Thursday, December 28, 2017

Thursday, December 14, 2017

1929 Greeting Card

This greeting card from 1929 sends blessings for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur from Mordechai Neumark and his wife in Oświęcim. The family owned a paint store at 1 Kościelna Street. Learn more about the AJC's artifacts and permanent exhibition here.

Volunteer Profile: Dorian Schiffer, 2017-2018

Dorian Schiffer (center) with
current AJC volunteers
Hometown: Thalheim bei Wels, Upper Austria

What attracted you to the AJC?

Primarily the location. You can fulfill your Holocaust Memorial Service anywhere in the world, but here you are immediately confronted with the crime. And when I researched the AJC I was especially fascinated because it completely changed my perspective on Auschwitz. Before, I saw it as most people do: as the ultimate symbol of the Holocaust, but now I understood that Auschwitz is so much more. Oświęcim has a 500-year Jewish history! And so I decided to come here, to tell the story of Oshpitzin because if you don’t know what was lost, you cannot understand the loss.

What are you enjoying most about volunteering at the AJC?

Two things. First, I can train my English, talk in front of people, and learn how to handle groups. Also I simply like explaining, telling stories. I really enjoy the freedom we volunteers have at the AJC. We can start our own projects and use Café Bergson as a resource. This is just great!

How has volunteering affected you?

Well, honestly I still don’t know. I am here just for two months and have eight to go, so I cannot tell how this experience will change me. But it definitely will. Already I feel more comfortable talking in front of many people, and my knowledge concerning Judaism and the history of Poland and Europe skyrocketed.

What is the one thing you want others to know about the AJC?

Actually that it exists! I feel like most visitors to Oświęcim just go to the camp and that’s it. So they lack these crucial perspectives we provide here at the AJC.

As I Don a Kippah for the First Time

Kevin Sooraj Puri, 2017 AJC ASAP Alum

Growing up in an Indian family that practiced both Hinduism and Sikhism, there are many occasions where I remember an adult telling me to cover my head before I entered a holy space.

“Beta, apane sir ko dhako,” my mother said when we would enter the gurudwara, a Sikh house of worship, to which I would excitedly walk over to the basket full of orange and yellow handkerchief-sized cloths and pick my favorite orange one. As I ran to my grandfather to ask for assistance in tying and knotting the cloth around my head, I watched my mother, sister, and grandmother don their chunnis, or headscarves, as well, as they ascended the stairs to the holy space. Upon entering, we walked down the main aisle and passed by men sitting to the left and women to the right. As we walked down the aisle, we approached the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book and last living guru of the Sikhs, covered in beautifully colored cloth and positioned on a dominant, raised platform with an ornately embroidered canopy overhead. We bowed, with our hands joined or folded together, and bent down to touch our foreheads to the floor, a sign of respect for the Guru Granth Sahib.

While in Warsaw, Poland, amid our first tour of a synagogue during the American Service Academies Program 2017, I chose a blue kippah out of a small wicker basket sitting outside the door and gently placed it on my head. I was entering a synagogue for the very first time in my life, yet the experience felt somewhat familiar and instinctive to me. I felt an almost elemental, deep-seated connection to the space and to the experience–as if I had been there before and as if I knew what I was doing. The Torah scroll is also positioned on a raised platform, just as the Guru Granth Sahib is. This platform is called a bimah, and serves as a podium upon which the cantor can pray. The Torah is covered in an embroidered cloth, to ensure it does not touch plain wood while being read. These striking similarities I witnessed between the gurudwara and the synagogue evoked a warmth inside me—the same warmth I feel spread around me when attending Akhand Path, a Sikh prayer service, at the gurudwara with my family.

“This synagogue,” our tour guide articulated, “also functions as house of study.” It is often referred to as a Beit Midrash, which translates to study hall. On the tall walls that surrounded us were several shelves, each holding a colorful collection of sacred Jewish texts. In this moment, I once again recalled the gurudwara of my childhood.

