Wednesday, December 9, 2015
This is the title page of the religious pamphlet “Libanon Nuta” by Rabbi Natan Landau, which is part of the AJC’s collection. It was published in 1901 in Podgórze, near Kraków, and details the subject of ritual purity. Natan Landau, whose family was part of the local rabbinic dynasty, was president of the rabbinic court in Oświęcim. The stamp of Rabbi Leser Landau (1869-1938), his son, appears on the page. Leser held the prestigious post of Deputy Chief Rabbi of Oświęcim for 21 years. The artifact was obtained from the Oświęcim branch of the State Archive in Katowice. Learn more about the Libanon Nuta here.
What attracted you to the AJC? A few years ago, I developed an interest in Middle Eastern cultures and languages. I became fascinated by the thousands of years of traditions, rituals, and the rich cultural history. When I learned about the AJC, I was drawn to the opportunity to teach and learn about Judaism and Jewish culture, not only the Shoah. The AJC offered me the opportunity I was looking for.
What are you enjoying most about your volunteer experience? I learn the most interesting things from questions from groups I guide that I don’t know the answer to. I also really enjoy visits from Israeli groups: last week, for example, we had a group of young Israelis. One of them told us that one of his ancestors lived in Oświęcim and showed us his great-grandfather in one of the pictures at the AJC.
How has volunteering affected you?
I certainly have become more reliable and responsible here. Also, I feel more confident and comfortable speaking in front of groups. I have learned to express my thoughts more clearly and efficiently. Working here, I am learning about Judaism and Polish culture in an engaging, less abstract manner.
What is one thing you'd like others to know about the AJC or think people don't know? When I was still in Austria, preparing to come to Poland, I told people that I was going to Oświęcim to work there for a year. I did not meet a single person who knew what Oświęcim was, and when I clarified, people assumed it would be a depressing experience. Life in Oświęcim, however, is not depressing at all. It is a beautiful, dynamic town. People must know that the focus of the AJC is not on death and destruction, but rather on life.
I first visited the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. in middle school and was surprised, more accurately stunned, by the experience. I remember being amazed that children just like me had endured such a horrific experience. Even at that age and with limited knowledge of the Holocaust, it was apparent to me that one could not gain a comprehensive understanding of its events by studying a textbook or taking a class. When the opportunity arose to apply for the American Service Academies Program, I applied for the breadth of educational and interpersonal experiences it promised.
What surprised you most about the experience? Although I applied to the program for the experience, I underestimated the breadth of the experience in its entirety. I expected considerable academic requirements and the whirlwind tour of D.C., New York City, and Poland. I was not prepared for the rush of emotions brought forth by these experiences, including meetings with individuals profoundly impacted by the Holocaust. I will never forget the scope of reactions displayed by my fellow ASAP participants while visiting Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau: there was disbelief, shock, fear, anger, and deep sadness. It was amazing that a group of individuals with similar training, values, ethics, and career choices could be affected so differently. It led me to understand that we could not only display varying emotions, but also respond in vastly different ways to the same stimulus. It was a foundational experience that impacted my understanding of the importance of instilling core values, particularly integrity, in all military members.
How did the ASAP impact you after you completed the program? Based upon my newfound respect for the core value of integrity, I began to look at my commitment to military service a bit differently. I had sworn to protect my country at any cost, to include making the ultimate sacrifice. What I had not fully considered was that it could and should mean disobeying orders that are detrimental to the values and rights upon which our nation is founded. I no longer identified with the young children who endured this horrific event, but the young officers who were tasked with carrying out such horrific actions. I realized I must continue to develop my personal integrity to prepare for taking a stand for what is right and for enabling Airmen around me to do the same. My experiences in the ASAP are an always-present reminder that military members and society at large must always strive and sacrifice for what is right.
Stefanie Culp graduated from the United States Air Force Academy in 2009. She attended pilot training in Columbus, Mississippi and then was stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord flying the C-17 from 2011-2014. Stefanie is currently stationed at Joint Base McGuire Dix-Lakehurst, NJ where she is a C-17 Instructor Pilot and an Operations Group Executive Officer. She lives in Philadelphia, close to her hometown of Chestertown, Maryland.
The New Łódź Jewish Cemetery, established in 1892, is the largest Jewish Cemetery in Europe. More than 180,000 graves and 65,000 tombstones, ohels (structures built over graves), and mausoleums occupy the cemetery located on Zmienna Street, south of the Radogoszcz train station.
During the Nazi occupation, the cemetery became part of the eastern section of the enclosed ghetto. Between 1940 and 1944, approximately 43,000 burials took place in a part of the cemetery that became known as the “Pole Gettowe" or Ghetto Field. The cemetery was also the site of many mass executions of Jews, Roma, and non-Jewish Poles.
Upon entering the Beit Tahara (funeral home) within the cemetery, I was instantly met with a sense of warmth; not temperature, but comfort. The angles, colors, symbols, textures of this humble room illustrate its importance in the preparation for a Jewish burial. There was also a silence to the room that conveyed its purity, its strength.
After a few moments I began to realize just how many victims of the Holocaust that were not granted this ritual carried out with dignity and respect. The traditional washing (rechitzah), ritual purification (taharah), and dressing (halbashah) of the deceased, the prayers and readings from Torah, The Law of Onen, and the practice of Shemira, all of which were lost.
We all too often focus on the total number of victims of the Holocaust and the manner in which they were murdered. What is sometimes lost, though, is the focus on the manner in which these victims lived; from birth to burial within a culture of beliefs, customs, and traditions.
Todd Hennessy is an educator with The Colorado Holocaust Educators in Denver, CO. For fifteen years Todd taught middle and high school social studies for two public school districts in Colorado. He currently teaches the Holocaust curriculum for the Temple Sinai Religious School in Denver, and is a United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Regional Education Corps Member and Museum Teacher Fellow. When Todd is not teaching, he is a career firefighter / EMT with the South Metro Rescue Authority in Centennial, CO.