Friday, May 26, 2017

Reflections: 2016 Auschwitz Jewish Center Annual Alumni Journal

Click the image below to view the second issue of Reflections, the Auschwitz Jewish Center's Annual Alumni Journal.


Please contact DBramson@mjhnyc.org with questions and feedback.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Salomon Kupperman Documents



This document is a work identification that belonged to Salomon Kupperman, who was employed at the Chemical Plant in Oświęcim as manager of production planning. The Kuppermans lived on 1 Parkowa St. and Salomon worked in the local chemical factory as a clerk. As soon as the war started, Salomon, a member of the Hitahdut left Zionist party, escaped to the Soviet Union with his brother and remained in Siberia and Uzbekisthan for the duration of the war. In 1962, he emigrated to Israel with his wife Regina and daughter Elina. The item is on loan from Elina Shaked. Please click here to learn more about the family.

Volunteer Profile: Judith Althaus, 2016-2017

Hometown: Berlin, Germany

What attracted you to the AJC?

During my last year in high school I thought about what I would do next. I wanted to do a gap year between high school and university in Germany, like many young people. As a German, I don’t feel guilty about the Second World War, but I feel responsible to remember and support education about the Holocaust. I wanted to work in a museum and thought it would be interesting to do tours through the museum. I was also interested in Judaism in general, so the AJC seemed perfect.

What are you enjoying most about your volunteer experience?

I really like to lead tours in the museum and in the city of Oświęcim. I enjoy it when people are interested in the topic and especially when they ask questions. It happens sometimes that I can’t answer a question but this inspires me to do research and learn more. It is a great opportunity.

How has volunteering affected you?

I have learned so much about different topics: Judaism, the history of Poland and Galicia, and improved my teaching abilities. The educational work at the AJC is very interesting to me. I can imagine doing something similar when I study at university.

What is one thing you'd like others to know about the AJC or think people don't know?

The AJC has the perfect balance between history and present life. In the museum, visitors can learn about the past and present during workshops, especially the projects on prejudices and racism. There are always the questions: What can I take home? How will this information influence my daily and future life? In my opinion, that is very important.

Hope: A Paradox

Robert Kishaba, 2016 American Service Academies Program Alum

Hope is powerful. Its existence is undeniable, and its intimate involvement in our lives is similarly strong.

In Man’s Search for Meaning, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl articulates the necessity of hope through his time spent as a prisoner at various concentration camps during WWII. He supplied one particularly poignant example: between Christmas 1944 and New Year’s 1945 the camp’s sick ward experienced a death rate “beyond all previous experience,” not due to a food shortage or worse living conditions, but because, “the majority of the prisoners had lived in the naïve hope that they would be home again by Christmas.” When this hope was unmet, prisoners found no reason to continue holding on, nothing to look forward to. When a mind lets go, so does its body.

Philosophers have dealt with the idea of “hope” for centuries, disagreeing on subtleties or on the definition altogether. Aristotle, for example, once said that hope “is a waking dream” (Laertius). Plato identified hope as a pleasure. To him, once a belief “inscrib[es] words in our soul,” and once “these words concern the future they are hopes.” (Brittain). Not every philosopher stayed as abstract as the earliest ones, however. In a twentieth century work A Philosophy of Hope, for example, hope must meet six criteria, including that it be “difficult to obtain” and that it “lies beyond the control of the one who hopes” (Schumacher). Others include a spiritual component; St. Thomas Aquinas defined hope as “…a future good, difficult but possible to attain…by means of the Divine assistance…on Whose help it leans.” Hope is difficult to pinpoint, but on some level I think we know “hope” when we experience it.

According to Frankl’s observation regarding a higher death rate after Christmas, hope is a choice. Hope, it appears, is capable of sustaining life. While every external factor may root against you, one single act of internal defiance can counteract it all. Hope is powerful indeed. However powerful, the end result is never guaranteed. One can hope with the fiercest passion for something to occur (or not occur), but it gives no assurances. Choosing hope is inherently risky, because it can cause one to become attached to an idea that will never actualize.

Hope is curious in this way: on one hand, it can save your life, and on the other, it may have no bearing on the outcome. For having such varying effects, hope requires many things of an individual: an unquenchable thirst for whatever one hopes for, a stubbornness to reject any outcome other than the one desired, and a genuine belief that the hope will come to fruition. Hope has the power to save, yet at the same time it guarantees nothing. But that is just it: people recognize that hope does not guarantee a result. In fact, the uncertainty of the situation is the whole reason for them to hope in the first place. Hope is purely an internal shift. Hope relates to the well-being of the individual, not their external context.

