Monday, December 15, 2014

Artifact Spotlight: Menorah

2004 excavation in Oświęcim
In 2004, Polish archaeologists began a dig at the site of the former Great Synagogue in Oświęcim, just a few minutes’ walk from the AJC. More than 400 objects were discovered during the excavation, including this menorah, which became a symbol of the AJC and our work. It is believed that the Jewish community buried these objects before Nazis destroyed the synagogue in November 1939. In addition to the menorah, other objects were found: candlesticks, the Ner Tamid (Hebrew: Eternal Light) lamp, a plaque listing names of individuals who likely were synagogue donors, and other object fragments. Today, a plaque marks the site of the former synagogue and its ruins. As the largest and most important Jewish house of prayer at the turn of the twentieth century in Oświęcim, the 2,000-seat Great Synagogue – and its surviving artifacts – symbolizes the vibrant Jewish life that once existed in the town.

Below are articles that were published in international publications on the event:

Volunteer Profile: Daniel Haim, 2014-2015

2014 Volunteers in front of the AJC
Hometown: Vienna, Austria

What attracted you to the AJC? 
I knew two years ago that I wanted to participate in the Austrian Holocaust Memorial Service. I browsed through the organizations and became interested in the Auschwitz Jewish Center. I was drawn to the idea of educational work in a small team, guiding groups, and learning more about Judaism in Poland in the complex context of Oświęcim and Auschwitz. I knew nothing about Poland in general until I arrived here. 

What are you enjoying most about your volunteer experience? 
The vast amount of knowledge and experience shared by the people who work and visit here. I am honored to meet all of them – this is a truly unique opportunity to learn. 

How has volunteering here affected you? 
This experience definitely opened new horizons and perspectives for me. I am learning so much about how different people deal with their own personal history. 

What is one thing you'd like others to know about the AJC or think people don't know? 
The AJC is a place for aha! moments: I’ve witnessed German students visit a synagogue for the first time in their lives and discover the meaning of the Torah scroll. Young Israelis suddenly realize their connection to the city is not only a connection to Auschwitz, but also to the history of a diverse Jewish community. Polish visitors find out more about the past of their own town. American scholars are surprised by the rich cultural programs we offer, which are mainly visited by locals. I’ve learned that sometimes the most interesting questions are asked by 15-year-old high school students who I thought were bored.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

From Germany to Poland

Brenna Yellin, May 2014 AJC PSA

Alum School: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Study Abroad
Location: Berlin, Germany
Field of Study: History and German Studies

May 2014 participants with Righteous Among the Nations
recipient Miroslawa Gruszczynksa in Krakow

Before coming to study in Germany, I contemplated where in Europe I wanted to travel. Although I was fairly flexible about which cities I wanted to visit, I knew I wanted to see Auschwitz. However, I wasn’t sure how to accomplish this because I didn’t want to go alone, but I also didn’t want to go with my friends, who just planned on driving by and snapping a picture. The AJC Program for Students Abroad offered the perfect solution. Every student on the program was not only engaged with the topic and more than willing to contribute to the discussion, but also caring and interested in getting to know one another. The program also offered time for personal reflection, which was important for me. As a student of German history, I’ve learned and read about Auschwitz in multiple classes, but I had rarely heard about Krakow’s history and its Jewish community. Learning about these aspects of Polish history on the program provided me with a more rounded and fuller perspective. Throughout the weekend, and after it, I really felt as though the program coordinators cared about the experience I was having and the knowledge I would take away from it. I highly recommend the program for anyone interested in not only Auschwitz, but Poland’s history as well.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Reflections of a Polish historian

Jared Warren, 2013 AJC Fellow

As a language student at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, I traveled to Poland to study Polish language and culture, but I encountered much more: the remnants of the diverse ethnic, linguistic, and religious heritage of the Polish-Lithuanian lands.

One summer evening, in 2012, I sat on the ruins of a cathedral in the center of Lublin chatting with Polish acquaintances. They were delighted to introduce to me to a regional delicacy: an onion-covered flatbread, a culinary marker of the city’s Jewish heritage. Just to the west, while an Israeli band began to play, the setting sun illuminated several flags draped on the eastern edge of the square: the national colors of the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Norway advertised the course-offerings of one of the city’s many language schools. On other days, after my language classes, long city strolls brought constant reminders of Poland's diverse ethnic and religious heritage: historical markers in Polish, Hebrew, and English marked a Jewish heritage “trail”; and a monument in the Plac Litewski commemorated the 1569 Union of Lublin which joined the Kingdom of Poland to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

Piqued by these encounters with Poland’s Jewish heritage, I returned to Poland as an AJC Fellow hoping to understand better the interactions and interrelations between Polish culture and Jewish culture in the historic Polish lands. I hoped to learn how I—as an historian primarily of linguistic and ethnic Poles—could integrate Jewish narratives into my understanding of Polish history. I sought to discover the relationship between Polish and Jewish experiences in pre- (and post-) war Poland, the differences between Polish and Jewish narratives, and what we can learn from those differences.

On the one hand, it seemed it ought to be an easy task, since Jewish history is already so present—it seemed—in Polish history and culture. After all, the Jews are prominent in much of the history of Poland: interwar Poland was one of most ethnically diverse states in Europe: Poles comprised 69% of the general population; Ukrainians were 14%, Jews 9%, Byelorussians 3%, and Germans 2%, according to historian Tomasz Pudłocki. Furthermore, Jewish life mirrored Poland's diversity: some Jews were religiously observant, others secular and assimilated into the majority culture. During the interwar period, one third of the Jewish population lived in big cities, and much of the rest in shtetls. 

However, I found relating Jewish narratives to my studies of Polish culture to be a difficult challenge. During our travels, we often discovered that (even prior to the creation of the WWII ghettoes) Jewish society was often segregated from Polish society. Although Jews were permitted to live in Poland, had been invited to settle in Poland by Polish kings, and although they often portrayed Poland as a refuge, in some cases they still were forced to settle in isolated communities. In Krakow, for instance, Jews were required to settle outside the main city limits in Kazimierz, a district specifically designated for the Jewish community. Referring to these spatial distinctions between Polish and Jewish life around 1900, Samuel Kassow called Poland's seven million Jews “familiar strangers”. 

This segregation was evident even today, even in our academic discussions: I was struck by how poorly I, as a Polish historian, understood Jewish studies and Jewish cultural and religious traditions. Conversely, I was surprised that my colleagues—who have collectively spent decades in Holocaust studies—often had not been assigned much Polish history—the backdrop to so much of Polish Jewish life. Although the stories of Jews and Poles in Poland are interrelated, it seems we often do a poor job of integrating these two narratives. In a place with such a long tradition of diversity, why is the historiography often segregated? How does one write and tell coherent histories, which embrace Polish experience in full ethnic and religious diversity?

In his book Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz, Jan Gross tackles this problem of Jewish and Polish relations, and identifies the relationship between Polish and Jewish inhabitants of Poland as fundamentally unhealthy. He concludes that members of Polish society did not have the proper means to grieve the murder of its Jewish population during WWII. He suggests that Poles reacted to this loss by pushing the Jews further away, avoiding confronting their lack of effort to save Jews. Instead, Gross points out that many Poles profited from the Holocaust, by taking over property previously owned by Jews.

