Thursday, August 10, 2017

Rudolf Haberfeld Banking House

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

Staff Profile: Ada Myśliwiecka

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

Hometown: Oświęcim

What attracted you to the AJC? 

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

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

How has working at the AJC affected you?

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

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

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

The Upstander Effect: The Power of Singularity Against Adversity

Erin Zenger, 2016 ASAP Alum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black & White

Natasha Caudill, 2017 HRSP Alum 

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 26, 2017

Reflections: 2016 Auschwitz Jewish Center Annual Alumni Journal

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

Please contact with questions and feedback.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Salomon Kupperman Documents

This document is a work identification that belonged to Salomon Kupperman, who was employed at the Chemical Plant in Oświęcim as manager of production planning. The Kuppermans lived on 1 Parkowa St. and Salomon worked in the local chemical factory as a clerk. As soon as the war started, Salomon, a member of the Hitahdut left Zionist party, escaped to the Soviet Union with his brother and remained in Siberia and Uzbekisthan for the duration of the war. In 1962, he emigrated to Israel with his wife Regina and daughter Elina. The item is on loan from Elina Shaked. Please click here to learn more about the family.

Volunteer Profile: Judith Althaus, 2016-2017

Hometown: Berlin, Germany

What attracted you to the AJC?

During my last year in high school I thought about what I would do next. I wanted to do a gap year between high school and university in Germany, like many young people. As a German, I don’t feel guilty about the Second World War, but I feel responsible to remember and support education about the Holocaust. I wanted to work in a museum and thought it would be interesting to do tours through the museum. I was also interested in Judaism in general, so the AJC seemed perfect.

What are you enjoying most about your volunteer experience?

I really like to lead tours in the museum and in the city of Oświęcim. I enjoy it when people are interested in the topic and especially when they ask questions. It happens sometimes that I can’t answer a question but this inspires me to do research and learn more. It is a great opportunity.

How has volunteering affected you?

I have learned so much about different topics: Judaism, the history of Poland and Galicia, and improved my teaching abilities. The educational work at the AJC is very interesting to me. I can imagine doing something similar when I study at university.

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

The AJC has the perfect balance between history and present life. In the museum, visitors can learn about the past and present during workshops, especially the projects on prejudices and racism. There are always the questions: What can I take home? How will this information influence my daily and future life? In my opinion, that is very important.

Hope: A Paradox

Robert Kishaba, 2016 American Service Academies Program Alum

Hope is powerful. Its existence is undeniable, and its intimate involvement in our lives is similarly strong.

In Man’s Search for Meaning, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl articulates the necessity of hope through his time spent as a prisoner at various concentration camps during WWII. He supplied one particularly poignant example: between Christmas 1944 and New Year’s 1945 the camp’s sick ward experienced a death rate “beyond all previous experience,” not due to a food shortage or worse living conditions, but because, “the majority of the prisoners had lived in the naïve hope that they would be home again by Christmas.” When this hope was unmet, prisoners found no reason to continue holding on, nothing to look forward to. When a mind lets go, so does its body.

Philosophers have dealt with the idea of “hope” for centuries, disagreeing on subtleties or on the definition altogether. Aristotle, for example, once said that hope “is a waking dream” (Laertius). Plato identified hope as a pleasure. To him, once a belief “inscrib[es] words in our soul,” and once “these words concern the future they are hopes.” (Brittain). Not every philosopher stayed as abstract as the earliest ones, however. In a twentieth century work A Philosophy of Hope, for example, hope must meet six criteria, including that it be “difficult to obtain” and that it “lies beyond the control of the one who hopes” (Schumacher). Others include a spiritual component; St. Thomas Aquinas defined hope as “…a future good, difficult but possible to attain…by means of the Divine assistance…on Whose help it leans.” Hope is difficult to pinpoint, but on some level I think we know “hope” when we experience it.