The pearly two-story building held a small room in the back that had a large painted banner hanging outside the room that read, “Khalsa School for Sikh Children.” As I peered through the sizable vertical windows that reveal the insides of the room, I saw shelves filled with books, a large table, and floor cushions for people to sit on. I saw Sikh children inside, all around my age, eagerly grabbing a cushion for themselves and placing it in a circle around an adult who I assumed to be their teacher. I never entered this room, as my parents had not enrolled me in these educational classes for Sikh children—most likely because both of my parents practiced Hinduism and the only person in my family to practice Sikhism was my grandmother. Yet, as I peered through the windows into this back room, I admired the delighted, jubilant faces of the children opening their books and listening to every word that passed from the instructor’s mouth with such fervor and earnestness. This room, I later came to learn, was the classroom of the gurudwara, and children would attend classes there every Sunday to further their understanding of the Sikh faith and heritage. In addition, they explored and learned about the gurbani, the teachings, compositions, and wisdom of the ten Sikh Gurus.

Our tour guide continued: “there are scheduled times during the week, here, during which people will study the Torah.” The Torah study does not simply focus on the absorption of the material, but also on a conversation and dialogue among the students, and even so, between the students and the text. As I gazed at the beautiful books on the walls, I imagined an assemblage of Jewish school children studying together, and instantly, I am reminded of those elated Sikh children I saw at the gurudwara.

“At times, this holy space functions as a gathering place–a town hall for matters to be discussed and a place for groups to meet for various religious activities,” the tour guide said as we continued to walk through the synagogue. I was reminded of the langar that followed the Sunday prayer at the gurudwara. Langar, the Sikh term for a community kitchen, was the time after the Sunday prayer was complete when all those in attendance for the prayer would go to a large room outside the gurudwara kitchen to serve and volunteer to serve free meals. The room contained several long carpet runners that ran from one end of the room to the other. Immediately after the completion of Akhand Path, people descended the stairs from the darbar, the upstairs prayer room, and methodically sat next to one another in drawn-out columns on the long carpet runners. It is a beautiful sight to see. All people at the langar, regardless of their actual religion, ethnicity, or economic status, sit on the floor, knee to knee, and share a free meal together. After they finish, many get up to help out in the kitchen or pass out food to others who have not eaten. As a child, I always thought langar to be a reward for sitting through a full hour of prayer—which it was for the time being, but I never lost sight of the beauty of this experience.

I admired the chairs and long benches I saw before me in the synagogue. I imagined groups of Jewish men and women sitting in these chairs and benches and sharing edifying religious meetings here. I imagined them gathering to participate in community service and to “dispense money and other items for the aid of the poor and needy within the community.”

A close investigation into the translation of the terms, synagogue and gurudwara, illustrates this collective, communal, and educational nature of these two holy spaces. Synagogue, a Greek translation of beit k’nesset means “a place of assembly.” However, there are many other terms used to describe a Jewish house of worship. The Orthodox and Chasidim utilize the Yiddish word, shul. Derived from a German word meaning “school,” the term affirms the synagogue’s function as a place for study and education. A literal translation of gurudwara is “door to the Guru.” This definition demonstrates the welcoming and open nature of the gurudwara. It manifests the idea that the Sikh holy space is a place that welcomes all to God. Just as the synagogue serves as a location for people to meet and assemble, the gurudwara provides a site at which people can congregate and take part in religious activities. The two spaces function as institutions for religious learning and allow for participation in community service and aiding others in and out of their respective religious communities.

