Seminars

The Yiddish Culture in the former Third Reich Displaced Persons Camps

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Dr. Ella Florsheim sharing images of newsletters and other cultural material from the DP camps. 

During our seminar at Yad Vashem, we were fortunate to listen to a lecture from Dr. Ella Florsheim. Her lecture was titled: Yiddish Culture in Displaced Persons Camps in Germany: Newspaper, Theatre and Literature. Dr. Florsheim is a specialist in Jewish culture of the surviving remnant in post-conflict Germany.

Germany had 150 displaced person camps throughout the country. The largest was Bergen-Belsen, where, on average, the population of the camp was five to seven thousand, but the British hosted twelve thousand people at its peak of population. There were very few camps in other countries, including France, Austria and Italy, but these were mostly transit camps for larger, more prominent destinations in Germany. Germany was perceived as an exit point to America, Israel, and Great Britain – anywhere outside of former Third Reich. It should be noted that Jews and other displaced people tried to return to their homes, but, for an overwhelming majority of them, people had moved into their homes and refused to leave.

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Cohort V walking to the International School at Yad Vashem

During the years 1945 to 1948, there were still strict immigration laws in place. Jews and other displaced people didn’t have anywhere to go. Displaced persons lived in former Nazi concentration camps and military barracks. They were crowded and the living conditions were dismal, but their spirits did not break. They shared unique community and culture with one another, which is exactly what Dr. Ella Florsheim studies.

After the Holocaust, there were “signs of life” as Dr. Florsheim put it, a “strong vitality to recreate community.” But the communities still suffered from the aftermath of the Holocaust – the end of the war did not mean the end of dying. 30,000 people died in the first weeks after Bergen-Belsen was liberated. But this time period also proved to give birth to new life: in two and half years, one thousand babies were born in these camps. Most of these new mothers lost their own mothers to the gas chambers. German doctors were brought in to care for these new mothers and to help with labor.

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Students Hana Green and Jasmine Munn on the Yad Vashem Campus. 

It was significant for survivors to start new life on German soil, as many of them had considered Germany their home before the Holocaust. The rise of Jewish leadership was marked after liberation, specifically after Munich was liberated. They formed democratically elected governments of sorts,  and they started hospitals and orphanages in the DP camps. They also formed cultural organizations such as theatres and newspapers, among others.  

Only three weeks after the liberation in Buchenwald, surviving Jews started a newsletter called, in Yiddish, “Undzer Sztime” or “Our Voice.” The first publication was sent out on July 12, 1945. David Rosenthal was one of the founders, and he said that doing something for the Jews meant doing it in Yiddish. The translation of Yiddish in Yiddish is Jewish, and the two concepts were inseparable for him. They found old typing machines with Hebrew letters, which amazingly survived the onslaught of Jewish culture in the Third Reich. They put a lot of effort into finding and even making, by hand, rubber stamp letters, so they could print their newsletters in Yiddish. They sent this newsletter throughout the system of displaced person camps in the former Third Reich, and they shared a bond through the culture they shared, which was viciously attacked for the last 12 years.

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Dr. Florsheim sharing with Cohort V. 

Another newspaper called the “Lansberger Lager ceitung” in Yiddish, or “Landsberg Camp Newspaper,” was published in Latin letters between 1945 and 1948, as well as another called the “Jidisze Cajtung” or the “Jewish Times.” The different newspapers held different competitions collecting poems and short stories, which were the first testaments to their memories of the Holocaust. Winners of these competitions were promised speedy movement with visa paperwork.

Schools in the DP camps weren’t teaching Yiddish, though, they were teaching Hebrew for the two thirds of the population which would eventually end up in Palestine. A saying in the camp went something like this: “Speak Yiddish, study Hebrew.” Their identity was Yiddish but their future was Hebrew.