Despite the importance of WWII and the Holocaust in Polish history, we cannot appreciate the richness of Jewish life in Poland without a broader historical context. If we restrict our view of Polish Jewish life to the years around the War, we understand Jewish history primarily in the context of a graveyard. Even more importantly, we may often be guilty of simplifying the Holocaust by making it overly Jewish—guilty of understanding and perceiving the Auschwitz survivor, for example, only as a Jewish survivor. And we must avoid seeing the Holocaust as the summation, or even the end of Jewish history in Poland. It is only part of the story—albeit a significant part. In order to relate the narratives of Polish and Jewish life in Poland, we much reach chronologically much further back than the twentieth century.

The problem of relating Jewish and Polish history becomes yet more complex: the boundary between the two groups is not always clear. After all, not all individuals who were identified and killed as Jews during WWII self-identified as Jewish. The issue of identity is crucial here. The study of identity holds an important role in East and Central European historiography, and some historians have recently emphasized the difference between frequently ambiguous personal identities, and the more clear-cut identities foisted upon these characters from outside actors, such as proponents of nationalist programs. Perhaps even the act of writing these stories as “Jewish history” or “Polish history” is, in and of itself, part of the problem rather than part of the solution; as we attempt to relate the two, we must first realize we do not know what distinguishes the two fields.

While Jews were often scapegoated and negatively stereotyped by Poles, the difference between “Polish Poland” and “Jewish Poland” is confusing or even non-existent. By the turn-of-the-century, there were synagogues where sermons were preached in Polish—not Yiddish or Hebrew. Many of Marci Shore's characters, in Caviar and Ashes, were neither stereotypically Jewish nor quintessentially Polish: a notable example is that of Alexander Wat, a Polish-Jewish poet from an ethnically Jewish family. He was a declared atheist, who became Catholic while in exile in Kazakhstan, during WWII. The issue of nationalism, another issue which plagues East European historiography, relates to this question of identity; to make headway on the relationship between “Polish” and “Jewish” histories, we need to go beyond (late) nineteenth century conceptions of nation and ethnicity. According to Brian Porter in When Nationalism Began to Hate, early nineteenth century Polish nationalism was comparatively universal; it only became more xenophobic and exclusive later in the century. “The ideal of multiculturalism is not an American invention of the late twentieth century,” Porter writes, “but a quintessentially East European dream of the early nineteenth.” Perhaps stressing multiculturalism provides a gateway for beginning to apprehend and represent pre-twentieth century Poland’s ethnic and religious diversity.

In The Reconstruction of Nations, Timothy Snyder makes an important point regarding national identity. He asks “how...four modern national ideas arise from a single early modern one?” He answers by pointing to changing conceptions of state and citizenship. The Early Modern Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth counted its citizens as gentry populations, while modern states more often reflect the geographical territory inhabited by a specific ethnic group. Snyder demonstrates, in a sense, the arbitrariness of modern “Poland.” Thus, in discussing the nation of Poland, we need to be mindful of historically contingent definitions of national geographies and citizenship.

Chad Bryant’s work on conceptualizing East European urban history is particularly valuable here. He notes that preferencing different geographic units (other than nation-states) can aid the historian to create new narratives. Thus urban history’s “shared interest in a type of geographical space, rather than a particular methodology or research question...invites comparisons of events, peoples, and cultures among cities in a way that can transcend regional specializations ... it has the potential... to examine large forces and big structures within a context that provides for detail and complexity. Urban history, in other words, can reduce the scope of our inquiries—whether they be about nationalism, modernization, or something else—to a manageable size”.

He concludes his article noting that “as we look for ways to become more European and global, the study of the local, ironically, might prove to be one of our most promising alternatives”. Thus perhaps to understand Jewish and Polish (and other ethnic) experiences in Poland, we need to pay special attention to the geographic spaces and limits of our historical inquiries; perhaps we should begin with small stories, small narratives, and small geographic areas. We need to acknowledge the ambiguity, the many layers of identity in even one small place. As we learned during the fellowship, the town that Americans know as Auschwitz was also referred as Oświęcim and Oshpitzin depending on the language of the town's inhabitant. Thus, although no Yiddish-speaking national state was established on the Polish-Lithuanian lands, the story of Yiddish-speakers is still integral to the story of Oświęcim, to the story of Poland.

Rather than speak only of ethnic groups, of national movements which succeeded, we need to discuss nationalisms that did not succeed, or perhaps which never were. We need to recognize the diversity of Poland's inhabitants, and that each is important in the story of Poland. For a balanced perspective of Polish history, we cannot talk only of “Polish” history, or even of Jewish and Polish history in Poland. To do so ignores the Belorussians, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Russians, Germans, and many other groups who lived in Polish lands.

We have perhaps succeeded in integrating the Jewish narrative into Polish history when we cease to define each and every inhabitant of the Polish lands as Jewish or Polish—as belonging to an ethnic group—or even several. We have perhaps succeeded when the issue at stake is not a question of how to identify our characters, but when we as historians have let our subjects speak them themselves, as themselves.

Perhaps the question, to begin with, ought not be a question of how I as a “Polish” historian can relate two narratives (or two fields of study); but rather, perhaps the better endeavor is to attempt to avoid defining and identifying as either a scholar of “Jewish history” or of “Polish history”—but rather of the inhabitants of a region, or of a community. That will necessitate rigorous research and demanding language regimens, but hopefully we end with richer, deeper, and more human scholarship. In Polish and Jewish history, we cannot have one without the other: Jewish history is Polish history, and vice versa.

Jared Warren is a PhD student in Modern European history at New York University, where he specializes in Central and Eastern European cultural and intellectual history. He holds a M.A. from the Center for Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies at the University of Kansas; and a B.A. in French and history from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Volunteer Profile: Emily Herlyn, 2013-2014

Photo: AJC Intern Emily Herlyn giving a tour of the AJC to a PSA cohort.
Hometown: Freiburg, Germany

What attracted you to the AJC? 
In Germany it is very common to take a gap year after high school. There are many organizations that offer one-year volunteer programs in and out of the country. The one I chose to work for is called Action Reconciliation Service for Peace (ARSP). ARSP works with people and countries that suffered under the Nazi regime during the Second World War. The AJC caught my interest because of its focus on a very different aspect of history than Oświęcim is most commonly known for. It does not primarily concentrate on the atrocities committed against the Jews during the Second World War, but rather focuses on their life and religion. As religion is one of my main interests, I also saw working at the AJC as a valuable opportunity to learn more about Jewish life and Judaism.

What are you enjoying most about your volunteer experience?
My favorite part about my work as a volunteer is learning and teaching. I really enjoy giving tours aboutthe vibrant Jewish life of Oświęcim before the Holocaust, and teaching non-Jewish groups about Judaism, the synagogue and its artifacts. I’ve met really interesting people, had many fascinating conversations and learned so much during my year here! Not to neglect, of course, the great coffee we now have at the new Café Bergson.

