Weiss-Livnat Seminar in Warsaw: Initiating Dialog Between Israeli, German, and Polish Students

Written by Devra Katz


Polin Museum

This past summer I had the privilege of participating in the Polin Meeting Point Summer Education School hosted at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, Poland.  The program, a two-week seminar, invited students from Germany, Poland, and Israel to come together and, using various methodologies, explore issues related to post World War II reconstruction in Poland and Germany, and the emergence of Israeli statehood and citizenship.  This topic sparked very interesting and illuminating discussions among the students and brought to light issues of national narratives and identity politics in Poland, Germany, and Israel.

The program incorporated a multifaceted, interdisciplinary approach in order to engage participants and enhance the learning environment.  First and foremost, the seminar invited numerous prestigious scholars from Poland, Germany, and Israel to speak to the group.  Some of the best in their field, the guest scholars gave very interesting, informative, and engaging presentations which generated enlightening discussions that continued beyond the length of each session.  This approach and these lectures were some of the more special aspects of the program.  Through these discussions, our international group got the opportunity to really get to know one another and delve deeper into various narratives – personal, political, historical, and national – experienced by all the participants and their various home countries.


Historic Warsaw

In addition to the scholarship, we spent a great deal of time touring historic Warsaw and many sites in the city relevant to World War II, the Holocaust, and the years following the war.  Among these sites were the former Warsaw ghetto, Paviak prison, the Jewish cemetery, various monuments around the city, the Jewish Historical Institute, and many more.  We were also given access to the museum’s archives and research facilities allowing us to engage relevant material and to search for documents relevant to family histories or other research projects.  Furthermore, the group spent two days visiting the city of Wroclaw, where a Polish graduate from the Weiss-Livnat program guided us through the city’s Jewish, pre-war, and post-war history.  During the program we participated in several workshops about oral history and completed final projects using oral history interviews we conducted during the seminar.  This very packed program made for a well rounded and insightful two weeks of study, participation in cross-cultural dialogue, and a unique opportunity to meet and work with peers in our respective fields from diverse backgrounds.


Paviak Prison

The various aspects of this program provided a wonderful platform to learn a great deal, experience post-war Poland first hand, meet great people from different countries, and foster relationships, both professional and personal, that have carried on beyond the scope of the seminar.  As a student in the Weiss-Livnat International MA in Holocaust Studies program, this is just one of the many opportunities I have been afforded to expand my education, travel to places significant to the subject of the Holocaust and to my research, and grow as a scholar and global citizen.

One of the primary purposes of the POLIN Meeting Point program was to initiate dialogue between German, Polish, and Israeli students and work to build relationships at the grassroots level between the three countries.  I am very grateful for having participated in the program and I feel that my anticipation and expectations for this seminar were truly surpassed.  Originally from the United States, I am also still learning the Israeli national narratives and sentiments, and participation in this program furthered my understanding of the society in which I live and the community in which I learn. My time as a student in the Weiss-Livnat program has been enriched by participating in partner programs such as the POLIN Meeting Point, and I am thankful for the contribution it has made to my education and life experiences.

Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program?  You can find the application and more information at our website


Yad Vashem Seminar: Insider Look at the Second Day

The members of our 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 second day!


Tour of the Museum & External Memorials

The second day at Yad Vashem was devoted to a museum tour, an interesting discussion with the head of the artifacts division, and a tour of the Yad Vashem external memorials. The guide for the museum was very knowledgeable, and she pointed out the architectural elements of the museum including how it utilizes the shape of the mountain and light to create a certain atmosphere for the visitor. The museum starts with a video installation of Jewish life in Europe before the war and after one has descended through the maze like passages, which begin to gradually ascend towards the end, the visitor is greeted by light and a beautiful view of Jerusalem.  One truly sees the light at the end of the tunnel that symbolizes the return to life that is a key focus of Yad Vashem.

After the museum tour our students had a fascinating talk with the head of the artifacts division. He had laid out various artifacts including a dress and a cloth flag signed by prisoners at the Ravensbruck concentration camp. He shared the story of how the objects came into the collection and the extensive lengths the staff goes through to piece together the story of each object including the individuals who owned it. He emphasized the importance of teaching the history of the Holocaust through objects.


Next the students went on a tour of the grounds with another outstanding guide. The guide showed them the two memorials on the Wall of Remembrance created by Nathan Rapoport. One memorial commemorates the Warsaw Ghetto Fighters and the other called “the Last March” shows Jews walking towards a death camp. Although very different in their design both memorials commemorate resistance – physical and spiritual. The students then saw the Children’s Memorial, which is an abstract and poignant memorial designed by Moshe Safdie. Inside, the memorial uses mirrors to cast the reflection of four candles into thousands of points of light and a voice recording reads the names of hundreds of child victims of the Holocaust in Hebrew, English, and Yiddish. The final memorial our group saw before going to look at the artwork in the art museum was the sculpture of Janusz Korczak and the Children of the ghetto. The guide was very attuned to the portrayal of women during the Holocaust and pointed out the fact that Madame Steffa is not portrayed in the memorial, despite the fact that she was an integral figure in Korczak’s orphanage.

The last event of the day was an insightful conversation with Iael Nidam-Orvieto, the Director of the International Institute for Holocaust Research. Students had the opportunity to discuss the Museum and their experiences so far with Dr. Nidam-Orvieto, and to hear background from her about the new museum and its creation. She compared the old and new museums, the reactions of survivors and other visitors, as well as the increased numbers of visitors to Yad Vashem since the new museum opened in 2005.

Seminar at the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum: Inside the Archive

IMG_3040 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.


IMG_3057 IMG_3054

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.