Hilla Medalia on her film “Numbered”


Hilla-Medalia-HeadShot-small.jpgProducer, Hilla Medalia, shared at a Research Forum about her film Numbered. The film is about survivors in Israel that still bear their numbers from Auschwitz. It’s focused on the effect of their numbers on a personal level and their relationship with their numbers. Some say they cannot remember their number, even though it’s tattooed on them, maybe they’re suppressing traumatic memories. Most agreed that they want to hide their number, as if their tattoo invited questions from strangers. One survivor said a cashier asked her about Auschwitz at the register in a grocery store. Another survivor said his number reminded him that he lived, so he never tried to hide it. When he got his tattoo he cried tears of joy, because it meant he would survive, those who went straight to the gas chambers were never numbered. Other said they cried because it took their humanity, their identity from them; it reduced them to just a number. In any event, all of those interviewed had their own story of how they felt about their tattoo.

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Holocaust Survivor: Zev Kedem Shares with Cohort V


Zev Kedem and Hana Green

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

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

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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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Kapo in Jerusalem



During the last session of the Research Forum class our students had the opportunity of seeing the film “Kapo in Jerusalem” and speaking with screenwriter Motti Lerner, who is a renowned screenwriter and playwright. Lerner teaches playwriting at Kibbutz College in Tel Aviv and his numerous plays have been performed in nine countries outside of Israel.

Lerner introduced the film prior to the screening. He shared that the Israeli attitude towards Jews who worked for the Nazis was very strict. They were regarded as traitors, some were put on trial, and some were killed without trial.  Lerner stated that the film was produced to explore Israeli attitude towards Nazi functionaries and that it was inspired by Story of Eliezer Greenbaum who was a block leader in Auschwitz in charge of 900 prisoners.  Following the War Greenbaum was tried twice for his actions as block leader and found not guilty. However, when he moved to Israel he was unable to get a job or maintain social relationships as a result of his past. Greenbaum volunteered in the 1948 War for Independence and was killed.


The film Kapo in Jerusalem explores the role of functionaries by focusing on one functionary. The film takes place in Israel following WWII and most of the film is a series of monologues given by witnesses who knew Bruno, the former Kapo at the center of the film. Throughout the film witnesses such as Bruno’s wife, a doctor who trained him in Warsaw prior to the outbreak of the War, and former prisoners of Auschwitz speak about Bruno and how he acted in his position of power and collaboration with the SS. Some of the witnesses indict Bruno and others defend him. The resulting balance is so delicate that the viewer doesn’t quite know what to think about Bruno. In the end it becomes obvious that it is impossible to judge Bruno.  The film raises multiple questions but provides few answers. The viewer is left with an understanding of just how difficult survival was in Auschwitz and the tragic and complex choices prisoners had to make as they negotiated the narrow divide between life and death in hell.


After viewing the film our students were able to speak further with Lerner about the film and the process of making it. A central question that was discussed was how do you make a film about Auschwitz? Lerner feels that it is almost impossible.  He believes you need distance and hence none of the scenes in the film were shot at Auschwitz. He also chose to focus on the personal experience of inmates as an audience can’t handle the horrors of Auschwitz and there is no benefit to reconstructing it. Lerner said the purpose of film is to put a question on Israeli society’s past tendency to put Bruno on trial, not to defend his actions but to question his condemnation. The film doesn’t give answers about what morality is or should have been in Auschwitz. It merely shows the complexities of survival in Auschwitz. Lerner reinforced the difficulties of the Kapo’s role and how it is hard to judge what people did.  He shared that Israeli audiences are more open now to understanding the tragic nature of Bruno’s role and more willing to recognize that it is difficult to understand, judge, and have empathy.

Lerner was asked about the process of writing the film and he shared that the first thought was to tell the story linearly but they realized that was impossible.  Then they incorporated the idea to use monologues to make the film more intimate. He wanted to give witnesses a chance to talk and say what they were never able to say and what others never wanted to hear. Lerner was asked about the extent to which the film was based on primary source testimony. His response was that the film is fiction – all the characters are invented, but he did extensive research prior to writing the film. He got inspiration from Primo Levi’s books, survivor testimony, and many of Bruno’s monologues are based on an essay written by Eliezer Greenbaum about what it meant to be a kapo. Hearing the screenwriter’s perspective on the film, what he intended, and being able to ask him questions enriched the experience of watching the film for our students.

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/


A Visit with the Livnat Family

image_1   Holocaust survivor Yitzhak Livnat came to meet the students in the 4th cohort and share his incredible story with them. Yitzhak Livnat was accompanied by his wife and four children. The Livnat family are generous donors to the program that is named in honor of them – the Weiss- Livnat International MA in Holocaust Studies.

Livnat shared his story of survival from Auschwitz with our students. He spoke about the deportation, the impact of his experiences on his family relationships and his faith, the death march to Austria, how he managed to survive, and his experiences in Israel after emigrating following the war. Livnat’s memories were vivid, especially the sensations including sounds and smells, and full of raw emotion. His ability to recall the names of the Kapo and other prisoners was remarkable.


Livnat spoke about the horrors of the deportation and his time traveling in the confined cattle car. Upon arrival at Auschwitz he was separated from his younger sister who was murdered in the gas chambers. Livnat spoke about his anger at G-d when he realized what had happened to his sister and how he came to the painful conclusion that there is no G-d, and explained that if there was a G-d he wouldn’t allow such things to happen. After being condemned to death, Livnat was saved by a Kapo who put him in a different barrack so he would escape the fate of the other children he had previously been with. A Greek Jew from Salonika comforted Livnat that night; they were reunited in Israel years later and remained close friends.


On January 18, 1945 Livnat was forced on a death march into Austria along with the SS officers that evacuated Auschwitz as the Red Army approached. Livnat described this as the instance in which he came closest to giving up. He couldn’t keep marching and sat down in the snow. Livnat hoped and waited for an SS officer to put a bullet in his head. Instead the officer kicked him and told him to get up because he was too young to die. Livnat shared that it took him awhile to admit that this SS officer saved his life, as he didn’t want to give him any “good points.” Upon arriving in Mauthausen Livnat was reunited with his father. Despite Mauthausen being pleasant compared to Auschwitz Livnat said this was a terrible time as his father could no longer be a father to him. Their roles had switched and this was very hard.


After the war Livnat returned home only to find that his house was occupied by a woman who wouldn’t let him in, and his own dog barked at him. Following this experience Livnat immigrated illegally to Palestine but he was caught by the British and interned in Cyprus. Upon being released and coming to Palestine Livnat was separated from the other children on the kibbutz and told not to talk to them. People assumed he must have done terrible things to survive the Holocaust such as killing others. Livnat ultimately ran away from the kibbutz and joined the Haganah and later the IDF. Livnat recalled that he wanted to hold a weapon in order to feel safe.


At the conclusion of Livnat’s story his eldest son spoke to our students. He compared speaking about the Shoah to the commandment from the hagaddah to tell the story of the exodus from Egypt. He said it is important to talk about the Shoah but never to be victimized, and that the main lesson is we can’t forget what happened but we must move forward. The night closed with our students getting the chance to speak personally with Yitzhak Livnat and thanking him for sharing his story and his support which has enabled their studies.

Yitzhak Livnat and his family have come to mean so much to our program. They have invested in our success, and embrace each cohort with warmth.  We know that the Livnat family’s visits inspire each of our cohorts to contribute high quality and meaningful research to the field of Holocaust Studies.

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/