Holocaust Survivor, Research Forum

Holocaust Survivor: Zev Kedem Shares with Cohort V

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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 shared 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.

Zev shared about another time they traveled together; they were walking when they came upon a German checkpoint in the road, many cars were lined up to go through the checkpoint. Zev’s mother was very beautiful and charismatic, she went right up the a German soldier’s truck and convinced them to give her and Zev a ride into Krakow. Alone, they would likely suffer at the checkpoint. As they got into the car, Zev’s mother looked down at him and said, “See, the impossible is possible.” He remembered this the rest of his life, and made it a sort of mantra.

In 1941, all Jews in the area were forced into the Krakow ghetto, before this Zev’s family was living outside Krakow in poor conditions. Zev and his family were hoping to live with his grandparents in the Krakow ghetto, but they already had three other families living in their apartment. Zev and his family moved into the apartment next door in order to be close, Zev said they were proud to had a whole, small, room to themselves, and even a bed. Food was scarce, life was hard and then the deportations started.

The deportations forced a division in the ghetto, those with a work permit lived in one section of the ghetto, those without lived in another section. Zev’s mother had a work permit, and she was the only one in the family with one. Hunger forced Zev to smuggle food. Children were less suspicious, so he snuck out of the ghetto with his head down and shoulders up. A habit, he admits, he still keeps today. While he was out two German soldiers called him out and started asking questions, but two pretty Polish girls came and talked to the soldiers, giving Zev an escape. He went to the farms he had stayed at, along with his family, and they gave him some food, not much but as much as they could afford. When he returned his mother was frantic but they had food.

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The square in the Krakow ghetto where deportations took place. The chairs were installed as a memorial to those that were killed here. (Photo was taken during Cohort V’s study tour to Poland) 

In March 1943, the Krakow Ghetto was liquidated; as Zev stood in the crowded square, a man was shot and fell next to him. His mother came and grabbed him from the crowd, she hid Zev, his sister, and his grandparents in his uncle’s pigeon coop. She told them to stay there, she closed the coop, locked the doors leading to the coop and went back to work. They could still hear the deportation for two or three more hours, then silence.

A truck came through and announced to anyone in hiding that if they didn’t come out they would be shot on sight. Then they heard shooting gradually coming toward them. Zev heard a Nazi making his way up to them. He stood at a metal door which his mother had locked, so as to look like no one could be behind the door. Zev’s grandparents had vials of poison but Zev realized they only had two, so he and his sister would have to endure what the Nazis had in store. Zev said, “You can’t realize how a child of seven or eight has to internalize the direct fear of death.” But the German didn’t come through the locked door, his mother had hid them well.

An announcement was made among the workers of the ghetto for volunteers to go through the quarter and salvage valuables. Zev’s mother, of course, volunteered. She came and saved them, Zev’s grandparents could pass as laborers but she knew she needed to hide the children. She negotiated with her wedding ring to hide them in a wagon which was used to bring the valuables back to a warehouse.

But he didn’t make it to the warehouse. He was pulled from the wagon and told to go to an unfinished barrack alone, it was dark and he heard someone moaning in pain next to him. He didn’t know this was part of the plan. Then his mother came in with a doctor, he said to Zev, “if you want to stay alive you will have to be silent and invisible.” Zev attached himself to a group of older boys; they became his camouflage. He followed them wherever they went.

He ended up working with them in a brush factory. He sat in the back row on top of a box to make himself look taller, and older. He was only eight years old, the age limit was thirteen, any younger than thirteen, and the children couldn’t work so they were killed. Zev shared his perspective while at the factory, he said “I realized I had no right what so ever to be alive in the concentration camp. Many of the inmates had lost their children, so they resented me.” In order to prove his worth, he made more brushes than anyone in the factory. He sat next to a man who had been a teacher, all of his students had been killed, he said to Zev, “If you survive, you won’t be a human being unless you learn to read and write.” Somehow he got Zev a Jules Vern novel, and taught Zev how to read.

One day in the factory, a man was shot by a German guard. The guard said the man was working slowly, the thought was that it would terrorize everyone to make them work harder. Then the small boy in the back, Zev, caught the eye of this German. Luckily, Zev spoke German, he told the guard admittedly that he was smaller, but this meant that he ate less, and he proved his productiveness with his hard work. The guard was conflicted but left Zev alone. Zev explained that he never gave himself the luxury of feeling like he was suffering, rather he told himself he was playing a game, and winning the game meant survival.

Dr. Gross, the doctor that Zev had met before, was on Oscar Schindler’s list, Zev and Dr. Gross became very close, he was something of an adoptive father to Zev. Dr. Gross pulled strings to get Zev, Zev’s sister and Zev’s mother on Schindler’s list as well. Zev recalled that they travelled all over the Third Reich to different factories with other people on the list. During one of the their travels the women’s train, where Zev’s mother was, was sent to Auschwitz but Schinder negotiated for their return before they were killed, he sent a train to pick them up. The train conductor took five boys with him to Auschwitz on this train meant to save the women. Zev was abducted onto this train.