How has volunteering here affected you? 
Volunteering at the AJC has affected me in many different ways. This is my first year living away from home andin a different country.This has taught me how to stand on my own two feet, to make my own decisions and given me an opportunity to develop as an individual. Second, and perhaps most importantly, it has allowed me to make a significant realization. One thing became very clear to me: As a German, the topic of the Holocaust has been a big part of my education, and the question of guilt is discussed frequently. This question has accompanied me throughout my year as a volunteer and during this time I have concluded that it should not be a question of guilt, but a question of responsibility. As my generation is too young to be blamed for the crimes our forefathers committed over 70 years ago, I don’t think we should feel guilty, nor is there any benefit to be had from this. What I do think though, is that we have a responsibility to learn and teach about that part of our country’s history, despite how unpleasant and painful it may be. We should never forget what cruelties mankind is capable of and should do everything we can to prevent history from repeating itself. Lastly, on a more personal note, I have found that I really enjoy giving tours and working with people of different age groups. This has made me happy and confident in my choice of studying to become a teacher of English and Religious studies.

What is one thing you'd like others to know about the AJC or think people don't know? 
Today there is not one Jewish inhabitant left in the town of Oświęcim. The Chevra Lomdei Mishnayot Synagogue, which is part of the AJC, is the only remaining active synagogue in the area. This gives Jewish visitors the possibility to come together for prayers. The synagogue also has another important purpose. Many groups – mainly German school groups – come here with very little knowledge about Jewish life and Judaism in general. They visit the concentration and death camps, where they learn about the death of a people, without knowing anything about their life. For many of them, coming to the AJC provides them with their first opportunity to see a synagogue from the inside and hear anything about Judaism. In my opinion, this is a very important part of the AJC because learning about people’s lives, more so than deaths, provides the necessary context. Understanding, or at least trying to do so, is the first and most important step towards peace.

Reflections on Poland: Memory and its Place

Ximena Goecke, 2013 AJC Fellow

From the moment I arrived in Kraków, I enjoyed exploring Polish cities, food, nature, history, and culture. Yet the country’s vast greenness was the most striking thing to me. Before that, Poland for me was gray pavement, stones, railways, snow, and dangerous woods. This green Poland was charming and generous. It was difficult to imagine shadows while I felt the sun in my eyes.
Polin, known in Jewish legend as a country in which to rest and flourish, was easy to embrace.
This warm feeling, a mixture of curiosity and fraternity, was challenged by historical memories in almost every corner. Nowhere else as in Poland can one be constantly confronted by a constant presence of the absent. Jewish people lived in these places and built a robust culture, then were destroyed so swiftly during Nazi rule. We visited so many visible traces of the past during the fellowship. From time to time I paused, seeing behind the contemporary scenes to historical images passing through my mind. As I walked through town after town, I saw scenes from the history of those streets. I imagined towns that were once places for living, not meant to be sites of mourning or tourism in for these purposes.

We visited many small synagogues in towns and villages, some still supported by families and institutions as spaces for encounter and prayer. It became much easier to comprehend the deeply rooted Jewish history in Poland seeing its traces up close. Walking around the formerly Jewish spaces in today’s Polish cities, I recognized their features and felt surrounded by history, fragments of a lost culture and rich history. I struggled to reconcile the simultaneous connection and emptiness I felt.

The windowless, roofless synagogue in Działoszyce was once home to a thriving community. The lonely bimah in Tarnów, surrounded by chains in a commemorative square, was once was a beautiful synagogue. I couldn’t forget the words of survivor David Feuerstein, who said that when he visited his hometown Chęciny in 2001, everything looked familiar, the same as it was in the 1930s. He felt transported back to his childhood and could almost picture his father walking to the synagogue on those streets.

Authors who have explored memory issues have emphasized the role of framing memories, anchoring them to territorial and social contexts. I witnessed the importance of this during my time as an AJC Fellow, as we encountered institutions and individuals who use these spaces to connect to that shared memory today. My hope is that through these institutions of memory, we can work to ensure that younger generations will utilize these lessons for good.

Ximena Goecke is a historian and professor at UDLA in Santiago, Chile. She has just finished her Magister in Gender and Culture Studies at Universidad de Chile, and is currently developing an educational project related to the Holocaust. She is currently a fellow of Women Mobilizing Memory (2013-2015), and works with the Citizenship, Justice and Rights research group at Universidad de Valparaíso and in the Body and Emotions research nucleus at Universidad de Chile.

The Personal Side of Genocide

Kirril Shields, 2013 AJC Fellow

There came a moment during our fellowship when open displays of emotion swept through the group. I expected this emotion in places such as the camps, and while sites like Treblinka caused open sadness, the occasion that made the strongest impression on me took place in Kraków.

Forming a circle at the Jewish Community Centre, the group sat with Uwe von Seltmann and his wife, Gabi. Uwe and Gabi spoke for about an hour about their personal and familial histories. In particular, they discussed their relationship and its ties to the past: Uwe’s grandfather was a former SS officer, and Gabi’s Jewish family members were murdered at Auschwitz. Up until this moment in the trip the group had heard much about the victims of the Holocaust, and we had been privileged with first-hand survivor accounts. Yet Uwe’s tale was different, for here was his grandfather’s story of perpetration, and with it we were to witness the effects it had had on his family.

I sympathized with Uwe, who lives with this dire past, a man who loves his Jewish wife and respects the Jewish community into which he has been adopted. Uwe was visibly upset when revealing his family history; he had made it his quest to educate others about the dangers of anti-Semitism. In snippets throughout Uwe’s speech, though, there appeared to be statements that defended his grandfather, subtle yet quite potent sentences that I found as interesting as his narrative of woe. In one instance Uwe painted his grandfather as a relatable and likeable individual, much like Uwe himself, thereby suggesting the grandfather was a victim of his own time and place.

At the conclusion of our session in Krakow, I asked Uwe if he noticed aspects of his grandfather in himself. Though the two had never met, over the years Uwe had grown aware of links tying him to his paternal forbear: both trained as journalists, both were highly educated, and both men preferred to work in cafés rather than in the confines of an office. Without directly saying so, Uwe inferred that the man who sat talking to us could have, given differing circumstances, worn the SS uniform, only in this instance we were witnessing a man affected by this past rather than a man who aided in the creation of a particular history.

From there our group explored how our traditional ideas of the perpetrator slowly unravelled. We stopped assuming the individuals were diabolic. It was too easy and one-dimensional to depict them that way. Instead, we started wondering if the perpetrators could have been people with whom we could have built rapport and friendship, in another time and in different circumstances. This was a complex conundrum, and one that mimicked in its complexity many of the situations and readings of history encountered during the fellowship.

Uwe's comment, suggesting some similarities and connections between him and his grandfather, became a topic of debate among the group at a later reflection. We had to wonder if Uwe was asking us to empathize with a former SS man, and moreover, if we could.

This display of empathy would have been remarkably easy, for relating to a man who may have spoken, smiled, winked, and chuckled as did Uwe, was for all of us an easy and understandable reaction. Of course we felt for the man. And yet the problem with this situation was that it was all too easy to feel empathy. In contrast, when trying to conceive of the killings committed by the SS-Obersturmfürer, or the killings for which he was responsible, that remains impossible.