Frankl’s text depicts the prisoners awaiting liberation from the Allies. Trusting in the Allied front and hoping that they break through the German defenses could have been a reasonable thing, depending on the point in the war. Hearing news of the eventual Allied progression must have inspired hope for many. But while some were fortunate enough to live to see the liberation of their camp, most did not see that glorious day. In this way, hope has no timeline. No one knew when they would be saved—or rather, if they would be saved. Hope is a disposition, and trusting in the Allies permitted this attitude. The Allied forces were both a symbol and a reality. They represented the idea of freedom and eventually followed through tangibly. But before the war ended, the prisoners had no assurance of this. Whether in the next moment, day, or year, they hoped that the Allies would eventually come. There was no certainty of eventual freedom, but they knew that someone somewhere was actively fighting for them, and that supplied some with everything they needed in order to hope.

The Nazis used hope as a means to an end. They deceived their prisoners because people respond to hope. It was a tool, and a very effective one—this is hope in its unnatural state. In a way, hope should remain undisturbed; let a man hope freely and fully. To be involved with a man’s hope is to be involved intimately with his life. One ought not to give hope only to tear it away—this is truly heartbreaking and potentially life-taking. Hope is powerful in this way.

Yes, hope is uncertain. No, the outcome cannot be guaranteed. Yet in the words of Frankl: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to chose one’s own way.”

Robby Kishaba is currently a junior at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He is a Political Science major with a Philosophy minor. He is involved in the Swing Dance Club and the Triathlon Team. He was born in Eau Claire, Wisconsin and is the youngest of five children. Robby is currently a Cadet Squadron Superintendent and hopes to pursue becoming a pilot upon graduation.

A New Chapter

Yael Friedman, Senior Manager of International Fellowships



Since I took the position of Senior Manager of International Fellowships in December, time has flown by. As an Auschwitz Jewish Center Fellow alumna from 2013, I had been interested in working with the AJC ever since. I was, and continue to be, inspired by their important work to teach about the Jewish history of Oświęcim, examine the impact of the Holocaust on the town and in Poland, and fight contemporary discrimination. Having worked even more closely with the AJC since 2015, leading the American Service Academies Program and then the Fellows program as well the following year, this view has been solidified. It is even more rewarding to be part of the program planning process. It is a privilege to prepare and guide military cadets and midshipmen, college and graduate students, and adults, through meaningful engagement with the historical content as well as the personal and emotional experience of being in Poland.

The granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor and two Jews who left Poland during the interwar years, I have a personal connection to this history. My grandmother has regaled me with stories of life in Włocławek, Poland, both the happy memories and those that are deeply upsetting. It wasn’t until I traveled through Poland with AJC staff, my second trip to Poland, that I was able to see some beauty in Poland and develop a deeper understanding of its complex history. With every group, visiting sites related to Polish history, Jewish history, and the Holocaust, is a new and unique experience, and I’m looking forward to many more!

Over these past few months I have had the opportunity to connect with many of you, by phone and in person, and hope to meet many more. I look forward to working with you. Let me know if I can be of any help to you and stay in touch!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Chrzanów Bakery Advertisement

This advertisement from the Chrzanów Bakery lists prices of bread for sale on October 15, 1936. Christian and Jewish residents of Oświęcim bought fresh bread at the Chrzanowska Bakery, which was owned by Chaim Gerstner. Chaim and Miriam lived nearby at 2 Spadzista Street with their children Rachel, Mina, and Yaakov.

 In 1941, the Gerstners were deported to the Chrzanów ghetto. Chaim Gerstner was hanged publicly with his father Israel, brother Shimshon, and four other Jews on April 29, 1942 in the ghetto. His oldest daughter, Rachel, was the only family member to survive. She immigrated to Palestine in 1947.

This object is part of the collection of the State Archive in Katowice branch in Oświęcim.

Volunteer Profile: Max Schwaiger, 2016-2017

Hometown: Hinterbrühl, Austria

I was drawn to the AJC because I liked the idea of having a museum in Oświęcim that deals with the Jewish life in this town, and not only with the Holocaust. It is important to show people how prosperous and important the Jewish communities used to be in this region, and honor their memory. I enjoy leading walking tours a lot, because there are so many different people who come here for different reasons so I get to meet many individuals from around the world. Since I arrived, I have learned so much about Jewish history and the religion through our trainings and discussions with individuals of all backgrounds. In my opinion, the AJC is a smaller but equally important counterpart to the Auschwitz Museum because it is the only museum dealing with the life of Jews in this region.

Learn more about AJC Volunteers here.