Not only do Judaism and Sikhism share fundamental practices and structure in their respective houses of worship, the two religions also draw an important similarity at the core of their belief systems. Followers of the Sikh and Jewish faiths both recite mantras to express the sole and single nature of God. As part of the Mool Mantar, the first composition of the Guru Granth Sahib, Sikhs chant, “Ik Onkar Sat Naam,” meaning, “there is only one god, true is his name.” (“Ik Onkar – Translation and Lyrics”). As part of the Ten Commandments, people of Jewish faith adhere to the commandment that “You shall not recognize other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.” (Exodus 20:3-4). The two maxims translate to the idea that “God is one,” and for me, this experience of visiting a synagogue for the time in my life was one with my formative childhood experiences

As I departed the synagogue with the ASAP group and removed the kippah from my head, I closed my eyes for a second and was reminded of my favorite orange handkerchief from the gurudwara.

Works Cited
“Ik Onkar - Translation and Lyrics.” Ardhamy. N.p., n.d. Web.
MJL Staff. “Studying Torah.” My Jewish Learning. N.p., n.d. Web.
Rich, Tracey R. “Synagogues, Shuls and Temples.” Judaism 101. N.p., n.d. Web.

Kevin Sooraj Puri is a second-class cadet at the United States Air Force Academy and is currently on exchange for the fall semester at the United States Coast Guard Academy. Cadet Puri is a biology major with a pre-medical track. He hopes to attend medical school after graduating from USAFA and aspires to serve as a physician and flight surgeon in the United States Air Force. Kevin is from Fairfax, VA and attended Fairfax High School and Chantilly Academy Air Force Junior ROTC. He serves a USAFA Emergency Medical Responder, a leader of the Arnold Air Society Falcon Squadron, and an Academy Student Ambassador. Additionally, Kevin is a first-stand violist in the USAFA Cadet Orchestra and is the Hindu Representative for the USAFA Cadet Interfaith Counsel. Last summer, he earned his Parachutist Badge for completing five solo free fall jumps out of a plane. Kevin is Indian-American, fluent in Hindi, has a sister who is an Ensign in the U.S. Navy, and has a husky named Panda.

A Place of Growth

Dara Bramson, AJC Manager of Programs Abroad

It was early 2010 when I visited the Museum of Jewish Heritage for the first time. The sweeping views and beautiful building amazed me, but I was focused on my purpose there: an interview for the AJC Fellows Program. I had just begun studying sociocultural anthropology—that semester I was taking a museum anthropology course—so I was beginning to ask questions about memory and space in new ways. What is the role of museums in the formation of collective memory? How are exhibitions reflections of institutional missions and national narratives? Walking through the core exhibition, I recall my overwhelming eagerness to have the opportunity to be a Fellow; I knew it would offer me the engagement, knowledge, and experience I was seeking.

Becoming a Fellow offered me so much more. In the short-term, it guided my academic path; in the long-term, it changed my life. I had the opportunity to learn from the MJH staff in New York and AJC staff in New York and Poland, who later became my colleagues when I was hired full-time in 2011. Each one of them—particularly Shiri Sandler, Tomek Kuncewicz, and Maciek Zabierowski as well as a number of brilliant mentors—shed light on novel perspectives that contrasted with my previous experiences in Poland and served as invaluable resources professionally and academically.

The past seven years working for the AJC in Poland as Manager of Programs Abroad has been a formative time in my personal and professional life. Facilitating academic experiences for hundreds of students, particularly the Program for Students Abroad, Customized Programs, and the first Human Rights Summer Program, which I was fortunate to co-lead with Yael Friedman, enabled me to learn and grow exponentially as an educator and researcher. Editing the newsletter and academic journal shed light on the gravity of the AJC’s impact through reading hundreds of in-depth reflections. What I have gained through this experience is immeasurable. I am grateful to have been engaged in this meaningful work that allowed me to honor the memory of victims and foster dialogue to learn from the past. I look forward to remaining involved with the important mission of the institutions and keeping in touch with you all.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Rudolf Haberfeld Banking House

This marble plaque is from the Rudolf Haberfeld Banking House established in 1906. Rudolf Haberfeld was a co-owner of the Jacob Haberfeld Liquor Factory and a member of the Town Council and the Kraków Chamber of Commerce. The plaque was made in Oświęcim by Jewish stonemason S. Wulkan.