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Crematoriums at Birkenau. (Photo taken during Cohort V’s study tour to Poland) 

Zev arrived to Auschwitz in October 1944, he remembers the gates were closed so they were ordered to walk around the entire perimeter of the camp to the crematoriums in the back. They were ordered to strip naked, Zev knew about the gas chambers and he was sure he would be killed. But they were taken to a table, and a man started tattooing a number on Zev’s arm; Zev cried, not because it hurt, which it did, but because he was so happy, a number meant registration to the camp, which meant a chance for survival.

He and the four other boys were taken to the children’s barrack. Zev explained that they were on reserve for Dr. Mengele’s experiments. He remembers a young handsome looking German coming into the barrack and offering sweets, Zev hid under a mud covered blanket, he didn’t trust this man. The children that left with, who he assumed to be, Mengele, never came back.

When the Russians were closing in on Auschwitz, Zev was convinced that those who couldn’t march would be killed: the sick and the elderly (and the young), so he volunteered to leave. Eventually he made it to Mauthausen Concentration Camp, he worked in one of the fifty sub-camps but towards the end of the war he returned to Mauthausen. In Mauthausen there were two fields of labor: the death industry, and the quarry. Zev knew he wouldn’t be strong enough for the quarry so he worked as a Sonderkommando.

One day, he recalls, he came out of the hospital (where he worked clearing dead bodies) and the gates to the camp were open. Soldiers were standing at the main entrance to the camp, and he was convinced they would kill him because he was still under thirteen years old, so he ran. He discovered that the kitchen of the SS was completely empty so he ate as much potato salad as he could, which wasn’t very much. He remembers, “To this day, I have never had a better meal.”

As he left, he came upon more soldiers, one of them threw him a chocolate bar, but he still didn’t trust them, because of Mengele and his sweets. He took a closer look at the soldiers and realized one of them was black, so he knew these soldiers weren’t German, and that he could trust them.

He left Mauthausen and sought refuge in nearby villages, but he says “I got shot at more during this time than ever before.” Austrians were afraid of the inmates because they were scared of them for two reasons: the truth they held and of their illnesses.

After the war, the American troops organized for Zev to be sent to the UK. There he grew up with an adoptive family, and received an Oxford education. After forty years, Zev met his mother again in communist Poland, on her deathbed. It was hard to get a visa to Poland, but he managed it. One of the after effects of the Holocaust was divided families, and this was very much Zev’s case as well.

Today Zev lives in Haifa, Israel. He lives a very active life sharing his education and experience with University students. We were pleased to host him and hear his heart-wrenching story.


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 Students, Holocaust Internship, Volunteer Work

Alexa talks about AMCHA

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Q: What will you be doing at with AMCHA?
A: At AMCHA, I will be working one on one with a Holocaust survivor. Visiting and spending time with them once a week. It’s an opportunity for survivors to develop a new connection with someone and for me it’s a huge privilege to hear their story.

Q: What makes you most excited to be working with AMCHA ?
A: AMCHA is a very special organization that does a huge service to Holocaust survivors and their children, the opportunity to develop a working relationship with them is a rare opportunity.

Q: What brought you working with AMCHA?
A: I was attracted to working with AMCHA for personal reasons. My grandmother was a Holocaust survivor and I was lucky to have had the chance to spend time with her in her later years after I moved to Israel. She passed away two years ago, but I will always treasure our time together. To meet and spend time with another survivor, someone else’s grandmother, is not only an amazing learning opportunity but also an opportunity to do something good for my soul.

Q: Who will you be working with? or who would you like to volunteer with?
A: The volunteer coordinator at AMCHA has been very helpful in pairing me with a survivor who can help with my thesis research. My area of study within Holocaust research is on the psychological impact of the Holocaust for women on motherhood and family life post Holocaust. I have been set up with a female survivor who is open to discussing this topic with me. This is a primary resource that I could never have found elsewhere.

Q: Anything else you would like to add?
A: AMCHA is a wonderful organization dedicated to providing counseling and trauma services for Holocaust survivors and their children. I am honored to have the opportunity to work with them.


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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Guest Lecturers, Holocaust Survivor

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/

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Guest Lecturers, Holocaust Survivor

Oral History & Testimony with Dr. Bea Lewkowicz

IMG_2045Our students participated in a special seminar with Dr. Bea Lewkowicz, a social anthropologist and oral historian, and director of two oral history projects, the Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR) Refugee Voices Audio-Visual Testimony Archive and Sephardi Voices UK. Dr. Lewkowicz is a member of the Research Centre for Austrian and German Exile Studies, University of London. She directed and produced many testimony-based films and has curated several exhibitions, such as Continental Britons and Double Exposure.  The subject of her presentation was “Working with testimonies: The AJR Refugee Voices Archive as a Resource for Learning and Scholarship.”

