When life moves at a fast pace…

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…you don’t even have time to post on your blog!

Since I left Switzerland, I have had a whirlwind of an adventure readjusting to life in the US.  I got engaged to Ben, found an apartment in Boston so I can comfortably live during my MA program at The Fletcher School at Tufts, and have had many follow-up meetings for my Fulbright research, which I will recap below.

1.  I will be presenting my research and displaying Laura’s photos at the Museum of Tolerance in NYC on Sunday, October 21, 2012.  There will be two presentations, one open to the public and one for invited guests.  I am excited to work with the Museum and with Laura to plan this event, and it should be lovely!  Look out for a flyer coming soon, and for the event to be listed on the MOTNY website.  Hope you all can make it!

2.  Laura and I were asked to create a museum-style exhibition for the 92nd St. Y in NYC and for the Washington D.C. JCC, which will take place in the spring of 2013.  We’re currently meeting the 92nd St. Y and DCJCC staff to finalize the details.  The events will be supported by the Swiss Consulate in NYC and the Swiss Embassy in DC.  I am excited because historians don’t always work with photographers, and I feel we have the chance to do something unique and new for education on the subject.  Also, the exhibitions and accompanying photos will bring my research to life!

3.  I have been asked to contribute a small chapter/appendix to a colleague’s book!  It will be the first time I’ll be published in a book, and a great stepping stone for future publications.

4.  I was asked to write a proposal to contribute a chapter to the Child Research Development group based at Hebrew University, about the organized persecution of children.  I am not sure if my chapter based on this ongoing research will be accepted, but I hope it will be!

5.  Lots of meetings with potential supporters and PhD programs, to see where this will all lead in the future.  All good news there, with just a few challenges and new things to think about.

6.  I still have 15 more interviews with survivors to conduct, including one in Israel with the former Israeli Ambassador to Switzerland, who was a refugee child during the war.  I have to plan how to get to them all while doing my work for my MA courses, but I’m sure I can do it!

7. I will be launching a new initiative to secure funding to help me travel, write, conduct interviews, speak at conferences, publish, and basically continue my research this year, before the PhD.  I never imagined that my work would be so fruitful, that I’d find so much information and so many survivors to interview. I am thankful for the ongoing and new support from scholars, professors, organizations, etc.  I think that when things fall into place, when you find that are good at something, and when you receive so much support and experience success, it means you are meant to do that work.  This is what compels me.  

If you know any organizations or individuals who would like to support my work, please contact me!

8. On a more personal note, Ben and I are engaged!  We got engaged on July 4 in the Adirondacks, and we are so excited!

9.  Ben and I are traveling to Portugal tonight for two weeks, for an “engagement-moon.”

10.  Over the next few weeks, I have meetings in DC and NYC, writing to complete, funding to secure, moving to Boston, and the start of my MA program.  I am so excited for this next step in my life, and to continue to work on my research and see what comes out of it.

I will definitely reflect on my Fulbright year in Switzerland sometime soon, from my ‘Walden Pond” (the Adirondacks).  I am happy this adventure has not yet ended, and that new things constantly arise.

On a side note, best of luck to my Fulbright colleagues on their new adventures, especially Katharine at the start of her MD/PhD program at Michigan, and Claire as she finished the MA at the University of Geneva in the Montoya Lab.


Thank you, Fulbright.

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As I sit here knowing that I will leave Lausanne tomorrow, I do not feel ready to write about the year.  I don’t feel ready to sum up successes, to say what I wish I had done differently, to say what I’ve learned, or to say what exactly will come next from my research.  These things will come later.

I do want to take the opportunity to thank everyone who made my Fulbright year an amazing success, both personally and research-wise.  There are too many of you to name- friends, fellow Fulbrighters, government officials, Jewish community members, survivors, academics, scholars, historians, rabbis, researchers, teachers, mentors.  I want to thank all of the people who I’ve met this past year, in all different places and at different stages in my research, for supporting me directly and indirectly.  Thank you for connecting me to other people, places, and information, and for helping me so much.  I could not have completed my work this far and in such a focused way without you.  I know I will continue with this subject, as there is a lot more to be done, and hope to have some “results” to show soon!