Questioning Professional Ethics

MIDN 1/C Jessica Miller, 2016 ASAP Alum
The Hippocratic Oath, the document that historically binds physicians to ethical standards, carries the following stipulation in its direct translation: “…I will abstain from all intentional wrong-doing and harm, especially from abusing the bodies of man or woman, bond or free.” A modern version of the Oath states that doctor “will remember that [they] remain a member of society, with special obligations to all . . . fellow human beings.” While this version was written in 1964, well after the events of World War II and the Holocaust, it carries the same intent as the original message: a physician’s first responsibility is to humanity, not to science.

As a result, exploration of medicine that harms human beings in the process is morally reprehensible. Doctors, Nazi sympathizers or otherwise, directly violated the tenets of their profession to carry out mass extermination of several populations considered “undesirable.” They did this through a strict doctrine of dehumanization—purposefully denying the humanity of their subjects.

Physicians willfully abandoned their patients’ humanity in order to conduct reprehensible experiments. Many medical advances came from Nazi doctors pushing their victims past their physical limits, violating professional codes (military, legal, etc.) for comparison. My desire to serve as a military physician means that I must consider the ethics of two different professions in my work.

The summary of the American Service Academies Program (ASAP) includes the following learning objective for participants: “to understand what can happen . . . when fear overpowers ethics.”

While fear is certainly one of the most important circumstances that challenges individual loyalties to moral and ethical codes, German professionals also sacrificed their professional obligations out of greed or ambition. In any case, the Holocaust contains numerous case studies that demonstrate precisely how dangerous abandoning one’s professional ethos can be when that person is in a position of power. The history of the Holocaust—before, during, and after—includes enabling factors perpetuated by military members, physicians, educators, clergy, and financiers or bankers. For instance, instructors taught Nazi racial ideology and encouraged youth participation in organizations like the Hitler Youth and the League of German Girls, and Nazi industrialists seized and repurposed formerly Jewish factories.

Focusing on physicians and military officers, I consider the violation of these professional codes to be the most devastating throughout the course of the Hitler’s Germany because doctors and members of the armed forces are responsible for protecting human life and managing violence. Moreover, because I aspire to commission into the Navy Medical Corps upon graduation, the impacts these two professions can have directly impact human life. The ASAP trip included historical examples, case studies, and personal interactions with individuals who served in both capacities.

The most notorious examples of physicians violating their ethics come from the labor and mass-extermination camps throughout Europe. Prisoners were subjected to experiments from three categories: military survival techniques, pharmaceutical and procedural treatments, and studies that helped perpetuate Nazi racial and ideological ideas. Many experiments incorporated varied atmospheric and environmental conditions, including high altitudes, pressure shifts, and low temperatures. Scientists also tested methods of making seawater potable. The Nazi doctors were able to conduct these experiments because they considered their victims to be less than human. As far as the Nazi physicians were concerned, the people captured and tortured by the Nazis were akin to rats in a laboratory. By practicing this mentality, they could abandon their duty to the Hippocratic Oath. Similarly, doctors on the platform at Auschwitz who performed the Selektion—sorting the healthy from the weak, to make one group laborers and send the other to the gas chambers—simply herded the people like cattle, poking and prodding at them when required.

Dr. Josef Mengele, the most famous of the physicians involved in these atrocities, essentially capitalized on the abundance of “patients” at Auschwitz. The Angel of Death (a nickname given to him) exemplified the blatant lack of concern Nazi physicians demonstrated towards their patients—his most famous work involved twins, especially children. In this sense, he is one of the most reprehensible figures of the Holocaust. While visiting Auschwitz I, the ASAP participants heard the story of Block 10, where a majority of the gruesome experiments took place. Doctors also conducted sterilization procedures on adults. Other such medical knowledge derived from the atrocity includes how long a human can survive low temperatures, and exploration of infectious diseases like tuberculosis.

The experiments Nazi physicians conducted during the Holocaust were undeniably committed in direct violation of the oath, which the professionals swore to uphold upon their completion of military or medical school training. However, in the case of the doctors, the data that remains as a consequence of the experiments is another issue entirely. I believe that the tragedy of the Holocaust is magnified exponentially when the scientific community chooses to ignore the information absolutely. However, I believe that using such material also runs the risk of contributing to future human rights violations done in the name of science or improvement of the human condition. The “data” runs the risk of shrouding the human suffering—some victims still live as a testament to their abuse at the hands of Nazi scientists. The scientific validity of many experiments is highly questionable because, as in the racial studies, the data manifested as a self-fulfilling prophecy: the results were tailored to support Nazi racial theory and can be of no scientific value.