The Katzet Theatre began in Bergen-Belsen, and Sholem Aleichem worked as director and playwright. He wasn’t afraid to discuss their experiences of the Holocaust on stage. He argued it was therapeutic and cathartic. Another theatre group started in Munich called “The Enchanted Tailor.” They travelled between other DP camps for the three years they were an institution in the former Third Reich. They always met an excited and abundant audience, and were in high demand. There was a singular relationship between laughing and crying in their plays, and the theatre accepted it and worked from that place. The genre they created was a sort of therapy drama. It put the audience in control of their surroundings, which was new and different for them, and it allowed them to process their experiences differently.

Meanwhile in Palestine, it was illegal to perform a play in Yiddish and they had an emphasis on a new Israeli culture. Yiddish in America was also being lost. A survivor was quoted saying “I wasn’t in Treblinka, but my word went to flame there.” The culture found in the DP camps of the former Third Reich was the last blinking life of European Jewry, and Ella Dr. Florsheim’s research underlines the importance of the culture that was destroyed under the Nazi regime.


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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Holocaust Internship, Internships

Eugenia talks about her Internship at Yad Vashem

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Eugenia | Romania | BA in Journalism from Hyperion University and BA in Jewish Studies in from University of Bucharest | MA in Hebrew Culture and Civilization from the University of Bucharest | Cohort V

Q: What will you be doing at Yad Vashem?
A: The project I am working with is called Deportations of Jews – a Yad Vashem project that started in 2007. The International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem has been studying the organized deportations of Jews as an extensive phenomenon. The resulting database will reconstruct all the transports that took place during the Holocaust from territories of the Third Reich, from countries under German occupation, from the Axis states and from the satellite states.
I am working on documents in Romanian, identifying all the relevant material about the transports from Romania during the Holocaust.

Q: What makes you most excited to be working at Yad Vashem?
A: As an MA student at the Weiss-Livnat International MA Program in Holocaust Studies at the University of Haifa I had the opportunity to meet Professors and Researchers from Yad Vashem. They lectured about different topics on the Holocaust and WWII, how to read articles from an analytical point of view, how to write and much more. At Yad Vashem, I’m learning how to research on a new level.
Last but not least, the project Deportations is interesting and challenging. We have a blank map and an enormous database that helps us fill it with content. The database has been constructed from a wide variety of: documents, research, legal material, survivors’ testimonies and memoirs. And we connect them creating the journey of Jews from the moment they were thrown out from their home in a tiny village or town till the moment they ended up in a camp.

Q: What brought you working with Yad Vashem?
A: MA students at the Weiss-Livnat International MA Program in Holocaust Studies have this amazing internship opportunity and many others. For an MA student who wants to do research in the future this is the normal path to follow.  

Q: Who will you be working with?
A: Dr. Joel Zisenwine is the Project Director. He and Ms. Aviv Shashar, the Project Coordinator and Researcher, are the ones who guide me as an intern.  

Q: What is your area of specialty within Holocaust Studies?
A: I am interested in Memory Studies, working mainly on testimonies of Holocaust survivors from Transnistria. I started my research at the “Elie Wiesel” National Institute for the Study of Holocaust in Romania as an intern.  


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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Seminars

Yad Vashem Seminar 2017 | Yosi Goldstein

Yosi Goldstein shared different perspectives with the cohort on Latin America during the Holocaust. Latin American countries had relatively large Jewish populations. Today there are less Jews in Latin America than there were in 1939. Yosi shared that Nazism wasn’t constricted to Germany but was an ideology that could have been, and was, adopted by many nations. During the “Crucial Years” (1938-1939) “The Jewish Question of Refugees” was a primary source of debate. The Evian Conference, July 6-15, 1938, called by President Roosevelt, sought to answer this debate, to no avail. No one was willing to increase their immigration quotas for German Jews, or any other Jews in crisis. Of the 32 countries that were present, 18 of them were Latin American countries. During the conference no one actually referred directly to the Jewish people, they instead referred to an “undesirable” population, saying they “didn’t want to import Russia’s problem.”