Dominick LaCapra refers to the Holocaust and actions that culminated in the Holocaust as “limit events.” I interpret “limit” to mean the limit of human intellect and/or the limits of imagination in attempting to understand and/or relate to these experiences. For example, it is impossible for me to even come close to picturing, let alone feeling, what it must have been like to be a part of, or have been responsible for, the events of the Holocaust. These huge “limit-events” are beyond the scope of my experience, as are the depravities that occurred in Auschwitz. I had hoped that the shock of seeing the sites in which the crimes were committed would bring forth enlightenment, as if I would be able, in that instance, to understand. While my historical knowledge increased, attempts at such an understanding only marginally grew.

Uwe's grandfather died in 1945, yet Uwe is the one who bears the guilt for the grievances committed. That is why, I believe, Uwe’s words evoked such visible emotion, for it is Uwe’s generation who carry the burden of these perpetrations. It is Uwe, now living in a society that wishes to expose such crimes and acknowledge the wrongdoings of the past, who feels a moral obligation to stress the likeness of the perpetrators to the everyday individual. To do so, he needs to openly expose the crimes, while also ensuring that his audience understands that these were not the makings of an individual possessed. And by doing so, as shown in the response to Uwe’s talk, we come to acknowledge that the average individual of very normal societal stature has in them the ability to cause suffering that continues to haunt throughout the decades.

Kirril Shields recently completed his PhD at the University of Queensland, Australia. His thesis examined the shifting and changing attitudes towards the period of the Third Reich as noted over many generations in Australian society. This year Kirril was awarded a Fellowship to the Summer Institute on the Holocaust and Jewish Civilization, and he is currently the 2014 Alfred Midgley Scholar at the University of Queensland.

The Complexity of Commemoration

Laura Pearce, 2013 AJC Fellow
“It’s not ‘lest we forget,’ it’s ‘lest we remember.’ That’s what all this is about—the memorials, the Cenotaph, the two minutes’ silence. Because there is no better way of forgetting something than by commemorating it.”                                                                                                                               -Tom Irwin, The History Boys
The film adaptation of the Broadway play The History Boys, about a group of unconventional teachers and their students, forces the audience to question the purpose of commemoration and memorialization within contemporary society. The above quote is from a scene in which the class is discussing a British World War I memorial during which the teacher, Mr. Irwin, tells his class that without monuments to the dead, the British might remember that collectively their country was as eager for World War I as anyone else. Instead, he suggests they can use their memorials and monuments as a way to focus their memory on the death and destruction of the war, and ignore their complicity in allowing it to happen. The event itself is remembered and memorialized so that the details and potentially difficult truths surround it can be forgotten.

In thinking about the memorialization of Holocaust memory I encountered during the Fellows Program, I was reminded once again of the use of memorials to shape memory and of commemorating to forget. This idea is not specific to Poland or even Europe at large; I would apply this same idea of commemoration through forgetting and shaping memory to examples of Holocaust memorialization in the United States as well. But as I toured Poland as an AJC Fellow, I noticed this same pattern: commemoration projects were admirable, yet certain sites glorified or commemorated some aspects of these years while ignoring or obscuring others.

Commemoration and memorialization produced under Communist rule immediately appears to seek to shape memory. These monuments vilify the “Hitlerites” and mourn the victims. On the site of the Płaszów concentration camp in Kraków, the original memorial erected in the 1960s merely states: “In tribute to martyrs murdered by the Hitlerite genociders, 1943-1945.” Similarly, in the tiny town of Szydłów, the Communist-era memorial reads: “In tribute to those who fought, died, and were murdered, 1939-1945.” There is no mention of who these “martyrs” were or the reason for their victimization. These Communist-era memorialization examples commemorate the dead, but obscure their identities as Poles, Jews, Roma, homosexuals, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Based on these Communist-era portrayals, these individuals were simply opponents of Fascism.

Another example of this is the immense Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Memorial, built in 1948, which reads simply: “The Nation of Israel to the Martyrs and Saints.” The monument image is striking: strong, male resistance fighters, and a token woman with child in the background. Sculpted so that they leap out of the monument, these figures are clearly meant to inspire awe and reverence with their determination to resist even in the face of certain death. This image is juxtaposed with the image on the reverse of the monument: an image of victims headed to their death. These individuals, rather than being glorified and carved out of the stone itself, are diminished in importance by being carved into it. They are not the fighters and they do not resist but instead walk mournfully to their deaths.

In stark contrast to the Communist-era memorials, and I think often in response to them, many memorials constructed since the fall of Communism do indicate why victims were murdered: because they were Jews. In attempting to highlight the fact that Jews were systematically victimized, these memorials hide the existence—whether intentionally or unintentionally—of other victim groups. They consistently ignore or trivialize the fact that while the Jews were the primary target of the Nazis, there were also millions of non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust. We visited a few sites memorializing non-Jewish victims, like the deportation square and cemetery in Łódz. Yet for the most part, many contemporary memorials are not so different from their Communist-era counterparts: they tell part, but not all of the story.

The nature of memorialization is limiting: monuments and plaques can only ever tell part of the story. Complexities and controversies are not easily illustrated through monument iconography and minimal text. As an aspiring museum professional I am in favor of museums to fill this gap. Yet not all museums achieve this; even the notable United States Holocaust Memorial Museum glorifies American liberation and downplays American policies that left victims of Nazism with no refuge. In a number of museums we visited in Poland, the memory of the Holocaust and the pre-war contribution of Polish Jews is commemorated, while conveniently omitting less savory aspects of the history of Jews in Poland.

Dąbrowa Tarnowska, for instance, has a museum within a former synagogue, which is impressive even when compared to former synagogues in Kraków that likely have many more visitors. While it highlighted the interconnected lives of Polish Jews and gentiles in the city and surrounding area throughout its history, the exhibition neglects to discuss the two pogroms against the area’s Jews that took place around the time of the First World War.

While not all museums are capable of incorporating all of the complexity of a given event, they do serve an important purpose in the field of memorialization. While engaging with these spaces as an Auschwitz Jewish Center Fellow, I examined how institutions can tell the same story differently.
To me, successful examples of commemoration do not obscure or forget details and unpleasant truths, but instead present a whole story, including its complexities.
Laura Pearce is an aspiring museum professional who recently completed a Master’s Degree in Public History at Loyola University Chicago. After receiving her undergraduate degree in history from DePauw University in 2010, Laura taught with Teach for America in the Mississippi Delta. She has interned at the CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute, Indiana, and the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center. In graduate school, she participated in oral history interviews with Holocaust survivors and conducted interviews with the children of survivors. Currently, Laura is working with the Chicago Cultural Alliance to create a digital archive and with the Legion of Young Polish Women to create an online exhibit to commemorate their 75th Anniversary.