Staff Profile: Ada Myśliwiecka

This month, instead of a volunteer profile showcasing our volunteers and interns from around the world, we are profiling Ada Myśliwiecka from Oświęcim who works at Café Bergson.

Hometown: Oświęcim

What attracted you to the AJC? 

The first thing was the idea for the café. I thought it was a really good idea and the town needed a place like this. And of course all the people who work for the AJC.

What are you enjoying most about your experience?
Definitely the atmosphere! It’s great to work with really positive and nice people. Also it’s great because we can meet a lot of interesting people from all over the world!

How has working at the AJC affected you?

I think I am paying more attention to how people are treating each other. How they react to different cultures and things like that. I am in general a really open person and I would be really happy if all people would be like that!

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

To be honest I think that the AJC is doing a great job with all the programs for students and the police. Maybe that’s one thing that not many people from the town know much about but with time I think that will get more attention.

The Upstander Effect: The Power of Singularity Against Adversity

Erin Zenger, 2016 ASAP Alum

When countless individuals agree that inhumane actions are justified and work to extinguish an entire population, do the actions of a single member of society matter? When an entire society, and seemingly the whole world, has turned their back on and shunned a “minority” population, can one person who stands in the name of justice change anything at all?

In grade school, many students come to believe that Adolf Hitler, a single man, was the sole cause of the Holocaust and that his charisma and ability to incite fear in the German constituency led to the unjustified deaths of millions. Unfortunately, this misperception permeates Holocaust education well beyond a student’s formative years and deviates only when one focuses their studies on the centuries of persecution and discrimination that fostered, supported, and helped to develop and enrich Nazi ideology in the twentieth century. However, if society has come to believe in the ability of a single man to act as the main catalyst for the Holocaust, shouldn’t society then also believe in the power of individual resistance and agency—the power of one person to stand against the norm and fight for humanity and justice?

During ASAP, cadets and midshipmen had the unique opportunity to speak with survivors of the Holocaust as well as Righteous Gentiles—selfless individuals who stood against the Nazi party to save the lives of strangers. Although all of their stories were very different, every story was the same in the fact that these speakers were able to highlight the power of individual decisions and choices. They spoke about either decisions that they themselves made or decisions that were made by strangers and have allowed them to share their stories. In taking a stand against Nazi ideology, standing up for themselves and their right to life and freedom of religion, or standing up for innocent victims, they practiced their rights to make an individual decision and stand up for what they thought was just—what they knew was moral and ethical. They did not fall prey to the ideology of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. They did not allow fear and unsettling threats directed at them or their families to disorient their moral compass. Instead, the following individuals survived due to the selfless actions of others or they themselves exercised their agency to stand against the Nazi regime and stand in the name of justice.

Without the help of neighbors, friends, and strangers, Sally Frishberg, a survivor of the Holocaust who spoke with cadets and midshipmen during ASAP, may not have the same stories to tell. In fact, she may not have a story to tell at all. Only five years old when World War II and the institutionalized hatred against the Jewish community began, Ms. Frishberg survived the Holocaust largely in part to the selfless actions of strangers; “good people” who quietly stood against the Nazi regime and risked their lives on behalf of justice. With food, clothing and other life sustaining supplies already rationed, the strangers like those who hid and protected the Frishberg family from the Nazi party sacrificed even more, as they provided for Jewish refugees who were hidden in attics, spare rooms, basements, and sometimes even out in the open, disguised as a distant relative.

Mirosława Gruszczynska, a Righteous Gentile, defined as a non-Jew who risked his or her live to save Jew(s) during the Holocaust, honored by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, is one of the silent many who stood in the name of justice and joined her family as they risked their lives to save Miri, a stranger, a Jew. Though only a school-aged girl during the Holocaust, she, her sister, and her mother hid Miri in occupied Poland for over twenty months. When Miri first came to the Przebindowska (Mirosława’s maiden name) family, the understanding was that they would only hide Miri in their shed for a few days, a week at most, until Mirosława’s uncle was able to secure a different location for her. However, when Miri became sick, just a few days after coming to the Przebindowska home, they brought her into their home and cared for her, telling friends, neighbors, and Nazi soldiers that Miri was a distant relative who came to live with them as a consequence of the war. When the war was over, the Przebindowska family continued to support Miri and helped her find her brother and father, reuniting a family that thought they would never see each other again.

