Monday, December 26, 2016

Chrzanów Bakery Advertisement

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

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

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

Volunteer Profile: Max Schwaiger, 2016-2017

Hometown: Hinterbrühl, Austria

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

Learn more about AJC Volunteers here.

Questioning Professional Ethics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Mountains

Shiri Sandler, Former AJC U.S. Director

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

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

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

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Artifact Spotlight: Challah cover

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

US Army Captain Benjamin Dratch

In June 2016, Captain Benjamin Dratch spoke at the annual AJC dinner. This is the text of his speech:

Ladies and gentleman, thank you very much for attending the Auschwitz Jewish Center Foundation Dinner and for supporting the American Service Academies Program. I would especially like to thank Shiri Sandler, the US Director of the AJC, for the opportunity to speak to all of you tonight.

Seven years ago, I attended this same function as a very different person. I was 19 years old, had just completed my freshman year at the United States Military Academy, and, despite a challenging first year at West Point, I still had a belief that I was almost invincible. My experience during the American Service Academies Program profoundly changed my worldview.

I am Jewish and my grandmother escaped Germany in 1936. My first visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum was when I was 15, and my grandmother walked me through the museum telling me how her life had changed as the Nazis came to power. She told me how her old friends started avoiding her and how being Jewish became increasingly stigmatized. If anyone in my generation was in a position to understand the plight of the Jews in the Holocaust, it was me. But yet, I did not. I thought I empathized with their struggle but I really could not imagine losing my life in a death camp. Somehow, I always believed that it would have been different for me; I would have managed to escape. I now see the error of the arrogance borne from my inexperience. As an able-bodied, white, middle-class, American male, it was incredibly difficult for me to imagine the powerlessness of those being held by the Nazis. There is something immeasurably moving about seeing first-hand the thick brick walls, tall watch towers, and rows of barbed wire surrounding the Auschwitz Death Camp. I finally realized, if I had lived in Germany during the early 1940s, I too would have likely lost my life in a place like Auschwitz. Just as I feel totally integrated into American society today, countless Jews felt connected to their respective cultures in Europe and were unable to imagine the fate that awaited them at the hands of the Nazis. It is easy to grow comfortable believing the world is destined to become increasingly peaceful and humane, but history will only repeat itself if we do not remain forever vigilant and combat hateful ideologies before they gain popular support.

So, you might be wondering, the American Services Academies Program teaches empathy to future military officers but how does that translate into action? This is where I believe the program is truly exceptional. During our visits to different museums and while listening to a variety of speakers, we learned about the many Righteous Gentiles who risked their own lives to help the oppressed. Hearing these stories, one thing in particular always stood out to me: all these heroes viewed their own efforts in relatively unheroic terms. They simply stated that helping others was the right thing to do, so they helped. And they didn’t see themselves as having done any single particularly courageous act, they just lived their daily lives in a moral way and when presented with an ethical challenge, like whether or not to help hide a family of Jews fleeing Nazi occupied territories, they acted in accordance with their deeply held values.

In Exodus 23:9, the Torah states that “you know the feelings of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Israel.” I have considered this quote often since first traveling to Auschwitz. During my first deployment to Afghanistan, I was initially in charge of many Afghan-born linguists and locally contracted workers who helped on the base. While technically I was in their country, the Afghans were definitely “strangers” who had limited power when working on an American Forward Operating Base. It was educational opportunities like the American Service Academies Program that prepared me to be able to relate and empathize with individuals from such a different background. Talking to many of the Afghans I worked alongside, I was always struck by the common humanity we shared. Just like the average American, the vast majority of Afghans dream of living in a country where their families are safe and they are able earn a living wage. My duties during that first deployment to Afghanistan, and even in my subsequent deployment to Iraq, were nothing that remarkable but I took a great deal of pride in them. I figured it was the little actions that mattered: attempting to do the right thing day-in-and-day-out. That is the way so many Righteous Gentiles approached life and is clearly the way many of you, here tonight, live your lives. All of you could be somewhere else, but you are here, supporting this incredible organization.

This program has given me, and so many other officers, a priceless learning experience that we will never forget. The world is a dangerous place, and the American Military will continue to play an important stabilizing role for decades to come. Your support of the American Service Academies Program helps ensure that future leaders, like the cadets seated here tonight, are prepared to take on the challenges that lay ahead. Thank you so much for your dedicated support of this program and our country.