The Survivor and the Photograph: Surrealism and Humanity in Poland

Beth Healey, 2013 Jaffa & Larry Feldman Fellow

As a graduate student who studies Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, I have spent the better part of the past decade as a student, studying the Holocaust through books and other documents, in American cities and classrooms. As I embark upon my dissertation, one of my greatest fears is that amongst all the reading and research, I will lose sight of the fact that the history I study was real life for other people. Other people personally experienced the events that I only read about from afar, both geographically and temporally. Visiting Poland with the Auschwitz Jewish Center Fellows Program was so important to me because it was an opportunity to ensure that I do not risk reducing the Holocaust to an academic abstraction and that I remain mindful of the Holocaust as a real-life experience for its victims.

Two particular experiences in Poland – the conversation with Auschwitz survivor Zofia Posmysz and an encounter with a photograph from the Emanuel Ringelblum Oneg Shabbat archive – brought me closer to my goal while simultaneously challenging my conception of what life was like under the Nazis.

During the course of the Auschwitz Jewish Center Fellows Program, we had the privilege of meeting Auschwitz-Birkenau survivor Zofia Posmysz. Rather than telling us her life story or giving us a narrative of her wartime experiences, Zofia simply wanted to answer whatever questions we had for her. Towards the end of our conversation, Zofia told us she understood we would be visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau in the upcoming days, and said,
“When you go to Birkenau, remember that I was there, too.”
She spoke this in a quiet way, not insistently, but almost wistfully, softly asking us to remember her. I have heard many survivors tell their stories, but it is this comment of Zofia’s that has resonated with me in a way unlike any other Holocaust survival story I have heard.

Visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau was an entirely surreal experience, in ways both somewhat expected and utterly unexpected. Walking through the grounds, Zofia’s words, echoing through my head, were the one aspect of this otherwise entirely surreal experience that remained real for me and provided something to hold on to. Visiting Auschwitz I, in particular, was a very strange experience for me in ways I did not anticipate. Auschwitz seemed almost fake, for lack of a better word, despite the fact that the campgrounds were laid out before me to see with my own eyes. Somehow, the history seemed less tangible at Auschwitz than it does when I read, study, and teach about the Holocaust, half a world and decades away from the events in questions.

In many ways, visiting Auschwitz was like watching a movie based on a book – the character and the stories are familiar, but it is just different from the world you imagined while reading. Over the two days we toured Auschwitz I and Birkenau, Zofia’s request kept coming back to me, reverberating – “When you go to Birkenau, remember that I was there, too.” Remember that Zofia was there, along with so many others like her. It was through Zofia that Auschwitz the place became accessible for me, and I was able to connect with the victim experience of the Holocaust, in some small way.

Although I did not expect Auschwitz to seem so fake, my experience with Zofia and at Auschwitz was the sort of experience I hoped to find in Poland, one that emphasized the individual humanity of the victims. However, my ideas about humanity, victimization, and life under the Nazis were challenged by an encounter with a photograph from the Emanuel Ringelblum Oneg Shabbat archive at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. I was reminded that the humanity of the victims encompassed not only suffering and death, but happiness and life as well.

The photo that caught my eye was an outdoor shot of a street scene in the Warsaw Ghetto, showing a large crowd of people, presumably going about their daily lives. There is a young woman in the middle of the crowd, looking directly towards the camera, with a big smile on her face. She looks happy, excited, and even joyful. I do not know who this woman was, or what was going on that day, but this photo reminded me that even in the ghettoes, life continued. There were occasions for happiness. From an intellectual standpoint, this was not much of a revelation. I knew that Jewish life went on in the ghettoes, I have discussed this with my students, and I have seen photos of concerts, weddings, and other such events in the ghettoes. Yet, none of those photos made the same impression on me as the beaming young woman in this one – maybe because this was a candid moment rather than a posed photograph.

Moreover, when studying the young woman in the center of this photo, I did not see the same sense of fateful foreboding that sometimes – often – accompanies such pictures. I know nothing about this woman or what happened to her, but it is likely that the Nazis murdered her. Yet, looking at the photograph, I saw an evidently happy young woman as she was at that moment in time. She reminded me that Holocaust victims were also individuals with complex lives and rich histories. Despite the circumstances of their deaths, their lives were more than the Holocaust, and death should not eclipse life. Yes, the victims endured horrors that I can only imagine, hurting in ways I have never experienced, but humanity extends beyond just the experience of pain.

Often, Holocaust scholarship and teaching includes pre-war Jewish life in order to underscore the scale of the loss and enormity of Nazi crimes, giving Jewish history a sense of predetermined pathos, rather than considering Jewish history as its own story and worthy of studying in its own right. While understandable, I wonder if this use of Jewish history might also obscure the humanity and dignity of Holocaust victims in the same way as focusing exclusively on the manner of their deaths at the expense of their lives. Particularly as much of my own work as a historian involves reading witness statements and testimonies of horrifying events, it is critical that I retain a sense of these individuals as real people, with the full spectrum of human emotion. Like Zofia, the men and women I focus on in my dissertation “were there, too,” and like the young woman in the photograph, their lives were far more than what the Nazis sought to make of them.

Beth Healey is a PhD candidate in the History department at Northwestern University. She earned a BA in History from Providence College, an MA in History from Boston College, and worked for non-profit educational organization Facing History and Ourselves in Brookline, MA. Under the supervision of Professor Peter Hayes, Beth is currently working on her dissertation about the Royal Warrant trials of Nazi war criminals in British-occupied Germany. She was named the 2013 Jaffa and Larry Feldman Fellow by the Auschwitz Jewish Center, and has presented her work in Chicago, Los Angeles, Rome, Munich, and London.

Linguistic Memory

Pedro Correa Martín-Arroyo, May 2014 AJC PSA Alum 

During my very meaningful experience as a participant of the AJC Program for Students Abroad, I felt that personal reflection would provide me with more enriching souvenirs than photos. This photograph, however, is a most significant exception. It depicts one of the many memorial tablets, each of them in a different European language, which are present at the Auschwitz-Birkenau monument.
This Judeo-Spanish-written cenotaph particularly attracted my attention because it was, unlike the tablets written in more common languages, empty of flowers or any other offering left by visitors. 
As a Spaniard, I drew an analogy between the bare Judeo-Spanish memorial tablet and the fact that Sephardic language and culture are today virtually extinct, due, in part, to the Holocaust, but also to centuries of persecution in Spain. Laying a little stone on that unadorned tombstone, following the Jewish tradition, was my way of commemorating this immeasurable and irretrievable human loss, as well as paying tribute to those lives not lived.

 Pedro Correa Martín-Arroyo is currently a research intern at the NIOD Institute for War, Genocide and Holocaust studies in Amsterdam (The Netherlands). His previous research involved British propaganda in Spain during World War II and the myth of General Franco as ‘Saviour of the Jews’. Starting in October 2014, he will begin a PhD in International History at the London School of Economic (LSE) under the supervision of Professor Paul Preston, which will focus on Jewish refugees and rescue operations in Spain and Portugal during the Holocaust.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Selfie Control

Jenna Brager, 2013 AJC Fellow

This excerpt is from Jenna Brager’s article Selfie Control published by The New Inquiry in March 2014. Please click the link to read the full article.

