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.”
While in Lublin, our group visited the NN Theatre. After the fall of communism in Poland, there was a surge to regain the memories lost about the war. The project’s goal was to study and learn about Jewish history in WWII, and it started at the Grodzka Gate, or the gate to the Jewish Quarter in old Lublin, which became the NN Theatre. Coincidently, it was also the gate to the Jewish Ghetto during the Holocaust and it was part of an underground black market in Lublin.
Now, the building acts as a functioning museum and education center about the Holocaust. The rooms are lined with archives, most rooms have rows of shelves all around the walls, and they have a folder for every single Jew who lived and died in the Lublin Ghetto. Sometimes, there is only a name and an address and other times the folder is full of information, but the group continues to collect information on the Jewish population. They also curate an impressive photo archive, and in many of the photos the staff can identify different people and tell their stories.
The members of the fourth cohort highly anticipated our trip to Jerusalem for the four-day seminar at Yad Vashem. Yad Vashem is a world-renowned research institution and museum, and its partnership with the University of Haifa is of particular benefit to the students in the program. The four-day seminar was meaningful and educational. Read on for a break down of our third day!
Day 3: Historical Research Presentations
Day 3 was devoted to presentations by three historians on very diverse and interesting topics. First, Dr. Gerhard Weinberg the author of A World at Arms: a Global History of World War II spoke to our students. This was a special treat for our students as they had previously read his work for multiple courses in our program. Dr. Weinberg spoke about Pope Pius XII and WWII. The presentation focused on the Vatican’s reaction to five killing programs. Dr. Weinberg shared and discounted the motivations behind the Pope’s silence in the face of Nazi atrocities put forth by other historians. As such the presentation left students with more questions than answers, which require the opening of the WWII archives of the Vatican. One piece of information that greatly shocked the audience was how the Pope requested that the Allied forces not use black soldiers in the occupation of Rome. This request was angrily turned down by the Allied commanders as inappropriate and infeasible.
Professor Gerald Steinacher, of the University of Nebraska and author of Nazis on the Run, was the next presenter. Dr. Steinacher spoke about humanitarian politics, specifically the actions and inaction of the International Red Cross during the Holocaust. The ICRC failed to strongly condemn Nazi atrocities; the proposed appeal was watered down and given a first class funeral. Dr. Steinacher focused on the official justifications and what he believes to be the actual justifications for this lack of an outcry, such as fear of German occupation of Switzerland and desires of some members to maintain good relations with Hitler to help broker a peace deal and keep communism at bay. Dr. Steinacher recounted the competition between Sweden and Switzerland to be the better humanitarian after it became clear the Allies would win the war and how the ICRC was almost relocated to Stockholm after the war due to Geneva’s failures and Stockholm’s better track record as a rescuer.
The final presentation on Wednesday was given by an Italian historian, Dr. Amadeo Osti, on the persecution of Jews in Italy. Osti combated the myth of the “good Italians” and how they rescued Jews because it is only partially true. Although the Italian Army tried to save Jews in their regions of occupied France, Croatia, and Tunisia once Germany occupied Italy in 1943 many Italians collaborated with the Germans for economic reasons etc. Italian police prepared lists of Jews to be deported. Fascist military units posed a danger to Jews and tortured captured Jews to get additional names. German forces paid 5,000 liras for every Jew arrested. According to Osti some Jews informed on other Jews. This lecture was particularly interesting for our students because the Italian narrative is less central to the majority of our course offerings.
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/
Dr. Sharon Kangisser Cohen is the Academic Director of the Oral History Division of the Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Sharon earned her PhD from the Hebrew University from the IJC. She has taught Holocaust studies at the Hebrew University, The University of New South Wales, Australia and at NYU in New York. Her second book entitled “Testimony and Time: early and later Holocaust survivor testimony” will be published by Yad Vashem in 2014.
This past semester Sharon taught two courses in our program. The first relating to methodological issues relating to the study of the Holocaust, and the second about Education and the Holocaust. The later course examined how the Shoah has been taught in different communities throughout the world as well as pedagogical approaches to Shoah education. We were also privileged to have Sharon accompany last year’s cohort on our trip to Germany and Poland. We are proud to have outstanding faculty who can provide so many different services to our program.
When asked about her experience teaching in our program, Sharon says: “As I reach the end of the first Semester teaching in the MA program in Holocaust Studies, I look back to the experience with warm memories. I think that this group of students is a bright, committed and engaged group who invested themselves in the courses I taught. The students had strong opinions and were not afraid to be challenged and to speak their mind. My goal is to help them approach questions regarding research and education in a more critical manner. Perhaps most importantly I hope our students will continue to study the subject matter respectfully and critically, maintaining a balance between its emotional force and the quest for good scholarship.”
Born in London, Simon Goldberg was raised in Jerusalem and later moved to New York, where he obtained a Bachelor’s degree in History from Yeshiva University and founded the Student Holocaust Education Movement (SHEM), a student-run movement advocating the preservation and propagation of Holocaust memory. A national finalist in the Fellowship for Noble Purpose in 2012, Simon has taught for the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation in Europe and, most recently, at Elsa International High School in Hong Kong, where he helped develop the Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Centre as a mainstay for awareness and education of the Holocaust in East Asia. Simon presently directs Triangles of Truth, a global movement of students who honor and remember Holocaust victims by giving charity in their names to help meet the humanitarian needs of current genocide refugees. We are pleased to share Simon’s experience in one of his courses with you today:
As we near the end of this first term, the words of Dr. Rachel Perry, who teaches our elective on Holocaust representation, echo in my mind: be a good guardian of this memory, she implores us.