More posts and photos after I return to the US tomorrow, June 28, 2012.

Another amazing week…read and see why!~

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On Sunday I went for a long walk at Ouchy, the lakefront in Lausanne.  I walked through Pully, over 5 km total.  I stopped along the way at a grass and rock beach.  I took off my shoes and went into the lake, until the water was up to my knees.  It felt liberating to have the cold water washing over me, in a small, remote beach on Lac Leman.  I stayed in the water for about 15 minutes, just looking at the mountains and the vineyards in the distance.  Switzerland is such a beautiful country in many ways.  I reflected on my time here while in the water, and thought about what a fruitful and plentiful year it’s been.

I then walked for over 30 minutes to find the Musee L’Elysee, one of the first museums in Europe displaying only photography.  There was an incredible exhibit by photographer Pieter Hugo from South Africa, who documented the Rwandan genocide 10 years after, in 2004.  He also showed many different types of portraits of families, the blind, albino people, and others through his photographs.  I have to say I was incredibly inspired and would like to contact him, to talk more about the documentation process of the Rwandan genocide, which is something I am increasingly interested in.

On Monday I was helped by a friend from Geneva to find the email address of the former Israeli Ambassador to Switzerland, who was also a former refugee in Switzerland during the war.  I sent him an email on Monday night, and to my surprise, he called me a few hours later from Israel.  He said that he was incredibly interested in my work, and that he would like to conduct an interview with me about his experiences as a refugee in Switzerland, and his perspective today.  Another reason for me to travel back to Israel, hopefully in December!  Here are some words from his email to me:

“The work you  are engaged in is of great human interest and I believe most important historically. Even though some research was conducted much of the theme is threatened by oblivion. The conduct of a country towards children who found in it refuge in times of wars and distress is many a times subject to some passing media remarks but seldom investigated even though it is indicative of moral attitudes that characterize countries and their societies in many aspects often ignored. Lives have been molded by officials who implemented policies, by individuals who assumed personal responsibilities, by care or by neglect, by love and G-d forbid by rejection. What I find to be of the utmost importance is to assess to day what impact the past of child survivors had in truth on their future. It is a story of Universal value.” Y.M.

I am excited to continue my connection with him, to read his memoirs, and to learn from him.

On Tuesday, I had my end of the year meeting with Prof. Jacques Ehrenfreund.  It went very well and he was very encouraging. I am glad to have been at UNIL this year, and to have had his advice, counsel, and support.

On Wednesday afternoon I finished the interview with Pierre, who’s father, Gustave Dreyfuss, was the president of the Jewish community in Lausanne during the war, and who worked tirelessly and personally, to aid Jewish refugees in Lausanne and the Canton of Vaud.  I discovered that Pierre’s father was the person who welcomed this former Israeli Ambassador and his mother in 1943, who was incredibly pregnant, and who gave birth to his brother in Lausanne soon after.  Gustave Dreyfuss was an “acting” father to the boy. 

Pierre also told me about a man in Geneve, David Planer, who is a survivor of Auschwitz, who came to Switzerland after the war.  I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Planer in the home of Madame Katz, who cares for him.  While he seems old physically, his mind is incredibly sharp and he is so intelligent.  He is also an incredibly sweet man.  I went into the rendez-vous intending to interview him, but when I saw him I decided just to do this for the sake of a mitzvah, and to learn for myself.  I was instructed to sit next to him and speak slowly, in French and Hebrew, so that he could hear and understand, as French was not his first language.  After a few minutes, he was holding my hand as we were sitting side by side, speaking to each other about the Shoah, the Torah and Talmud, and life in general.  I kept looking at him because I wanted to keep the image of his face engrained in my memory forever.  He even lifted his walker over his head and said “c’est pour toi”, showing me he still has some strength despite much difficulty walking and moving around.  He asked me if I went to Yeshiva “like the boys”, because I have such a strong Jewish knowledge.  We spoke in a slow mixture of Hebrew and French.  At the end of the 2 hour visit, I gave him my coordinates.  He asked me for a sheet of paper, and I took a piece of graph paper from my Swiss notebook.  On it he wrote one of the most thoughtful brachot I have ever received.  He showed me the black number tattooed on his arm.  I ran my fingers over the number, touching his arm, out of respect, before smiling and kissing his cheek to say goodbye.  He kissed my hand and offered more blessings before we parted.  I realize that the meeting today was for me and for him, a time for me to just think and feel, and to learn and be. 

