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…

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Dr. Efraim Zuroff Opens the Spring Semester  

IMG_2330.JPGThe first speaker our students had the privilege of hearing at the opening session of the Research Forum for the spring semester was Dr. Efraim Zuroff, who is currently the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the director of its Israel Office and Eastern European Affairs. For the past 36 years Zuroff has been involved in the efforts to track down and help bring Nazi war criminals to justice, initially (1980-1986) as sole researcher in Israel for the Office of Special Investigations of the United States Justice Department, and for the past 26 years (1986-2016) as the chief Nazi-hunter of the Wiesenthal Center.

Zuroff began his talk by discussing the latest book he co-authored with Lithuanian writer Ruta Vanagaite that was published last month. The book, Musiskiai; Kelione Su Priesu (Our People; Journey With an Enemy), is currently number one on the Lithuanian bestseller list. It sold 2,000 copies in the first 48 hours and is in its 4th printing. Vanagaite reached out to Zuroff to co-author a book on Holocaust complicity on the part of Lithuanians after she discovered that her grandfather and her aunt’s husband collaborated with the Nazis to murder Jews. The first part of the book is historical research on the collaboration of Lithuanians with the Nazis across multiple segments of society. The second part of the book details Zuroff and Vanagaite’s joint visit to 35 sites of mass murder in Lithuania and Belarus where the Nazis and their local collaborators shot Jews during the Holocaust. The pair searched for and interviewed eyewitnesses who reported that local Lithuanians carried out the murders.

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Zuroff likened the book to Jan Gross’ Neighbors because it has succeeded in opening up discussion on Lithuanian collaboration with the Nazis in the mass murdered of over 90% of the country’s Jewish community. Lithuanian society, like that of other Eastern European countries, has suffered from a history of Holocaust distortion. Lithuanians have denied the widespread local collaboration in the mass murder of Jews and advocated a double genocide theory, which holds that there were two equal genocides – the mass murder of the Jews by the Nazis ad the Soviet occupation of Lithuania. Zuroff said he has worked in Lithuania for 25 years but everything he said went in one ear and out the other. It took a book co-authored by a respected Lithuanian who acknowledged her own family’s role in the Holocaust to get the message across.

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After speaking to our students about these recent developments in Lithuania Zuroff turned to his work tracking down and getting countries to prosecute former Nazis. He spoke about the complexities of bringing these cases to trial and why it is so important to do so. Zuroff explained that after WWII the legal system couldn’t deal with prosecuting all former members of the regime and so the decision was made to go after the main leaders and officers only. There was also eagerness on the part of German society to move on and be done with the Nazi past. This allowed many Nazis to escape the justice system. While many Nazis used the so called rat lines to escape to South America some found refuge in western democracies like the US or Britain by either being knowingly admitted in order to help with Cold War scientific or espionage efforts or the vast majority by lying on their immigration and naturalization forms. As these former Nazis were identified the trouble was that they couldn’t be prosecuted in the US for crimes committed outside the country. Instead, they were prosecuted for lying on the immigration and or naturalization forms. The trouble with what Zuroff termed the Capone compromise is that the sentence was light and not commensurate with the crime.

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Zuroff argued that we shouldn’t stop prosecuting former Nazis. He believes their continued trials are of the utmost importance for justice, education, and the prevention of Holocaust denial and distortion. Zuroff said the passage of time doesn’t diminish the crime, age shouldn’t protect someone from prosecution, we owe it to the victims to prosecute former Nazis, and continued prosecution sends an important message about justice. Zuroff stated that so many Nazis got away with their crimes that it is not obvious there will be a consequence for crimes against humanity, which is one reason why “never again” has not been fulfilled. Zuroff’s talk was passionate and interesting and our students enjoyed the opportunity to hear from the only Nazi hunter.

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/

Jan Gross: Interviewed by Student of Holocaust Studies MA Program

IMG_2265 (2)We were privileged to welcome Professor Jan Gross to our program, and learned so much from his dialogue with our student Pe’era Feldman-Gordon.  Pe’era came with questions that ranged from asking about his childhood to his experience as an activist, which provided us all with a nuanced perspective on his research.  He discussed the controversies surrounding his research in Poland, and much more.

We’re happy to share the entire interview with you:

IMG_2295 (2)IMG_2305 (2)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/

Kapo in Jerusalem

 

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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.

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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.

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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/

 

Holocaust Related Internship at the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum

218100_1803330175137_121938_nThe members of the Fourth Cohort are taking advantage of a variety of internship opportunities.  One such example is a special internship at the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum. The following blog was written by student Nicole Munoz about her experiences interning at the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum.

In December of 2015, I started interning at the Ghetto Fighter’s House.  My interest in interning at the Ghetto Fighter’s house began after meeting with our internship coordinator Audrey Zada.  At this meeting, she told me I had a better chance of learning curating skills if I interned at the Ghetto Fighter’s House than at any other place the program offered.

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Our first meeting consisted of what was expected of us, as well as learning about the history of the museum and the Kibbutz.  We learned how this museum was established in 1949 by surviving resistance fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.  Because it was established shortly after Israel became a state, it is the first ever museum dedicated to the Holocaust and Jewish life during World War 2 as well as the first to have a ceremony commemorating the Holocaust.  Those who started the Kibbutz where the museum is located were all Holocaust survivors who wanted to live away from the city which is why the kibbutz and the museum are located in the countryside.

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On January 11, 2016, we held our second meeting at the museum.  For this session, we were given several artifacts in which we will prepare texts and short picture presentations.  These artifacts will then be displayed in the museum.  The artifacts range from small personal items such as a small dress, hair clip, or cosmetic items, to larger items such as a suitcase used for smuggling goods, a radio to listen illegally to the BBC, or a drum made out of a Torah scroll.  I, as well as my fellow interns, will write about the person to whom the item belonged, or a specific such as the Righteous Among the Nations, group or place such as Transnistria.

