Another important rabbi, Rabbi Yom-Tov Lipmann Heller, was buried here in the back of the cemetery in a lowly and otherwise forgotten part next to Yossele the Holy Miser. The Rabbi asked to be buried next to him as a great honor. Yossele the Holy Miser is something of a Jewish legend from the medieval ages. According to the lore, Yossele the Holy Miser was the richest Jew in Krakow, but he refused to give tzedakah (charity) to the synagogue or those less fortunate, or so they thought. After Yossele the Holy Miser died the community buried him in the back of the cemetery, thinking he was a stingy and greedy man. Much to their surprise he had been providing for less fortunate families all over the city. Many families came to the Rabbi and said they had been given mysterious weekly allowances on their front porches. It became apparent to the Rabbi that Yossele the Holy Miser had been anonymously giving to them over many years. Many consider this form of tzedakah, anonymous giving, as the highest form of charity. According to the story, the rabbi of this story was Rabbi Yom-Tov Lipmann Heller, and this is why he asked to be buried in the back of the cemetery, next to Yossele the Holy Miser.


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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Current Events, Current Students

A Reflection on Cohort V

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Students sitting with donors, Marianne and Doron Livnat and Director of the Program, Arieh Kochavi. 

Our year with Cohort V is coming to an end. We will be with them for another month then they will return to the far reaches of the world. To celebrate our year, we held an event with our generous donors, Doron and Marianne Livnat, as we simultaneously celebrated the life of Yitzhak Weiss-Livnat. With a heavy heart we grieve the loss of our great friend and partner, but we also laud him and his family for the existence of our program. Through the family’s generosity, this year alone, they have effected 30 students, but in actuality they have infinitely changed the world as we send our students out with the tools to impact the world.

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Mallory and Dr. Shmulik Lederman

Many of our students shared what it meant to them to be a part of Yitzhak Weiss-Livnat’s legacy. One of the most touching comments was from Mallory, who comes to us from California, and her research is mostly with the Einsatzgruppen and specific aktions. She spoke about Abba Kovner and his manifesto, which was a warning to Jews and pleaded them to “Resist, resist until your last our breath.” After the Holocaust, in an interview he was asked why he wrote the manifesto. He said that he wanted to ignite resistance in the Jewish people with this small flame. Mallory said that this program has been the ignition she needed to start a blazing fire, which we can all bring to our respective homes. She also commented on the diversity in the program, as we looked around the room we realized that no one was sitting next to someone like them: their neighbors were from another country, older or younger, etc. What Mallory said reflects well on our program; our diverse students are now well equipped to enter the professional world, and make a lasting impact.

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Other students talked about different opportunities made available to them by the program including internships at Atlit Detention Center, the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum and Yad Vashem. Our students have shaped databases, installed exhibits and formed educational programs. Other students talked about different research conferences they were able to attend; this year we sent students to Austria; Romania; Germany; and Poland. Our students have also put together a publication on Jewish artists, most of whom perished in the Holocaust, and their work before, during, and after the Holocaust. The accomplishments of this year were humbling and a good harbinger of what is to come from our impressive students.

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Dr. Rachel Perry sharing about a new publication her class wrote early this year. 

Though most of our students are finished with the coursework, this isn’t a true farewell because the resources and professional network that we offer our students will always play a significant role in their professional lives. We look forward to seeing the professional progress of our students.

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Wei shares about his year with Cohort V. 


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 Internship, Internships

Internship Experience at the Jewish Museum in Berlin

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Wei with a pair of women’s shoes found in Auschwitz from Shanghai

One of our students, Wei Zhang, from China has recently completed an internship with the Jewish Museum in Berlin. His research revolved around Jews in Shanghai during the Holocaust. Wei helped the museum translate documents from Chinese to German and English, bringing to life stories that were otherwise lost in archives. He’s written about some of his experiences in the museum’s blog. Here’s the link to the blog post:

http://www.jmberlin.de/blog-en/2017/06/jewish-life-in-shanghai/

 

Wei has also written about his experience through our blog, read more here: https://haifaholocauststudies.wordpress.com/2016/12/08/internship-jewish-museum-berlin/

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Special Tours

Polin Museum: An All-Encompassing View of Jewish Life in Warsaw

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Our students in front of a memorial to the Polish Jews outside of the Polin Museum.