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For example, the book “Alex’s Wake” talks about a ship of Jewish refugees that made it to Cuba, all those on board had visas to Cuba but they are declined at port and were refused to disembark. The ship then went up the East Coast of the United States and was turned away at every port. They were finally sent back to Germany.  

The Argentinian government stated at the Evian Conference that they were of course sympathetic but at the same time they would not increase immigration quotas. The different countries, essentially, were saying that they can’t offer visas to anyone that was expelled or were deemed undesirable by their own country, and this was for their own economic protection. When Jews applied to the Argentinian government for visas many lied and said their were Christians, appealing the the Catholic presence in Argentina. Many immigrants entered Argentina illegally, as well. It wasn’t until January 1944 that Argentina cut relations with Germany and declared war against the Axis in March 1945.

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This is not to say that there weren’t Latin American countries and people who didn’t help Jews. Many did. Of the 26,120 Righteous Among the Nations, 6,000 were Latin American. For example, Manuel Antonio Muñoz Borrero, of Ecuador, sent 80 blank visas to Istanbul which were distributed to Poles, most of whom were Jews. This was against his country’s foreign policy, and he risked his life to do so, which is why he is considered Righteous Among the Nations.

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Seminars

Yad Vashem Seminar 2017 | Iael Nidam-Orvieto

Iael Nidam-Orvieto gave a lecture titled: “Fascist Italy and the Jews of Italy,” during the recent Yad Vashem seminar. She broke the period of Italian fascism into three segments: 1922-1935 is the “Honeymoon Period,” (describing the relationship between Jews and Mussolini), the Second phase is 1935-1938, (or “Preparation for persecution,” which is classified with quantifiable increase in Italian anti-Semitic actions), and the last portion from 1938-1945 ( which is identified with legislation against the Jews, and mass murder).

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Iael Nidam-Orvieto

Mussolini himself was extremely anti-Semitic. Unlike Nazi anti-Semitism, Mussolini’s anti-Semitism was not purely racist, in other words converted Jews were not offensive to him. He was a modern anti-Semite, in that he believed in International Judaism, and that all Jews are manipulative and rich, which will eventually ruin Italian economy. Mussolini was unique in the fact that he brought socialism to fascism, so Italian fascism wasn’t necessarily true fascism but Mussolini-ism. The Italian people loved Mussolini, including the Jewish population. They saw him as a “caring father of the Italians.” Meanwhile, he was publishing anti-Semitic articles in the newspaper anonymously.

Most Italian Jews could trace their family lines in Italy back to the age of the Second Temple. They were characterized as exceptionally Italian, and loyal to the government. They were considered an integral part of society by the general population. Mussolini was smart enough not to show his anti-Semitism publicly from 1922-1935. During this time there was no governmental sign of anti-Semitism. Additionally, the catholic church was against racist anti-Semitism, and could not approve of Nazi Germany. Mussolini decided not go against the church, because it would have likely destabilized the government.

Meanwhile, Mussolini was distancing himself from Hitler, in order to create an identity for Fascist Italy. After the failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, Mussolini specifically sought distinction from Hitler. In 1929, Mussolini successful pulled Italy out of the Great Depression, and for this Hitler looked to him as a role model. Because of this respect Hitler never raised the Jewish Question in Italy until 1943.

The Second Period, 1935-1938 was noted for increasing preparation for persecution of Jews. The Ethiopian War of 1935 increased racism in Italy. Questions were raised about the equality of the children born to Ethiopian women and Italian men, which also led to questions about Jewish equality. The Italians conquered Ethiopia through extremely violent measures, including gassing civilians in populated areas. The global community responded to the Ethiopian war with embargos. In order to end the embargos Mussolini contact two Italian-Jewish leaders, and asked them to plead with Jewish leaders in Great Britain to end the embargos. Of course, this didn’t work. They met with regional leaders, who had no say in British politics, but this was an example of Mussolini’s belief in International Judaism. Or it was Mussolini’s way of blaming the Jews for not ending the embargoes, because he knew their peace mission would fail. This event lead to significant anti-Semitism in Italy through widespread propaganda.