Volunteer Profile: Imogen Wilkins, 2016

Hometown: Bremen, Germany

What attracted you to the AJC?
I find it important to commemorate and remember the destruction of the Nazi crimes and at the same time link this to being active today against anti-Semitism, racism, and other forms of discrimination. The Auschwitz Jewish Center does both—on the one hand it educates about Jewish life in Oświęcim before, during, and after the Second World War; it also provides anti-discrimination trainings and hosts events on current issues such as the situation of refugees in Europe today. This combination is what makes this place so interesting for me.

What are you enjoying most about your volunteer experience? Most of all I enjoy giving tours to visitors—every group is different and nearly always interesting questions are asked and knowledge is shared. Spending my time at Café Bergson and working with such a great team have made this year a very special experience for me.

How has volunteering affected you?
I have learned a lot about Judaism and Jewish life in Oświęcim and have gained experience in teaching about them and making them accessible for school groups. I have also become more interested in Polish history and understanding a different perspective on history and the collective memory in this country.

What is one thing you'd like others to know about the AJC or think people don't know?
Few people know of the town Oświęcim and if they do it is probably the last place one associates with Jewish life. However, before the war the majority of this town was Jewish; there were close to 30 houses of prayer and a vibrant and diverse Jewish community existed. I think it is very important that the history and the lives of these people are not forgotten.

In the Shadow of Tragedy: Life After Columbine

Molly Geoghegan, 2016 AJC PSA Alum

“Weren’t you scared?”

It’s the inevitable follow-up question I receive after revealing the name of my high school alma mater, Columbine High School, where the infamous 1999 school shooting took place, resulting in thirteen lives lost. Most people hear the word “Columbine” and associate it with tragedy, a pivotal moment in America’s history of gun violence that began to shine a brighter light on the problem. I think of pep rallies, taking part in plays, and awkward adolescent dances, singing along to Justin Timberlake with my friends.

When I visited the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps this past April with the AJC Program for Students Abroad, we stayed the night in the Polish town of Oświęcim—the original Polish name from which the German word “Auschwitz” is derived. I was unexpectedly struck by the parallel of Oświęcim—much like my hometown of Littleton, Colorado—as becoming synonymous with a tragedy, a scene of a crime. More than 1.5 million people visit Auschwitz each year, yet few are aware that Oświęcim is home to some 35,000 Polish people who maintain normal, daily lives.

Let me be clear: I do not mean to compare two tragedies. A school shooting and the Holocaust are vastly different devastations in entirely separate contexts. But this common thread brings about the same question raised by the photo series in the Kluger House at the AJC , “Land of Oś: Life in the Shadow of Auschwitz,” by Danny Ghitis: “How can life exist in the aftermath of such overwhelming evil?” What’s more, why do people want to visit these sites of sadness?

During my second year of high school, I directed a tourist who was wandering the hallways taking photographs out of the building and to the nearby Columbine memorial. I was angry, not because I was late to class, but because that person saw my school as a place to be mourned, not a place where hundreds of students were learning.

For some, to see something is to believe it. By visiting these locations, perhaps they can fully comprehend what surpassed. But truly, how can we ever understand the magnitude or meaning of such heinous acts? At Birkenau, I was baffled into silence by its vastness alone.

In a world where people select their travel destinations based on reported violence, we must remember that evil can be present and acted upon anywhere. However, if we choose to be afraid of every place that has bore witness to tragedy, then we choose to be afraid of the earth itself. If we cut ourselves off from certain experiences on the basis of terrible things happening, then we, too, surrender to the same evil.

No, I was not scared to attend my high school.

This coming fall, a new group of teenagers will attend their freshman orientation and go on to journey through the exciting and strange years of adolescence.

Birds chirped and flowers were blooming the morning we arrived in Oświęcim as people went about their day. The George Santayana quote greeting visitors in the first bunker of Auschwitz seems fitting: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

In carrying on with life, we carry the memory of the past. I believe this is the best and most effective way we can pay homage and move forward.

Let us triumph over these devastations by continuing to live.

Molly Geoghegan is a writer, marketer, and graduate of DePaul University where she was awarded Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor's degree in Media and Cinema Studies. A working visa brought her to Dublin, Ireland, where she continues to build a portfolio and freelance. She credits the AJC Program for Students Abroad with motivating her to continue learning and writing about international relations and is currently making plans to attend graduate school.