The exhibit [“Before They Perished” at Birkenau] compiles photos found after liberation in a suitcase in the vicinity of Kanada, believed to have been brought to the camp by families traveling together from the ghetto in the area of Będzin and Sosnowiec and either forgotten amid the piles of stolen goods or stashed as a souvenir by a member of the SS.

In [one] photograph, a girl, in her late teens or early 20s, kneels in front of a white-painted metal bed and behind a small wooden table. She holds a box camera steady atop a book on the table. She is looking down at the camera, intent on the act of creating the image. Both from the positioning of the camera and a glare of light in the top left corner of the photograph, it’s clear that the picture was taken by the subject herself, in a mirror. Like Roland Barthes scrutinizing the photograph of Lewis Payne, the handsome assassin, I am “lacerated” by the knowledge that she is going to die, by the ‘“defeat of Time’” in the historical photograph. And yet I am relieved of the burden of the Nazi gaze. I look at the photographer as subject rather than the victim, interpolated differently by this looped encounter in which I yearn for our eyes to meet and am frustrated by her lowered gaze, by the historical accident of a too-slow look. The woman looks into a mirror, back at herself, but also (not) at me. The open lens of her camera is pointed at her own image and (not) at me. There is no perpetrator, there is no spectacle. This is the devastating part; our eyes (do not) meet.

I wonder, would the inevitability of the death of this unknown woman be more terrible if I knew for certain that she was a Holocaust victim? Would I be less moved by this photograph if I found it in an antique shop in ¬Bielsko-Biala, or in New York City, instead of in this exhibit of photographs of perished Jews? It is easy to create a romantic fiction for the selfie of the unknown woman at Auschwitz—separated lovers, a cherished photograph in the dismal ghetto—as easy as it is to “like” an Instagram selfie and then keep scrolling.

Is what inspired the unknown woman to turn her camera toward the mirror similar or the same as what prompts smartphone users to rotate their cameras toward themselves? What limited circulation did her ephemeral snapshot find before it became an artifact? How do we compare this to the reach of the approximately 35 million selfies on Instagram? How do we parse through this transient superabundance, to locate what “should” be archived, what images will become history? Should we even try?

Jenna Brager is a doctoral student and artist in Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in American Studies and a certificate in LGBT Studies from the University of Maryland, College Park. Her research looks at processes of veridiction and the establishment of truth after atrocity through narrative testimony, photographic evidence, and transgenerational memory practice. Her writing and comics have been published in the Black Warrior Review, The New Inquiry, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and Shareable Magazine, among others.

Integrating Narratives

Yael Friedman, 2013 AJC Fellow

One of my aims as a Holocaust educator is to teach the complexity of Holocaust history by focusing on individual countries’ narratives. The Fellows program raised many of these complexities and offered the opportunity for our group, as scholars, to discuss and debate the intersection of difficult histories. Throughout the program I returned to the question of how to integrate various narratives about the Holocaust and the broader history of the time period. I believe the Holocaust should be taught within the Jewish narrative as well as the general context of the time period rather than as a separate historical event. Salo Baron, a prominent 20th century Jewish history scholar, studied the Holocaust as separate from the Jewish historical narrative. I worry that if we remove such a tragedy from the cohesive story of Jewish history, then we risk losing an accurate understanding of the history from a holistic perspective and the impact of such a catastrophe. Additionally, by divorcing the Holocaust from the Jewish narrative, it makes the Holocaust more incomprehensible and further detached from attempts to understand how such an event could have occurred.

Throughout the program, we were confronted with the challenges of how to present a cohesive, accurate history. Certain questions in particular sparked lively discussion: From the Jewish narrative perspective, to what extent do we include others? How exclusive can the Jewish narrative remain? At what point does the narrative begin? Is there a division between general Holocaust education and Holocaust education for Jewish students? Why can it not be the same? When focusing on Holocaust education, these are the questions, informed by the Fellows program, that I ask.

Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands emphasizes the challenge of creating an inclusive narrative of this time period. As a Jewish Studies scholar, I recognize that the Holocaust carries an additional dimension for Jews. The collective memory that exists for the Jewish people about the loss and the threat of extermination has shaped the way the majority of Jews understand the importance of the Holocaust and Jewish identity in general. For several decades, Jewish and Israeli educators have used the Holocaust as a tool for developing Jewish identity. Snyder’s book highlights the intersection of difficult histories, namely the dual occupation of Poland by two totalitarian regimes. He examines the role of Poles during the Holocaust and what Poland’s narrative can teach us about memory. Additionally, he complicates our understanding and categorization of victim and perpetrator in this particular context.
In education, arguably in Jewish education especially, it is essential to teach the complexity of Polish history in order to avoid associating the actions that took place on Polish territory primarily with the Polish people. 
Some Jews today will not visit Poland because of their beliefs about the role of Poles in the atrocities of the Holocaust. This approach illustrates a lack of depth in understanding the nuances of Holocaust history. It is necessary to have a complete picture of the reality that existed in order to better understand how such an event could have occurred. Our group discussion of Snyder’s book provided a helpful framework in which to place and explore our own experiences in Poland.

Adding another layer to this complex history, our meeting with Professor Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw highlighted the challenges of representing a Jewish narrative in particular. A challenge exists between presenting the lives of Polish Jews within a separate history compared to a contextual analysis of the development of the Jews of Poland. Professor Kirshenblatt-Gimblett described this difference as an integral history versus a contextual approach, respectively. The Museum, set to open this fall, takes the approach of the former, focusing primarily on the Jewish lived experience without deviating too much into the experiences of other groups at the same time. The exhibition will show the integration of Jews into their surrounding environment, but does not focus on other groups. This discussion helped me create a framework in which to understand the different approaches to teaching about and representing Jewish history.
Professor Kirshenblatt-Gimblett explained: The Holocaust is typically situated in a history of hate, which ends with a discussion of genocide. When the Holocaust is situated within a history of Jewish life, it doesn’t end with genocide. 
Her comment summarizes the difficult task that exists in educating for different audiences and for different purposes. Our discussion with Professor Kirshenblatt-Gimblett challenged my impressions from our discussion in Snyder’s book about integrating difficult histories in order to get a full picture of the history. I found it extremely helpful to learn about the process of presenting a specifically Jewish narrative and how that compares to portraying a narrative that includes multiple historical perspectives; this includes humanizing perpetrators in order to address the importance of making moral and ethical choices.

In the exhibit People of Kraków in Times of Terror 1939-1945-1956, I appreciated that the exhibition designers included biographies of individuals with a variety of perspectives: victims, informers, and Polish police. The inclusion of all types of people offers a more nuanced picture of life during this time period. It doesn’t make it easier for us to swallow the reality, but it allows us to examine the circumstances more humanely.

