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.