While in Warsaw, the study tour group went through the Polin Museum. The museum showcases history of Jewish people in Poland, starting in the Dark Ages. The opening exhibition of the museum relays the story of the first Jew to come to Poland, said to be a merchant, and as he traveled through the land he heard from heaven: “Po-lin (Poe-Leen)” or in Hebrew “rest here.”

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Student, Hana, poses with cutouts of Polish Jews from the 19th century.

The museum continues to tell of special circumstances in Poland that made the country more welcoming to Jews than most other countries in Europe. These accommodations included protected ghettos or neighborhoods where Jews could live in their community without fear of persecution as here Jews were also given freedom of religion. This isn’t to say that Poland wasn’t without anti-semitism and hate-crimes against Jews, but many Jews saw Poland as safe for them and their families. An exhibition in the museum discusses the complicated relationship between the Church and the Jews; the exhibition included anti-semitic paintings found in cathedrals and crimes committed against Jews in the name of religion.

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Student, Alexa, walking through the Museum.

Polin Museum shapes what Jewish life would have looked like, complete with recreated sections of a medieval synagogue decorated with astrological animals painted in bright pastels. Here they chose to show some artifacts found in synagogues that survived World War II. The museum also highlighted religious life in Poland with digital reading rooms. The curators set up touchscreen desks with digital versions of the tanach, complete with commentaries written in Poland.

The different exhibitions detailed all classes of life throughout Jewish history, including a tavern, a train station lobby, a printing press office and the parlor of a wealthy household. Other exhibitions highlighted different famous Jews in Polish history, including painters, philosophers, and more.  

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Students, Hana and Tutti, learning about despotic monarchs who have conflicting interests in Poland.

This establishment of pre-modern Jewish life in Poland led to World War I and the inter-war period. The curators chose to showcase this with a common city street. The different shops detailed different aspects of modern Jewish life, such as a room with a record player and numbered footprints on the floor to learn how to dance. Across the street was a newspaper room, which specified events in the interwar period.

Finally, the students arrived at exhibitions of the Holocaust in Poland. Leaving Poland without a strong Jewish community, most of the surviving community migrated in the years after the war, leaving very few Jews in Poland. The closing exhibition in the museum looks out on a field in Warsaw, signifying the unbuilt Jewish future in Poland.

The entirety of the museum can be self-guided with audio tours. To learn more about the museum, check out their website. http://www.polin.pl/en


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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Special Tours

Behind the Scenes of the Museum and Memorial Auschwitz-Birkenau

Walking through the gates of Auschwitz was surreal. The infamous camp sees about one million visitors every year. Each of the barracks have been renovated as exhibition spaces or offices, and many of the exhibitions have been organized by specific countries for the Jews from these respective countries. In 1947, Auschwitz became a protected site of the state with the purpose of remembering those who perished there. Since then, the staff has been preserving and conserving the site and artifacts found at the site.

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The man in the background of this photo is testing samples slivers of windows from Auschwitz barracks. 

We were fortunate to arrange a tour through the conservation lab with a specialist in paper conservation. Our tour guide took us through many different offices in the lab. In one of the offices, we met a man who was testing a sliver of one of the barrack windows. His test determined whether the windows were original; if they were he would have to establish a plan to preserve them, and if they were not original he would be able to take more liberty with replacing the windows, still making them looking as much like the original as possible. The test he ran took much longer than the time we spent with him, so we don’t know what he decided. The dedication to authenticity is remarkable.

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Different paper items in the paper conservatory lab. 

In another office, we saw a dozen or more paintings done by forced laborers in the camp. When artists entered the camp, officers would demand different paintings including portraits or copies of famous works of art. The Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau organizes exhibitions of them periodically.

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The pieces of paper found in prisoners shoes. 

We also saw a room for the preservation of luggage and shoes. Each shoe was put into a special box for preservation. In some occasions, preservationists find papers stuffed into the shoes, maybe they were too big for the owner. The preservation lab keeps everything they find, even these small, torn slips of paper, as they make the image of the person more complete.

The last office we visited was the paper preservation room where they preserve different journals and story books found in Auschwitz and Birkenau. One of the most touching objects was a children’s Christmas storybook, with detailed and colorful pictures of Santa Claus and different scenes of Christmas including Christmas dinner, mistletoe and stockings hanging on the mantel.