On the other hand, there are cases of including multiple perspectives that are jarring and verge on inappropriate, in my opinion. A relatively new addition to the Treblinka memorial now stands on the periphery of the cemetery of stones ranging in size, shape, and color. There are four photographs of Nazi guards, Nazi accommodations, and the process of creating large pits in which to burn the bodies. The images provide a stark contrast between the memorial to the victims and the Nazi role in such inhumane actions. This was an extremely unsettling addition to the site and calls into question the nature of the site. Is it a memorial? To whom? For what? Is there an educational element to including these images? As a memorial site to nameless victims, this doesn’t appear to be the appropriate location for these historical photographs. It is unclear what the purpose of these photographs is and what it contributes to the experience of visiting Treblinka. Instead, there should be a dedicated place to learn about the Nazi mentality and the relationship between the Nazis and their victims, though this does not seem to be the right place or an appropriate means to bring these considerations into the discussion. This juxtaposition underscores the challenge of bridging together multiple narratives in one location. Perhaps a more extensive museum would be able to more adequately address the integration of narratives without marring the experience of the memorial site.

I am still exploring the answers to many of my questions, yet I feel comfortable with that. I feel most inspired when I constantly question why I am interested in the Holocaust and how much I can learn. It is evident that I still have contradictory perspectives on how and when to include different difficult histories, but I firmly believe that the intersection of narratives will help us improve education today. We must continue to question how to present multiple histories and integrate them. I am extremely appreciative for the many tools, examples, and resources I acquired during my Fellowship in order to delve into these issues more deeply throughout my career.

Yael Friedman is currently the Gallery Education Coordinator at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. She graduated with a Dual Master’s in Education and Jewish Studies and Hebrew and Judaic Studies from New York University as a Jim Joseph Fellow, with a concentration in Holocaust Education. She holds a B.A. in Jewish, Islamic and Near Eastern Studies from Washington University in St. Louis where she received the Steven S. Schwarzschild Prize for Overall Excellence in Jewish Studies. Yael has worked in various capacities at several Holocaust museums and educational non-profit organizations as well as at the U.S. Department of State for the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. She focuses on curriculum and professional development for Holocaust Studies.

Eastern European Memory and Reflections on Romania

Grant Harward, 2013 AJC Fellow

When I was applying for the Auschwitz Jewish Center Fellows Program, I was interested in better understanding the complexities of the Holocaust in Poland. I knew it would be an invaluable opportunity to learn about the German government and Nazi regime and gain a comparative perspective for my own research into the Romanian army and government and their involvement in the Holocaust under the regime of Marshal Ion Antonescu.

During the Fellowship, I found myself drawn to the issue of Polish post-war memory of pre-war Jewish life and the Holocaust. This topic captured my attention and was probably the issue that I learned most about and changed my perspective most profoundly. I dealt with memory in my research usually in the form of sources: journals, memoirs, and oral interviews. In carrying out oral interviews with veterans from the war, memory was a key issue. Books such as Maria Bucur’s Heroes and Victims: Remembering War in Twentieth-Century Romania and Gavin Bowd’s Memoria razboiului (The Memory of the War), 1941-1945, introduced me to some of the ideas of memory in the context of the Second World War in Romania.

As I was confronted with different examples of memory in Poland, I began contrasting them with my previous experiences when I was conducting my research in Romania, where the actions of the Antonescu Regime, independent of German pressure or direction, resulted in the murder of at least 300,000 Romanian and Soviet Jews. This is not taking into account the Jews of Northern Transylvania, which was under Hungarian occupation during the war. Still, none of my experiences in Romania prepared me for some of the things that I learned in Poland.

One of the first exhibits we saw during the Jewish Culture Festival was Souvenir, Talisman, Toy, an exhibit on contemporary Jewish figurines and images sold in the main square of Krakow, and elsewhere in Poland. I had read about these figurines tangentially in The Pages In Between before starting the program, but had not really thought much more about these examples of post-war memory. The exhibit on the figurines was well done and engaging, but overall I had an increasingly unsettled feeling as I made my way through the different parts of the exhibit, particularly as I watched the interviews with Poles about the figurines. Average people were asked why they had bought or sold the figurines and what was the significance that they held in their view. I was extremely disturbed when I heard some comments from shop owners selling the figurines that one person who saw the figurines said they looked like they were “lined up for the gas chambers”. I had a strong reaction to these figurines, as did many in the group who went to see the exhibition. However, these objects forced me to reflect on memory of Jewish life in Poland compared to what I had experienced, or, rather had not experienced in Romania when visiting cities, which once had large and thriving Jewish populations.

During our reflection session on the figurines, we talked about their appropriateness and the continued strength of particular stereotypes today. Throughout the Fellowship, the diversity of the fellows’ backgrounds served to help me understand more about this complicated aspect of historiography through engaging discussions. We explored the reality that many Jewish visitors feel their own stereotypes about the Polish people are confirmed when they see stereotypical representations of Jews in Poland. Poles are often stereotyped as being anti-Semitic because of bitter memories of interwar Polish nationalism, events during wartime Nazi occupation, and Communist era politics. Therefore, many believe that anti-Semitism is somehow an innate part of the Polish character and see the figurines as proof positive. However, as I was mulling over these things in our reflection session, I thought of my visits to cities in Romania, the Republic of Moldova, and Ukraine, which had formerly been major centers of Jewish life and culture; cities such as Bucharest, Iaşi, Cernowitz, Chisinev, and Odessa. When I visited them, these cities lacked any provoking visuals representation of their former Jewish populations, such as the ones we saw intermittently in Poland. In those cities, there is a marked absence of memory of the Jewish culture that once had flourished in them and played a major role in their respective histories. Yet the physical absence of images that can be labeled offensive does not mean that stereotypes or anti-Semitic feelings do not exist in those countries. In fact, I know from personal experience that such sentiments are still prevalent. This led me to wonder:
Is it better to have a skewed public memory of the past rather than a general amnesia? 
The informal dichotomy that I considered was that of bad memory versus no memory. One of my colleagues suggested that the actual physical remnants (synagogues, cemeteries, memorials) should comprise the public memory of Jewish communities and not misrepresented stereotypes. She had a good point, except that we know that usually only a handful of these physical remnants survived the Second World War. It was made clear during visits to various cities how much was destroyed, so that even what physical remains of former Jewish life are left are often remote, hidden, re-appropriated or ignored – leaving only memory behind.

In Romania, the situation is similar, in Iaşi, only one synagogue of nearly one hundred survived the war. In Bucharest, the four remaining major synagogues are hidden behind huge Communist blocs, literally out of sight and out of mind. While it is clear that Romania had a much smaller Jewish pre-war population, around 800,000, in comparison to over three million in Poland, it still seems strange and disturbing that very few remnants of the Romanian-Jewish culture remain, particularly because Romanian Jews were notably visible minorities in urban settings. All major Romanian cities in the interwar period had large Jewish populations whether in the southern region of Wallachia or the western region of Transylvania with their largely assimilated, Reform Jewish populations or in the eastern regions of Moldavia and Bessarabia with its more Orthodox and Yiddish speaking Jewish population. In fact, Iaşi was the birthplace of modern Yiddish theatre. The Jewish past of Romania was vibrant and influential, but during the war much of the population of the eastern provinces was decimated by the Antonescu regime, yet the Jewish population of Wallachia and southern Transylvania survived deportation and death; numbering around 350,000 in 1945. Therefore, in Romania, unlike Poland, the Jewish population survived the war much more intact and Jewish life actually continued until the late 1970s, when most Jews were allowed to immigrate to Israel by the Communist regime. Nevertheless, despite the survival and continuity of the Jewish community in Romania, today, unlike in Poland, there is basically no memory of that past, flawed or otherwise.