Fulbright Presentations

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Last week I had two wonderful presentations in Switzerland, as a “capstone” to my Fulbright research in the country.  I was invited to speak at the United States Embassy in Bern on Thursday, June 14, 2012, to a small group of about 20 guests.  The event took place at the Deputy Chief of Mission’s residence, Ms. Susan Elbow.  Laura’s photos were displayed at the event, in addition to some photo books she put together of people and places from my research.  The event was a success, and everyone loved the photos, film, and presentation.  I was complimented a few times on my presentation skills and understanding of the subject.  I had been told by a fellow historian that I would never feel satisfied with a 30 minute presentation of my work, because it doesn’t really give me enough time to delve into the complexities and amount of information I’ve learned and collected on this subject.  She was right, but the guests were happy and the event was deemed successful by the Embassy staff, etc. Ambassador Beyer was there, as well as Alex Daniels and Alex Sigrist from the staff, and of course Susan Elbow. Laura’s photos were a great addition to the presentation, and I was very glad to have them there.  Also, Antoine Paley’s film that he made of the testimonies was incredibly moving, and I’m glad it was included, as well.  Claudine and Pierre were there from the Jewish Community, and as my “family”, and also many professors, Embassy staff, and others.  There was a delicious lunch afterward, and I got to chat personally with Susan, the Ambassador, and other guests.

We then went from an exhausting 6 hours in Bern to the Centre Communitaire in Lausanne, where we were scheduled to present at 20h30.  The room was beautiful, on the third floor of the old community building, and a nice buffet was set up.  Laura set up the large photos and the books, and I set up the computer and projector.  About 10 of my own guests came, including Jessica, Stefan, Lucie, Florian, Christine Blatti from EVAM, Claire, Raymond Weill, and some others.  Many people from the community were there, including Nika, Michou, Suzy, David, Alain, Yosef, and Lionel, the rabbi.  It was a great lecture and everyone seemed to have learned something.  I gained some feedback which was helpful, as well, for my next presentations in NYC and DC this year.  I presented a gift to the community as a thank you, a small photo book of Laura’s photos, taken of the synagogue, and Lionel and everyone else really appreciated it. I gave the presentation in English with David translating, but I did answer the questions in French.  That small part gave me the confidence that I could have done the whole presentation in French, but for now the Q&A was enough.  Overall, it was an incredibly successful day.  I was told that it’s hard to get people to come to an event in the community, so to have 40 people in attendance was a big accomplishment.  I am very pleased overall, and now have some ideas for moving forward.  Photos to follow!

Weekend in Le Chambon sur le Plateau

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Last weekend I spent 4 days in Le Chambon-Sur-Lignon, a small Protestant village of about 2,000-3,000 citizens, with a longstanding history and tradition in welcoming refugees and providing rescue and asylum.  I arrived at the gare in Lyon, and then rented a car and drove for two and a half hours, past St. Etienne, into a place which was quite unknown.  I ended up driving through back roads (D500 and D103), through farmland and woods until I reached the small village of Le Chambon, situated on the Lignon river (hence Le Chambon-Sur-Lignon).  There I met with historian M. Bollon who worked with me on the history of the place, the Protestant pastors who encouraged the community to take in Jewish children and other Jewish refugees, many of whom were saved from the camps in France, and to hide them from Nazi persecution during the war years.  One of these pastors is Andre Trocme and his wife Magda, amongst others. The two main pastors received the “medeille des justes”.

Le Chambon is one of only three entire communities in the world to be awarded the medal for Righteous Among the Nations from Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, for the work of the entire community in rescuing and hiding Jews. 