Rosemary Bornstein, 2016 AJC PSA Alum

I have always loved flowers. Maybe it is because I am named after a plant, and every nickname I have ever had has been plant-based. Or maybe I just appreciate this marvelous piece of life. So when I arrived at the first site my AJC PSA group visited when touring Birkenau, my initial thought was of how beautiful the field of yellow globe flowers was in the bright sunshine. Seven decades ago, this field was the site of the very first gas chamber in Birkenau.

To visit Auschwitz & Birkenau as a person of Jewish descent is to come face to face with the distinct possibility that you may not exist. My grandparents, who fled from Germany in 1934 to the United States were lucky; my extended family was not. I harbored a lot of anger about the Holocaust and what it did to my family. I decided to participate in the PSA in 2016 to visit these places because I wanted to better understand and honor the unnamed millions representing my family. I expected a country full of death and discovered one full of life.

I grew up Catholic and visited a synagogue only once in my life. Judaism was a part of my identity in name only. So when we went to Shabbat service as part of the program, I had very little idea what to expect. I struck up a conversation with one of the Israeli women sitting next to me and pestered one of the other PSA students with play-by-play questions about what was happening. Two groups of Israeli high schoolers were on their visit to Poland and had crowded the historic Izaak Synagogue to almost bursting.

Then, the singing started. As a Catholic, I spent a huge amount of time in church singing, but it was nothing like this. It began quite calmly, the students singing with as much fervor as you would expect from a bunch of energetic high school students wanting to impress their friends. But as it continued, the singing crescendoed until the synagogue was filled with sound. The students began dancing, first in their place, and then joining into a winding coil around the synagogue, moving to the sound of their prayers. At one point, a man climbed onto the bimah and yelled at the students in Hebrew, “We need to continue on with the service or you will all be sent home!” as they had been repeating the same refrain over and over for ten minutes. It was an incredible experience; people I did not know were singing prayers of a religion I do not follow in a language I do not speak, and yet I felt a sense of community. I also felt a sense of peace – my people had not only survived, but were thriving.

After the five days I spent falling in love with Poland, I left with more questions than I had started with. The most prominent of these was whether or not I could truly claim this experience as my own. My grandparents survived, we did not know any specific relatives who had been murdered by the Nazis, and I did not even follow the religion my people were persecuted for. I was journaling about this in my hotel in Kazimierz on my last night in Poland, when I received an email from my Aunt Olga:

“Dear Family,” it read, “A genealogist and Jewish family researcher in the San Francisco Area has been researching members of the Bornstein/Philippsborn families. A couple of weeks ago she sent me the German translation of a short talk given in Berlin recently. The talk celebrated the dedication of a stolpersteine (commemorative stumbling block) for Elise Bornstein Beset, daughter of Jacobi and Thelka Bornstein, a brother of Philipp Bornstein [my great grandfather].” In the email, she included a photo of the small memorial, the concrete evidence I had been yearning for to understand the feeling of connection I felt to the Shoah as a Jewish person.

The next day, I left to volunteer at the Calais refugee camp in France, hoping to honor the sacrifice my grandparents made for my sake and to bring the refugee experience full circle by helping those who are in need today. The most incredible part of this experience was seeing the community they have built within the confines of a refugee camp, reminding me of the incredible resilience I saw in the Jewish community in Krakow.

There is a special beauty in life continuing where it was once destroyed. It is the beauty I see when I think about what my family and I have because my grandparents left Germany when they did. It is the beauty I saw in the faces of the refugees at the camp in Calais, the hope of a better life shining from their eyes. It is in the overwhelming sense of community I felt watching the Israeli students joyfully dance around the Izaak Synagogue while singing in the language of a people reborn.

As my distant cousin stated at the dedication of my family’s stolpersteine: “There is a Jewish saying that goes: ‘Only those people are dead whom we no longer remember.’ This stone confirms that Elise existed, that she lived here and that at some point was taken away to a concentration camp and killed. I believe Elise would have been comforted to know that she now has eleven relatives who have come after her, some of whom live in Germany again. She will live on in us, and we will never forget her story – and we will continue to tell it.”