The period 1935-1938, also witnesses friendly relations with Hitler and Nazi Germany. Because Mussolini’s anti-Semitism was not pronounced in the first period Italians thought that they anti-Jewish legislation was coming from Nazi Germany. Mussolini made propaganda to negate this popular opinion, but it was ineffective. This idea was so widely believed that Jews in Italy thought themselves that the anti-Semitic laws were ordered from their new Nazi ally.

From 1938-1943 Italian Jewish experienced further persecution. In 1940, Mussolini gave an order for all Jews to leave Italy within five years. However, when the Nazis re-established Mussolini as ruler of Italy after the revolt in 1942, he had less power and was more of puppet. In 1943, Nazis started deporting Italian Jews. Italy is the only country that started deportations after part of the country had been liberated by the Allies.  The north of the country had a better idea of what was coming because they had better communication with people in Germany, but Jews in the south and Rome didn’t know what to expect. Twenty percent of the Italian Jews were deported within a year and a half, and many Italians willingly participated in round-ups.


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, Research

Lukas Shares About Research at the Strochlitz Institute

Starring Lukas Meissel


Lukas is a PhD candidate in Holocaust Studies at the University of Haifa. While in Israel Lukas has access to excellent research resources. As a student at the Strochlitz Institute he has access to the archives kept within the institute, as well as the archives at Yad Vashem, the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum and more. Lukas is in the research portion of his dissertation now, which will last about a year, then he will move to write his dissertation, typically this takes two years. Thanks for your good work Lukas! We’re looking forward to see what will come!


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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Seminars

Seminar at Yad Vashem: Insider Look the Fourth Day

12274440_912821608796288_2932885248669194258_nDay 4: Historical & Database Presentations

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 the fourth day!

On the morning of our last day at Yad Vashem the annual lecture of the John Najmann Chair of Holocaust Studies was held. The speaker was Dr. Angel Chorapchiev who spoke about forced labor and survival in the Jewish labor camps in Bulgaria during WWII. Jews in Bulgaria were removed from the army and transferred to labor brigades to satisfy outside German demands. From 1941 to 1943 the conditions in the labor camps worsened. Dr. Chorapchiev’s presentation utilized many photographs and even one rare film of the Jewish labor camps in Bulgaria. Many of these photographs and the film resembled those of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the US. Laborers were smiling and looked healthy. In the film there were even recreation scenes. They did not resemble images that come to mind when we think of slave labor during the Holocaust. It forced studnts to remember that this was coerced labor, that these people were separated from and worried about their families, and it cautioned researchers about using footage without analyzing the context, source, and their purpose. The presentation really highlighted the fact that one can’t make generalizations about the Holocaust because the situation of Jews differed vastly depending on place and even time.

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The final two presentations were both by Library and Archives staff. They focused on the databases that Yad Vashem has for conducting research including online exhibitions like Transport to Extinction and the International Tracing Service. Lital Beer from the Reference and Information Service discussed the number and variety of sources in the Yad Vashem collection, most of which are not digitized. Zvi Bernhardt discussed the challenges of name variants when searching the pages of testimony and how complicated it is to search the International Tracing Service.

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The four day seminar at Yad Vashem was packed full of educational and meaningful experiences. In addition to the scheduled lectures and tours, students were able to spend three afternoons in the Yad Vashem Library & Archives doing research on individual projects and papers. Overall it was an incredible experience and we are very lucky to have a partnership with Yad Vashem that enables us to provide a behind the scenes look at the Museum and memorials to our students, and to expose them to leading scholars in the field.

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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Seminars

Seminar at Yad Vashem: Insider Look at the Third Day

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!

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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.

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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.

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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/

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