We try. Because underlying the multifaceted, often fastidious historical study we are undertaking, isn’t this the mission? To wrestle with the legacy with which the Holocaust endows us—to mold and shape it before it eludes us, disarms us, encouraging us instead to forget.
Dr. Perry’s course was a long thought experiment that centered on the meeting point between the Holocaust and visual culture. What questions haunted Felix Nussbaum, the German-Jewish artist who hid in Belgium during the war, as he decried the transformation of his identity under Nazi occupation? Looking back on Charlotte Salomon’s remarkable series of 769 gouache paintings, telling of her exile to South France and interment in Gurs, what questions abound on the experience of displacement? We learned about the medium of art as an assertion of creative resistance—a reclamation of self and humanity
After Auschwitz, Steven Spielberg created a stirring film on the person and actions of Oscar Schindler, now renowned throughout the world. But what are the ethics of a filmmaker operating in the realm of memory? Is it ignominious to reconstruct a scene that places Jews in the gas chambers? The method of representation matters, and for Claude Lanzmann, who over eleven years made the ten-hour long Shoah, certain images are prohibited. Nor can the Holocaust be redeemed, for it is endless, as evidenced by the film’s last frame of a train in perpetual motion. Yet if Lanzmann is right, if there is “no moral right to give a happy ending,” what of the attempt to make meaning of the Holocaust through the appropriation of its lessons?
Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus offered a window into a memory-architect’s workshop. Spiegelman, caught at the turn between generations, tells multiple stories including the story of his own telling—thus pulling the reader into the process of narrative construction. For a while, we stepped into Spiegelman’s shoes; scrutinized his creative dilemmas; fiddled with his juxtaposition of images and words on pages that seek not resolution but legitimacy—a testament to honor the dead, a compass to navigate the borders and contradictions of post-memory. We weren’t there, but how close can we get? How close should we get to the event?
The future of Holocaust memory will not so much depend on whether or not it is propagated, but how it is propagated. How, as Yehuda Amichai’s poem instructs, will the rememberers remember? What is the proper way to cast one’s eyes as the flag lowers to half-mast? How are we to look at a photograph without re-victimizing the victims it portrays? Without looking too often? We who came after but not so long after, with which song do we cry over Treblinka?
The experience of being in a room full of letters, photographs, and yellow stars from the Holocaust is a dream come true for our students. There is something so special about being able to touch history and see the real artifacts, especially when these events can feel so far away from the experiences our students have in the classroom.
What makes the archives at the Ghetto Fighters’ House museum even more special is the background information they can provide on each of their artifacts. This behind the scenes information is the sort of thing that makes the Ghetto Fighters’ House so special. Since the creation of the institution they have fostered an environment that will feel like a home. It is for this reason that many of these donated pieces of history have ended up within their care.
Each object not only tells the story of a specific person and place during the Holocaust, but it also tells the story of how it came to the museum, and what the Ghetto Fighters’ House provides to the community of families with Holocaust survivors.
The museum was gracious enough to provide our students with different materials in their original languages, which members of our group could read and translates for their peers. Being able to hear the different languages explained by our own students emphasized the unique diversity of our group of students. Each of them comes to our program with their own skill set, and our time in the archive allowed students to learn from one another.
We are grateful to the museum for providing us with such a rich seminar. Each day provided something meaningful, and our time at in the archive allowed the students to confront history through this very special access to the museum’s meaningful artifacts. It was an inspiration to see the important work our friends at the Ghetto Fighters’ House do, and we can’t wait to go back.
In early December the students of the Weiss-Livnat MA in Holocaust Studies program enjoyed a weeklong seminar at the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum. The seminar was comprised of inside perspectives on the museum’s mission, creation, and various exhibits and activities. One of these days was spent in the Center or Humanistic Education, which works to turn theories of activism into practice, by using Holocaust education to teach humanistic values.
The day began with our students analyzing a number of quotes confronting the idea of genocide. This led to a discussion about how genocide can be understood differently in different disciplines, and the way such definitions have been adopted by activists today. Have slogans like “never again” been made empty by the genocides that followed the Holocaust? These kinds of questions and activities are at the core of the center. They push students to relate to different groups of people.
The students participated in other activities that showed the complex relationship between ideology and practice. Putting ideology into practice is easy once the ideology is accepted. This concept suggests that instead of asking how the Holocaust happened we should be asking how people accepted Nazi ideology. Once this ideology was accepted it was easy to implement legislation and social activities that reflected its philosophies.
The day ended with Dr. Netzer presenting the work the center does. By using the Holocaust as a teaching piece for humanistic values the center is able to create meaningful dialogue between Israeli Jewish and Arab teenagers. This partnership is built on the center’s philosophy that the Holocaust has “universal meanings across time and place” that can bring different kinds of people together, help them to understand each other, and build a better environment together.
Our time in the center had a big impact on many of our students. Last week, Máté Popovics wrote about its influence on him in a blog post. He said “Through the program I was able to enjoy a one week seminar at the Ghetto Fighter’s House Museum. One day of this seminar was spent at the museum’s humanistic center where they take groups of Israeli Arab and Jewish students and foster dialogue that stems from Holocaust education. I would love to do some kind of work like that, which brings kids closer together and helps them understand each other’s problems and cultural traumas. I want to do the kind of work that lets people create a more open and peaceful life together.”
We are grateful to the museum for providing us with such a rich seminar. Each day provided something meaningful, and our time in the Center for Humanistic Education emphasized many ideas our students don’t get to express in the classroom. It was an inspiration to see the important work our friends at the Ghetto Fighters’ House do, and we can’t wait to go back.