Rosemary Bornstein is a student at Saint Louis University, majoring in Public Health, International Studies, and French. She intends to earn Master’s and Doctorate degrees in Public Health with a focus in Communicable Diseases, after which she hopes to work in West Africa to combat Neglected Tropical Diseases. Rosemary intends to spend her life advocating for the treatment and victims of neglected diseases and is passionate about refugee rights. She has lived in five foreign countries and visited more than two-dozen others, documenting her journey here.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Artifact Spotlight: Omega watch

This Omega watch is inside a case branded by Natan Scharf’s watch store and dates from the interwar period. The store at 8 Kościelna Street sold Omega, Roskopf, and Zenith watches, as well as jewelry and glasses. This object is on loan from Piotr Kolasa. Learn more about the AJC's collection here.

Alumni Profile: Lt. Col. Krzysztof Łaszkiewicz, 2015 Understanding Evil Alum

Since 2014, the AJC has run a training program for Polish police officers called Understanding Evil, which is designed to address the legacy of the Holocaust and the contemporary challenges of combating anti-Semitism, homophobia, and other forms of hatred. In January, seminars were held for commanding officers in Polish law enforcement from provinces Lubelskie and Podkarpackie.

Lt. Col. Krzysztof Łaszkiewicz
Following a recent seminar, Lt. Col. Krzysztof Łaszkiewicz, Human Rights Adviser of the Commander-in-Chief of Polish Police said:

The seminars at the Auschwitz Jewish Center allow us to examine racial hatred in a professional way in the place where so many lives were lost. This terrible crime had a modest and inconspicuous beginning.

Earlier this month, we were honored to receive a thank you letter from the Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Police for the training on the impact of the program.

Holocaust Symposium at the Coast Guard Academy

William Glick, 2015 ASAP Alum

In late August 2015, during a quiet moment on the bow of one of the Coast Guard Academy’s sailboats off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, I began reflecting on my time in Poland earlier that summer as an American Service Academies Program participant. A year prior, I was selected to participate in the ASAP. I thought I had a decent idea of what to expect, but I did not realize what a profound impact it would eventually have on me. Our two-week program began in Washington, D.C. and continued in New York, preparing us for our time in Poland, which included a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The program reinforced my lifetime investment in human rights advocacy and helped me understand what it means to be a military officer in a humanitarian-military service and the ethical implications of making real-time decisions.

Over the semester, I worked with Dr. Alina Zapalska, Management Professor at USCGA, and Dr. Erik Wingrove-Haugland, Ethics Professor, to build the second USCGA ASAP Symposium, attended by over 200 people. Through discussion groups led by cadets and officers, lectures, and testimony, cadets explored how to apply the lessons learned from the Holocaust to real world situations that Coast Guard Officers face nearly every day. U.S. Director of the AJC, Shiri Sandler, spoke about the history and purpose of the ASAP. Dr. Wingrove-Haugland stated in his address:

Genocide has continued very often in the context of warfare or terrorism, and as a result it is imperative for the cadets as future military leaders to hold a deep understanding of the contexts in which genocide or any form of terrorism occur and the role both civilians and militaries have played in both causing and preventing them.

Cadets also heard from Holocaust survivor Mrs. Gisela Adamski, who helped us understand the story of the Holocaust and her struggle in postwar America. Discussion groups were led by Coast Guard officers, including ASAP Alumni from various services, including the Navy, Air Force, and Army. Officers and officer candidates from the German and Austrian armed forces were also in attendance, sharing their perspectives and experiences as cadets in 21st century Europe. Members of the Academy community including professors, cadets, staff, officers, our Commandant of Cadets, and others expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to reflect on how lessons of the past help us in the present.

Cadet 2/c William Glick is a member of the Class of 2017 at the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT. Will is a Management major, and plays in several cadet bands, is the chief editor of the cadet literary journal id est, and has been selected as the cadet in charge of the Swab Summer basic training program for the incoming freshmen during summer 2016. Will enjoys running, playing trumpet, and several faith & fellowship groups onboard USCGA.

Naval Academy Midshipmen Face the “Perpetrator Paradigm”

Teresa Kennedy, 2015 ASAP Alum

On a chilly Saturday morning in February, when most 19-year-olds are still sleeping, the Plebes of 18th Company at the U.S. Naval Academy are arriving in Washington, D.C. As the sun peeks over the Washington Monument across the street, these 40 freshmen enter the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum through a side entrance before the building is open to the public. They walk through the silent halls to the exhibit, where staff members guide them, unfolding the story of the Holocaust in order to show these future military officers their role in “Never Again”.