Lewkowicz began by talking about her own journey as an anthropologist and oral historian taking testimony from members of the Jewish community in Salonika. While working on her PhD Lewkowicz was confronted by the difference between the fields of anthropology and history, and the latter’s greater focus on accuracy and the identity of the person giving the testimony.  Following the completion of her PhD Lewkowicz worked for the Shoah Foundation an experience that taught her how to more accurately collect testimony.

Lewkowicz is currently the director of AJR and the second portion of her talk was devoted to the testimonies done through that project and archive.  It is a collection of 150 testimonies but they are currently working on adding 30 new testimonies to the collection, some of which are conducted with child survivors. Lewkowicz discussed the importance of having themes and open-ended questions to allow the interviewee to create their own narrative. She discussed the importance of allowing silences as part of an interview and how body language and gestures are key aspects of testimony as a primary source. Sometimes the body language can contradict the spoken words; hence Lewkowicz’s caution not to rely on a transcript but to watch the actual video. Transcripts can have mistakes and don’t reflect the tone, facial expressions, and gestures of the interviewee and thus can’t be considered a primary source. Lewkowicz emphasized the need to consider memory when dealing with testimony. A key facet is not the historical content but how the individual remember what occurred. She also cautioned young researchers to contextualize all testimony, to consider who, why, and how it was collected.

In the final portion of her talk Lewkowicz discussed the educational outputs of AJR, which have included three films and an exhibition that accompanied one film to Austria, called Double Exposure.  Lewkowicz also discussed in more detail the new interviews they are conducting. She discussed the values and challenges associated with interviewing those who were too young to remember, and the different types of questions the interviewer must ask in those cases. She mentioned that the new interviews open up the opportunity to ask new questions such as ones about gender and mental health.

It was inspiring for our students to hear from Dr. Lewkowicz about her masters and PhD research in Salonika and the various jobs conducting oral history that she has held. Lewkowicz conveyed the enormous potential that oral history interviews and testimony have for scholarship, and gave our students many insightful suggestions for how to work effectively with such sources.

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/

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Guest Lecturers

Shaya Harsit: From Survival to the Skies

IMG_5585In November Holocaust survivor and former member of the Israeli Air Force (IAF) Shaya Harsit came to share his incredible story with our students. Mr. Harsit is the managing director of the From Survival to the Skies organization and author of A New Sky and a New Land.  During the 1956 Suez Crisis 144 pilots in the IAF were Holocaust survivors, although this was not known at the time. Forty-four of the pilots are still alive. Once members of the IAF, including Harsit, realized that a significant number of Holocaust survivors served in the IAF they established the From Survival to the Skies organization to collect their testimonies and honor their service.

Harsit primarily spoke to our students about his story of survival during the Holocaust. He was born to a wealthy family in Warsaw and he had older half siblings from both of his parents’ first marriages. Upon the German invasion, when Shaya was five years old, his father fled because he was involved in political and religious organizations that made him a likely target of the Nazis. A few days later Shaya and his mother left Warsaw to join his father in the east in Soviet territory. Soviet forces arrested the family accusing them of being hostile to the USSR because they had Polish citizenship. Shaya was interned in a camp with his parents. Life in the camp was difficult and there wasn’t enough food.

After the Nazi invasion of the USSR on the 22 June, 1941 Shaya and his family awoke to find the Soviet guards had abandoned the camp and they were free to leave. Shaya’s family travelled to Uzbekistan and then to Kazakhstan.  Despite both parents being employed the family suffered from hunger. Shaya’s father thought he would be better off in an orphanage and so he took Shaya to one despite his mother’s objections. Shaya escaped from the orphanage that first evening and he walked all night on his own to return to his mother who fainted when he knocked on the door and vowed never to be separated from him again. Interestingly enough, if Shaya had stayed at the orphanage he would have been taken to Palestine as one of the children of Teheran.

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After the war ended Shaya’s family returned to Warsaw and were then in a displaced persons camp in Germany. In the DP Camp Shaya remembers meeting General Eisenhower and reciting a poem for him. Shaya’s father had always wanted to move to Palestine and the family boarded the Exodus to travel there. The ship and its passengers were arrested by the British upon arrival in Haifa and were not allowed to disembark. Instead the ship was sent back to Germany. Only after the creation of the state of Israel were Shaya and his family able to make aliyah. Shaya recalled that no one wanted to hear the stories of survival during the Holocaust and he himself wanted to become a true Israeli and leave all of the past behind. Shaya initially wanted to be a paratrooper but he became a pilot instead and served in the Israeli Air force until 1982.

Shaya Harsit’s story fascinated our students. It was uplifting to hear about a family who was able to stay together and survive despite all the odds. It was equally incredible to hear how Shaya Harsit forged an Israeli identity through his dedicated service in the IAF.

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/

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