According to Frankl’s observation regarding a higher death rate after Christmas, hope is a choice. Hope, it appears, is capable of sustaining life. While every external factor may root against you, one single act of internal defiance can counteract it all. Hope is powerful indeed. However powerful, the end result is never guaranteed. One can hope with the fiercest passion for something to occur (or not occur), but it gives no assurances. Choosing hope is inherently risky, because it can cause one to become attached to an idea that will never actualize.

Hope is curious in this way: on one hand, it can save your life, and on the other, it may have no bearing on the outcome. For having such varying effects, hope requires many things of an individual: an unquenchable thirst for whatever one hopes for, a stubbornness to reject any outcome other than the one desired, and a genuine belief that the hope will come to fruition. Hope has the power to save, yet at the same time it guarantees nothing. But that is just it: people recognize that hope does not guarantee a result. In fact, the uncertainty of the situation is the whole reason for them to hope in the first place. Hope is purely an internal shift. Hope relates to the well-being of the individual, not their external context.

Frankl’s text depicts the prisoners awaiting liberation from the Allies. Trusting in the Allied front and hoping that they break through the German defenses could have been a reasonable thing, depending on the point in the war. Hearing news of the eventual Allied progression must have inspired hope for many. But while some were fortunate enough to live to see the liberation of their camp, most did not see that glorious day. In this way, hope has no timeline. No one knew when they would be saved—or rather, if they would be saved. Hope is a disposition, and trusting in the Allies permitted this attitude. The Allied forces were both a symbol and a reality. They represented the idea of freedom and eventually followed through tangibly. But before the war ended, the prisoners had no assurance of this. Whether in the next moment, day, or year, they hoped that the Allies would eventually come. There was no certainty of eventual freedom, but they knew that someone somewhere was actively fighting for them, and that supplied some with everything they needed in order to hope.

The Nazis used hope as a means to an end. They deceived their prisoners because people respond to hope. It was a tool, and a very effective one—this is hope in its unnatural state. In a way, hope should remain undisturbed; let a man hope freely and fully. To be involved with a man’s hope is to be involved intimately with his life. One ought not to give hope only to tear it away—this is truly heartbreaking and potentially life-taking. Hope is powerful in this way.

Yes, hope is uncertain. No, the outcome cannot be guaranteed. Yet in the words of Frankl: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to chose one’s own way.”

Robby Kishaba is currently a junior at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He is a Political Science major with a Philosophy minor. He is involved in the Swing Dance Club and the Triathlon Team. He was born in Eau Claire, Wisconsin and is the youngest of five children. Robby is currently a Cadet Squadron Superintendent and hopes to pursue becoming a pilot upon graduation.

A New Chapter

Yael Friedman, Senior Manager of International Fellowships

Since I took the position of Senior Manager of International Fellowships in December, time has flown by. As an Auschwitz Jewish Center Fellow alumna from 2013, I had been interested in working with the AJC ever since. I was, and continue to be, inspired by their important work to teach about the Jewish history of Oświęcim, examine the impact of the Holocaust on the town and in Poland, and fight contemporary discrimination. Having worked even more closely with the AJC since 2015, leading the American Service Academies Program and then the Fellows program as well the following year, this view has been solidified. It is even more rewarding to be part of the program planning process. It is a privilege to prepare and guide military cadets and midshipmen, college and graduate students, and adults, through meaningful engagement with the historical content as well as the personal and emotional experience of being in Poland.

The granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor and two Jews who left Poland during the interwar years, I have a personal connection to this history. My grandmother has regaled me with stories of life in Włocławek, Poland, both the happy memories and those that are deeply upsetting. It wasn’t until I traveled through Poland with AJC staff, my second trip to Poland, that I was able to see some beauty in Poland and develop a deeper understanding of its complex history. With every group, visiting sites related to Polish history, Jewish history, and the Holocaust, is a new and unique experience, and I’m looking forward to many more!

Over these past few months I have had the opportunity to connect with many of you, by phone and in person, and hope to meet many more. I look forward to working with you. Let me know if I can be of any help to you and stay in touch!