This tour through the conservation lab was enlightening as it changed the way we looked at the different artifacts in the camp. Each of them was carefully cleaned, selected and placed. Each object belonged to a separate individual, and the attention given to each object reminded us of the individual to whom it belonged.

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Auschwitz archivist with our students.

We were also able to meet with one of the archival researchers at Auschwitz. He showed us different artifacts, including deportation lists, identification cards, etc. He also informed us of the process to identify individuals that had been at Auschwitz. People often send requests to the office and received either identification cards or deportations lists, as well as any other information that was collected. Generally, only an identification card with limited personal information or a deportation list is available. Those that were selected for forced labor had identification cards, while those who were sent to the gas chambers right away had no identification other than a name on a deportation list. However, the office also archives mail sent in and out of the camp, however this mail was extremely censored so it didn’t offer a real sense of life in the camp. Nevertheless, it still offers more information about the individual. When Nazis censored the mail, they would literally cut out the sections of the letter they didn’t like, which often resulted in a flimsy scrap of paper left to send to their families and loved ones. Oftentimes, in cases like those sent from Theresienstadt, those deported were forced to send postcards back to Theresienstadt saying they had arrived safely and the camp was similar to Theresienstadt. All these letters have been preserved.

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Our group entering Auschwitz-1 under the infamous “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate. 

Thanks to these offices and the hard work of those we met, the Memorial and Museum Auschwitz and Birkenau offers information that would have been lost about those who lived and perished there.

 

 


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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Special Tours

Touring the Former Warsaw Ghetto

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Near the apartment complex, there is this small memorial to those that died in the ghetto, and some information about ghetto.

On Shabbat, the study tour group took a walking tour through what was previously the Warsaw Ghetto. Despite Nazi intentions to destroy Warsaw as they pulled out of Poland, pieces of the city still stand, including sections of the wall. We visited a quiet corner of an apartment complex where a portion of the Warsaw Ghetto wall remained. At this intersection, we talked about smuggling into the Warsaw Ghetto. During the first few months after the establishment of the ghetto, walls were built between buildings using existing walls, so houses at the edge of the ghetto had windows that gave access to the outside world. As a result, children were often used as smugglers and breadwinners for their families because they could fit through windows and were often less suspicious. Through the years, Nazis built walls in the middle of streets to restrict underground activities, though this did not end smuggling.

Our guide took us to an apartment complex that survived the bombings and was within the ghetto walls. The building was typical of the housing within the ghetto. It had a courtyard with only one entrance to the street, and each corner of the courtyard had staircases that lead to the various apartments. The design was functional for Nazis as during roundups they blocked the entrance to the courtyard and called for everyone to come out as they entered the buildings. With lists of who lived in which complex, they efficiently cleared out each apartment. Standing in the courtyard of such a building gave the study tour group a small sense of the helplessness the people living there must have felt.

In October, 1942, SS Chief Heinrich Himmler ordered the liquidation of the camp. As Jews were organized at the Umschlagplatz (the platform for the trains which took Jews to their death), Jewish fighters armed with pistols snuck into the ranks of those about to be deported and attacked the German officers. After this, fighting continued for about three months and the next deportation was delayed until January, 1943. During these months, many of the Jewish fighters were killed, however some survived. During our tour through the Warsaw Ghetto, we stopped at a manhole in the street which was significant to those who survived the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. During the uprising, fighters used the sewage system to evade and surprise the Nazis, and eventually used it to flee for their lives.

As we stood looking at the manhole on Prosta Street, we imagined the story our guide told us. Toward the end of the uprising, a Jewish fighter, Simcha Rotem, also known as Kazik, found himself on the Aryan side of Warsaw. He nevertheless convinced two sewage workers to show him the way back to the Warsaw Ghetto. As he lifted himself out of the manhole, all he could see was burning buildings, but he forced himself to look for survivors. He found some dozen survivors in the sewage system beneath the Ghetto. He instructed them to go to the manhole on Prosta Street, just outside of the ghetto, and he organized vans to pick them up at dawn the next day. Some of them were restless and wouldn’t wait, because it was dangerous. They search for other venues of safety, but didn’t find any. Eventually, the Germans found them, and they were killed. Rotem was forced to drive away knowing that more people remained in the sewage system, but he had no way to communicate with them. Rotem saved countless people that day. Almost all of the remaining 42,000 Jews were deported to Majdanek, and many of them were killed during the Erntefest (Harvest Festival) in the fall of 1943.


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