Every year, all 1,100 freshmen at the Naval Academy attend the museum in this manner. Senior midshipmen from each of the 30 companies undergo training in the connections between the USHMM’s exhibition and the Naval Academy’s leadership and character curricula. For the last four years, an alumnus of the American Service Academies Program has led this training. These alumni have incorporated experience and education from the program with the Naval Academy's curriculum on character development to better address the issues these freshmen will be grappling with during their visit.

Meeting in one of the museum’s classrooms in August, this year’s group of 1/C Midshipmen collectively brainstormed the main objectives of the Saturday Morning Training program: “To understand the importance of ethical decision-making in the context of the Holocaust and genocide prevention.” Before each company’s visit during the academic year, these seniors prepare the freshmen to think critically about issues of authority in mass atrocity. From readings of Ordinary Men to showings of The Pianist and Conspiracy, the freshmen arrive at the museum well informed about what happened, and then after are able to discuss in-depth how, why, and their responsibility in preventing atrocities in the future.

The program fosters an understanding of German and Polish soldiers’ mindsets during World War II. Acknowledging the “perpetrator mindset” forces midshipmen to notice similarities between these soldiers and themselves, identifying where these soldiers failed to execute the ethics that the Naval Academy is dedicated to developing.

“While I was there, I connected to soldiers on both sides of the war,” Midshipman 4/C Frances Kratz told me after our visit, recognizing links from the exhibit to her leadership class at the Naval Academy. “I felt the struggle they faced while they made leadership decisions.”

Other midshipmen were faced with deep emotional reactions to the exhibit, most lighting candles in the Remembrance Hall, and a few stopping to bow their heads in prayer. All, however, left the museum with the gravity of the somber responsibility on their shoulders, a full realization of the power of their uniform, and a renewed dedication to be an officer in the U.S. Navy, an organization which prides itself for being a “global force for good.”

Teresa Kennedy is a senior at the United States Naval Academy. She will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Science in English and a commission as an Ensign into the Surface Warfare Community. In the fall, Teresa will travel to the University of Oxford to complete her MPhil in Social Anthropology. Teresa became passionate about genocide prevention after completing the American Service Academies Program in 2014 with the AJC and was honored to receive the Truman Scholarship in recognition of this passion. She intends to pursue a career dedicated to public advocacy for genocide prevention.

Toul Sleng Genocide Museum

Overlooking the city of Phnom Penh from S21,
the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum
Dara Bramson, Manager of Programs Abroad & 2010 AJC Fellow

January 27 is UN International Holocaust Remembrance Day, held on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in 1945. Institutions and individuals around the globe commemorate this day annually with ceremonies, special exhibitions, and public programs. In Oświęcim this year, AJC staff visited the Jewish cemetery with high school students from Katowice. Since I was an Auschwitz Jewish Center Fellow in 2010 and became a staff member in 2011, I have made a point to partake in commemorative events each year, which have recently included ceremonies at the Museum of Jewish Heritage and at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Museum. This year, I was honored to have the opportunity to speak at the Documentation Center of Cambodia in Phnom Penh (DC-Cam) on January 27.

I first visited DC-Cam in 2014 while studying peace and conflict in Thailand as a Rotary Peace Fellow. My conversations with their staff quickly blossomed into reciprocal interest in each other’s work; despite geographical differences, we recognized common elements in our shared histories that we could each learn from. I was invited to speak in a classroom at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21), where visitors to the former high school-turned-prison tour the haunting site’s empty rooms, some filled with images, artifacts, and testimony. The site is encircled by bustling city streets; the mugshots of prisoners reminded me of those in Auschwitz. At that site, I couldn’t help but reflect on my experience as an educator in Poland, and how concepts of space and place affect communities recovering from the past.

In honor of the commemoration, I spoke at DC-Cam about our work at the Auschwitz Jewish Center and Museum of Jewish Heritage, and important initiatives and concepts related to memory and reconciliation in Poland. I posed questions that arose for me throughout my visit to historic sites and the city itself. These questions were not unlike those I continue to examine in Poland. The event closed with an engaging discussion focused on personal histories, the importance of learning about genocide in a broad context, and developing empowering ideas that can lead to a sense of cross-cultural solidarity.

Dara Bramson is the Auschwitz Jewish Center's Manager of Programs Abroad. Since 2011, she has organized the Program for Students Abroad and Customized Programs throughout the year. In 2010, she was an AJC Fellow and Lipper Intern at the Museum of Jewish Heritage.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Reflections: 2015 Auschwitz Jewish Center Annual Alumni Journal

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

Please contact with questions and feedback.