MAJ Andrzej Wiczynski, a veteran of the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, also made large sacrifices on behalf of the millions of innocent victims persecuted by the Nazi Party. At the age of thirteen, MAJ Wiczynski volunteered for the Polish Underground as a scout. By the time he was seventeen, he was the platoon leader of sixty-five boys, aged fourteen to sixteen, and rebelled against the Nazi party in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Through the American Service Academy Program (ASAP), cadets and midshipmen witness first and second hand accounts that illuminate the power, impact, and consequences of one person standing in the name of justice to protect their family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers. Individuals selflessly risked their lives and sacrificed during times of extreme hardship simply because it was the right thing to do. In focusing on the power that individuals have, not only in the catalyst effect of individual actions but also in the long term consequences, bystanders in today’s mass atrocities may find motivation to take a stand against inhumanity.

In 2009, Erin enlisted in the Army National Guard. After graduating from Alden High School in 2010, she attended Basic Combat Training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. As a Military Intelligence Specialist, her Advanced Individual Training took her to Fort Huachuca, Arizona. As a member of the New York National Guard, Erin was assigned to the Intelligence Section of the 27th BSTB, which was deployed to Kuwait in 2012. During her time in Kuwait, Erin decided to transition to the Officer Corps and applied to West Point. As a cadet, Erin was the President of the Academy’s Phi Alpha Theta Chapter and also participated on the West Point Obstacle Course Team and the Gold Sandhurst Squad. Erin commissioned as an Engineer in May 2017 and is now at the Basic Officer Leader's Course in Fort Leonard Wood.

Black & White

Natasha Caudill, 2017 HRSP Alum 

“Nothing here is black and white,” our tour guide explained. “The world is very complicated.” He continued gesturing towards the rows of black and white faces lining the walls. This discussion of color or lack thereof continued throughout our tours of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps. In fact, everything we saw and did during the week of the AJC’s Human Rights Summer Program seemed to involve the debate of experiencing history in color or black and white. Our tour guide had not been wrong; except in the case that quite literally, everything is black and white for me.

I was born with Achromatopsia, a disorder that among its various vision impairments, is often defined by a lack of color vision. I have only ever seen the world in black and white and in shades of gray due to this. This lack of color is also how we must view most of history before the development and use of colorized media. For anyone who can see color, this impairment in viewing historical photographs and video is understandably unnatural. I have learned that many people see the black and white as a barrier that makes it hard to truly feel the impact of what is being seen. So, is the authenticity of viewing and experiencing history defined by seeing it the way it was originally presented to us or in the way that is most comfortable to our own standards? While this question would probably produce more debate than answers, I can at least offer my own literal view.

Seeing a gas chamber that aided the murder of 1.1 million people in black and white did not make it any less horrifying. Looking at a lake containing human ashes in black and white did not make the scene any less painful. Seeing the rows of faces of men and women who perished at Auschwitz I and Birkenau in black and white did not make me any less sad than anyone else. For me, there is no barrier that needs breaking when touring a site like this in person. In black and white or in color, we must first be grateful that we get to see and preserve it at all for the memory of those who suffered there.

Natasha Caudill is currently going into her sophomore year of college at Knox College in Illinois where she is pursuing a major in American studies and a minor in Marketing. She was adopted from Ukraine when she was younger but has grown up in Alabama and Tennessee. Her hobbies include harboring an ever-growing collection and shrine of history books, anything theatre related, film, and watching historical documentaries.

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 with questions and feedback.