There are certain public examples of that memory in Romania, such as the Romanian Holocaust Memorial, which was only inaugurated in 2009. There are a few memorials in Iaşi and other towns created after the war by the Jewish community. The Jewish Yiddish Theatre still exists in Bucharest. There are synagogues in almost all the Romanian cities I have ever visited, usually dilapidated and vacant, but there nonetheless. More distressing to me is the absence of a public discussion or debate about the complicity and role that Romanians played in the Holocaust. This is in stark contrast to the situation that I experienced while in Poland during the fellowship program. It became evident to me as I read the required readings, listened to lectures, and talked with our Polish guides, that there has been an extensive, ongoing discussion about Polish collaboration and responsibility in the Holocaust. In Romania, in contrast, this debate is nearly nonexistent, even though Romania remained unoccupied by Nazi Germany and independently partook in deportation and murder of the Jewish communities of the eastern provinces of Bukovina, Bessarabia, and Transnistria.

Despite the varied opinions on representations of Jews and post-war memory, it seems to me that no memory may be worse than bad memory. Despite the issues Poland still faces, its open space for dialogue should be a model for many countries. In Romania, without public debate or organizations addressing post-war memory, there is no forum to inform the public, help people learn from the past, and, hopefully, begin healing wounds. Instead Romanian academics working in the United States try to confront the issue of the Holocaust in Romania, but the debate is limited to Romanian academics in Romania writing in response justifying the actions of Antonescu and his regime against Romanian Jews. The government is officially supporting Holocaust studies and funded the Holocaust Memorial in Bucharest, but it seems largely lacking motivation other than to placate the European Union in order to receive funds and support. The government has done the official minimum required of it to remember the Holocaust. The more important goal, and the much more difficult one, will be to expand the debate to include more than a narrow strata of government officials and academics to include the general public.

My experience with the many forms of commemoration and memory in Poland during the fellowship affected me greatly. It offered me a new perspective of my own research and motivates me to make sure that I properly address the Holocaust and its issues in my own work. I returned from Poland with a largely optimistic outlook on developments. The debate over the Holocaust continues to raise awareness of tolerance and understanding. The Jewish past in Poland seems to be steadily more recognized and important, as evidenced by the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews that we visited in Warsaw. I hope that I can contribute in the future to the ongoing debate and scholarship on the Holocaust in a meaningful way, which will help our understanding of the events as well as change the attitudes of people in contemporary problems of intolerance and prejudice.

Grant Harward grew up in Orange County, California and earned his B.A. from Brigham Young University, where he researched the Communist takeover in Romania. He lived in Romania for two years, studying Romanian history during the Second World War and becoming fluent in the language. He earned his M.A. in History of the Second World War in Europe from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He is currently a Ph.D. student in Modern European History at Texas A&M University. His research focuses on the motivation of Romanian soldiers fighting on the Eastern Front against the Red Army and in perpetrating atrocities against the Jewish population under Romanian administration.

Reflections on the American Service Academies Program at the United States Air Force Academy

Jessica Adams & Nathan Orrill, USAFA 2014 / 2013 ASAP Alums

In March 2014, Jessica Adams and Nathan Orrill, two participants of the American Service Academies Program (ASAP) presented at the National Character and Leadership Symposium (NCLS) at the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA). Here, they share their experiences with us during a Q&A.

What is the NCLS? 
NCLS is a one of the nation’s premier symposia in the field of character and leadership development, bringing together distinguished scholars, military leaders, corporate executives, world-class athletes, and others to explore a character-related theme based on the United States Air Force Academy’s institutional outcome. It is held annually at the Air Force Academy and this year’s theme was: “Character Overcoming Conflict: Individual Stories, Global Impact.”

What was the topic of your presentation?
We were invited to speak at this event as members of a cadet panel, to provide the “cadet” perspective on the Holocaust and ethical leadership dilemmas. Drawing upon the lessons learned during the program and our experiences throughout the trip, we presented on a wide array of issues to an audience of over 120 people. In attendance were USAFA department heads, visiting students and professors, and the Surgeon General of the Israeli Defense Forces, Brigadier General Kriess.

What were the highlights of the presentation?
The panel sparked both insightful and relevant discussion among the audience members. Much like the experience of cadets and midshipmen participating in ASAP, the audience encountered many of the same difficult questions and dilemmas. Though time was limited, we were successful in recreating the environment of sharing, critical thought, and forthright discussion, which was so essential and beneficial during the ASAP. There were two moments in particular that spoke to the credit and value of the ASAP and Holocaust education in general. The first was when a Jewish sophomore cadet expressed awe that the talk was standing room only. He said that the crowded room brought him close to tears, impressing upon him that so many of his fellow classmates and teachers cared about the Holocaust.

The second moment was when General Kreiss’ son publicly thanked the panel for his father, and then later personally expressed his gratitude, saying that as a Jew and an Israeli the Holocaust is an obvious, integral part of who they are. However, he and his father did not come to America, and the USAFA, expecting to hear a talk about the Holocaust. They were touched, saying they would never forget this talk. The impact on the whole audience was noticeable and profound; many listeners came up after the talk expressing their gratitude and thanks.

How did doing this panel tie into your ASAP experience?
One of the most important aspects of the program is continuing education and increasing public awareness, and we can say confidently that our participation in this panel met this goal. We wish to thank the Museum of Jewish Heritage and the Auschwitz Jewish Foundation for sponsoring ASAP and allowing us the opportunity to teach the lessons of the Holocaust to our peers, colleagues, and superiors. 

Jessica Adams is majoring in English Literature with minors in Arabic and Spanish at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Originally from outside Atlanta, Georgia, she plans on attending the University of Virginia after she graduates to pursue a Master’s Degree in British Literature before beginning her Air Force career as a Public Affairs Officer. 

Nathan Orrill is a senior cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy majoring in political science and minoring in Arabic language. After graduation in May 2014, he will commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Air Force and will attend Intelligence Officer School in Texas.

Public Reminders

Molly Greathouse, 2013 AJC PSA Alum

Whenever I reflect on my trip to Kraków and Oświęcim, this is always the image that pops into my head. Although it isn't the typical photo to describe the kind of journey we took through Poland, the message I captured in the image indicated that the history of World War II is still poignant and present for the people of Kraków – impossible to ignore. In America, there are no daily reminders of this time period, but by having simple street art akin to this, the memory of victims and the dangers of discrimination are kept alive though daily reminders.

One of the things I like about street art is that it is able to convey great ideas through a single image or a simple sentence. Public art, such as street art or graffiti, and public initiatives in general have a great effect on those who see them. Because of the fact that these types of expression are open to the public, it is up to the viewer to interpret the message how he or she wishes. This gives great power to the art while also allowing the viewer to participate in creating the message.

Molly Greathouse is a senior at the University of California, Irvine where she is pursuing an International Studies major and French minor. Her professional focus is digital and online media and is pursuing a career for new artists in the music industry. She currently is writing about her travel experiences on her own blog, as well as on The College Tourist.