In my opinion, the most impactful speaker ASAP students encountered during the trip was Dr. Andrzej Wiczynski, who served as a platoon commander during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. Dr. Wiczynski, who retired as a major and then attended medical school to eventually work as a trauma surgeon following World War II, was the lone military speaker during the program. Consequently, his experiences excited and astonished ASAP participants—many of us could not even begin to imagine the sacrifices Dr. Wiczynski made to protect his city and his people. He is an example of the power one individual has with regard to personal decisions, and worked as a servant leader in both the military and medical professions.

Dr. Wiczynski performed a number of staggering tasks during his time in the Polish Home Army. Some of these missions floored the midshipmen and cadets because we could not fathom having to take on the same level of responsibility. One such action involved Dr. Wiczynski having to arrest and execute the mother of five children because she spied for the Germans and betrayed many of her neighbors. He was not pleased at the prospect of having to bring her to justice because that involved orphaning the five children, but did so because it was his task. Dr. Wiczynski embodies a principle often taught to budding military officers, particularly those at service academies: “If not me, then who.” Dr. Wiczynski took on even the most unpleasant aspects of his work in order to fully support the mission of the Polish Home Army in expelling the Nazis from their city and eventually the entire country.

 Even more shocking to the students was a fact that Dr. Wiczynski shared in a very straightforward manner: his age during several military milestones. He commanded a platoon of sixty-five 14 to 16-year old boys when he was 17. These numbers are so noteworthy because the thirteen ASAP participants are all 18 years of age or older—only one of us had any significant prior military experience, and nobody among us could imagine making decisions on the caliber of Dr. Wiczynski’s even as many approach graduation and full-fledged service in the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Navy, and Marine Corps. He demonstrated the deepest considerations for the moral and ethical codes that guided his work.

Dr. Wiczynski’s high regard for his professional codes is further reflected by his choice to pursue medicine after the events of the Warsaw Uprising and World War II. He became a trauma surgeon. When the ASAP participants asked him what his rationale was for this decision, the response was simple: he hoped to give back, and make some sort of restitution to society for the lives he took during his military service. Dr. Wiczynski doubly contributed to the chorus of voices that deepen the narrative of the Holocaust to one that includes hope—he fulfilled his professional codes and upheld ethical standards.

The ASAP experience taught me how pivotal my role as an officer will be for upholding the values and laws of the United States of America. Even as a junior officer or budding medical student still learning the ropes of my work, my decisions must fundamentally reflect a higher calling and code.

MIDN Jess Miller is a senior (Midshipman 1/C) at the United States Naval Academy. She is in 7th Company, serves as president and Editor-in-Chief of The LOG, the Academy’s satire magazine for AY17, and serves as Brigade Protocol Officer. She worked as a Regimental Honor Advisor during the Class of 2020’s Plebe Summer. Jess is from Chesapeake, VA, and is an Honors English major. She previously held the position of president of the Navy Medicine Club, works as a peer tutor at The Writing Center, and competes on the Navy Club Fencing Team. She has been blessed with the opportunity to pursue the Navy Medical Corps after graduation, and will attend the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences for medical school.

In the Mountains

Shiri Sandler, Former AJC U.S. Director


After ten years with the Auschwitz Jewish Center and the Museum of Jewish Heritage, my last day was December 7. I have loved working with the AJC. I've worked with hundreds of students who have touched my heart and taught me so much about memory, history, and ethics. I've been honored to tell the stories of Holocaust victims and survivors, to curate an exhibition about Oświęcim that is now traveling the world, and to come to know so many of you and be trusted with your family histories.

 I couldn't be prouder of what we've accomplished in ten years: expanded the American Service Academies Program (above, in 2013) and AJC Fellows Program, opened new opportunities like the PSA and police programs, and built Café Bergson in the rehabilitated Kluger House. I've been lucky to be in this position and work with such talented colleagues; anyone would be lucky to love their job in the way I have. Thank you for your support these past ten years.

I've been honored to work with you. Personally, this has been one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. I won't be going far, and I look forward to seeing all of you in the AJC family again soon.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Artifact Spotlight: Challah cover


This challah (traditional bread baked for Shabbat) cover was sold to raise money for Kolel Chibas Yerushalayim (est. 1830), a charity that supported Jews who had emigrated to the Holy Land from Galicia, a former historical and geographical region in southeastern Poland and Ukraine. The cover features the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Many Jewish homes in Oświęcim had special collection boxes to raise money for their brethren in Palestine. This challah cover was found in 1990s in a house on Berka Joselewicza Street in Oświęcim. Gift of Aleksandra and Tomasz Kuncewicz.