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This internship has already aided in one class in particular which is the Practical Training in Curating class taught by Tami Rich.  The skills that we are learning through the internship have and will continue to help with the courses dealing with curating.

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I have never had the experience of interning at a museum, especially a museum focused specifically on the Holocaust.  The opportunity to intern at such well-known museums is only one of the factors that drew me to this Holocaust studies program.  While I may have been able to build this kind of experience in another program, it most likely would have been at a local museum and not one that specifically dealt with the Holocaust.  At the end of this program, I would like to work in a Holocaust museum.  The skills I will learn, and the overall experience of learning under excellent instructors at the Ghetto Fighter’s House, I believe, will more than prepare me to pursue jobs dealing with curating the Holocaust.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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/

Sooo…why Holocaust Studies? by Annette Covrigaru

 

“Sooo…why Holocaust Studies?”

10933859_10203774004254131_1632094306387983428_nDuring the past year in Israel, before it, and after I’ve returned home, people ask me this question with curiosity, confusion, and concern. The reactions often range from an enthusiastic “Oh, cool!” an indifferent, “Oh..cool,” or a blunt, “Wow, that’s depressing.” Even though I repeatedly answer the “Why?” question, it gets harder to do so every time. Like any geographical, occupational, or educational shift in life, you begin with one narrative or purpose, and somehow, unbeknownst, almost subconsciously, those original goals and outlooks, which at one point were so clear and concrete, morph and fragment into something unrecognizable, but nonetheless meaningful.

My initial narrative, as I recall, went something like this: “Out of the roughly 100,000 (no one knows the exact number) gay men (and men who might have been falsely accused as being gay but were arrested nonetheless) who were harassed, tortured, incarcerated, and murdered during and after the Nazi regime, (in Germany, Paragraph 175, the law that criminalized same-sex relationships, was not repealed completely until the early ‘90’s), there are only ten known survivors (according to the documentary Paragraph 175, however that number may be disputed). Lesbians were also arrested and put into concentration camps under the guise of “asocial” or “political prisoner.” I want to research who these women and men were, uncover their stories, and write creative nonfictional or fictional stories about them.” All of this is true and still holds true – I’ve spent the past year reading memoirs, essays, biographies, short stories, and poems, skimming official Nazi documents and reports, and watching movies and documentaries about the queer victims of the Third Reich. The books and papers I’ve accumulated overwhelmed the narrow shelving in my Tel Aviv apartment, a personal library of queer literature, Holocaust literature, and a combination of the two genres.

And yet, that original winded, statistic-filled, eager-grad-student answer has shortened to a simple sentence: “Why do I study the Holocaust? Well, the topic has always interested me, and I wanted to study it more in depth.” I know, it’s bland. Painfully bland. But what most questioners don’t understand is how that single “Why?” involves complex family histories, and conjures memories of self-awareness and introspection. These scattered tidbits of memory can’t always be translated into a fluid, verbal narrative. So instead of delving, I stay on the surface, at least for those brief interactions.

But what I really want to say is this:

I grew up listening to my Grandma (who recently turned 99 years old and is very lucid) tell me stories about her family and living in Romania. As I got older, I started to make connections between what she was telling me and the Holocaust (she was never in a concentration camp or labor camp, but she lived in an extremely antisemitic country, and still managed to get a degree and work as a pharmacist). In high school, I interviewed her for the “Pre-Me” chapter of a nine-part autobiography writing assignment, which turned into my college essay. In college I took a Jewish Literature course where I read Bruno Schulz, Franz Kafka, and Lesléa Newman short stories, one of which,  “A Letter to Harvey Milk,” made me aware that gay men were Holocaust victims. Curled up on a swivel chair in the library’s abandoned Reading Center during finals week, I procrastinated essay writing to watch Paragraph 175, a documentary in which the remaining survivors of the Third Reich’s persecution of queer individuals tell their stories, some for the first time. It was released in 2000 and, until the release of The Pink Triangle and the Nazi Cure for Homosexuality in 2014, was the only documentary on the subject. In Giovanni’s Room in Philly’s Gayborhood, I come across a book of Lesléa Newman short stories and a back-pocket-sized book of poetry entitled Milk and Honey: A Celebration of Jewish Lesbian Poetry. That same year, I found a first edition copy of Aimée & Jaguar: A Love Story, Berlin 1943. Jewish Lesbian literature started to become my favorite and most sought out genre. At some point I even invented the word “jesbian” as away to declare an identity for myself and the literature I surrounded myself with (it’s also quite catchy). My interest in all things jesbian and Holocaust related works was known by my friends, and, come senior year, one of those friends asked if I wanted to come with her to hear a lecture about resistance movements during the Holocaust. While listening to that Ohio State University PhD student talk about The White Rose and Warsaw Ghetto uprising, I had an epiphany – I could do this, I could study the Holocaust, in depth, exploring this lifelong interest of mine. After the lecture, I searched online for programs and found this one at the University of Haifa. Later, once accepted, my Israeli born dad told me that he grew up in Haifa, that this is where his family had lived before immigrating to the States. This detail reinforced the notion that events can sometimes come full circle in unexpected and somewhat profound ways.

So…why?

Initially it was an innate allure. Now, I see parallels between Holocaust education and LGBTQ activism. Although each are seemingly separate movements, their missions and histories overlap – understanding and eradicating intolerance through education, promoting social awareness, and elevating and showcasing marginalized voices.

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(Photo taken at Sachsenhausen concentration camps in Oranienburg, Germany)

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/