Le Chambon has an interesting preexisting Swiss connection, as it is a Protestant “culte”, or community, in a Roman Catholic country.  Le Chambon welcomed Swiss Protestants from the counter-reformation, and there has always been the idea of humanitarian aid for those who are persecuted in Europe, longstanding since the 1600’s. 

During the war, Le Chambon housed around 3,000 Jews in the tiny village.  I was able to see many of the homes and maisons set up for orphaned and refugee children, including Les Roches, Faidoli, and Tante Soly.  They are today different private residences, including an artist’s studio (Les Roches).  The Jews arrived by train to Le Chambon, no longer running except once a week during the summer months, in large groups, and right away the community knew what to do with each arrival.  They placed the children in homes, the families in hiding, not only in Le Chambon but all over the Plateau, in Le Mazet Saint Voy, Istor, Villelonge, and other small farming towns.  Villelonge, for example, houses a plaque that says that each farm in the small, small town hid either a Jew, a person escaping forced labor in Germany (STO), or a resistant.  There is only one plaque commemorating the rescue efforts and the Jewish presence in Le Chambon during the war, and the community members are happy not having more. 

I was able to meet with Claire from the Office of Tourism, who guided me to the maison d’enfants and other small villages.  I also met with the mayor of Le Chambon, who told me about the plans to make a new museum dedicated to asylum and rescue, and the international partnerships she hopes to build with the museum.  Right now, a small exhibit exists in the gare. 

I was also able to visit the Presbytere, where Andre and Magda Trocme lived, where Pasteur Braun and his wife live today.  Pasteur Braun is from Germany, and he is the pastor for the Protestant “culte” in Le Chambon today.  I also saw the “Temple”, or church where Trocme and others preached.  He was an incredible pacifist.  I also learned about the connection between Protestants and Jews, as the Protestants read and respect the Old Testament and felt it was their obligation to help and hide the “people of the Book”. 

I have posted some photos on facebook, but will also post some photos from Le Chambon here. It is amazing to me to think that, especially after 1943, the Nazis would go into these small, remote farms to look for Jews to deport.  It was amazing the systematic approach to the “Final Solution” that reached all parts of Europe, even a French farming town consisting of 3 farms.

I spent Sunday traveling around the area and drove literally through a dirt road in the woods to get to Istor.  There I went to the “Ecole des Prophets”, where the Sixieme resistance movement was working toward hiding Jews.  I was able to speak with the son of the proprietors of the building, who was 12 years old in 1943.  He told me about the young men who were in the house next door, and how he was friends with them.  It didn’t matter who they were, whether they were Jewish or not.  Something else that was amazing about Le Chambon is that no one denounced their neighbors for hiding Jews, and this is one reason why the rescue efforts were so successful.  Some children from Le Chambon went to Switzerland, some were turned away and some succeeded in entering.  I would like to look further into this connection.

There still exists a refugee and asylum aid organization in Le Chambon today.  I spent Sunday afternoon with M. Bollon, the historian, his wife, and their grandchildren.  We spoke a lot about history and methodology, and about memory and the link between Jewish and non-Jewish rescue and resistance.  It was a pleasure to be in their company.

Overall, my impression was very positive and I learned a lot about what happened on the Plateau during the war.  I saw things I would have never otherwise seen, and got a real feeling for what it must have been like to live in a small village in 1940-1944.  Once again, I was able to bear witness to places in history.  I look forward to returning to Le Chambon to visit the new museum, being built in the old school building.

Le Chambon-where I’m disappearing to this weekend

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“When the deportations began in France in 1942, [Andre] Trocmé urged his congregation to give shelter to any Jew who should ask for it. The village and its outlying areas were quickly filled with hundreds of Jews. Some of them found permanent shelter in the hilly region of Le Chambon, and others were given temporary asylum until they were able to escape across the border, mostly to Switzerland. Despite the danger, Jews were housed with local townspeople and farmers, in public institutions and children’s homes. With the help of the inhabitants some Jews were then taken on dangerous treks to the Swiss border. The entire community banded together to rescue Jews, viewing it as their Christian obligation.

According to one estimate, some 5,000 Jews passed through Le Chambon and the surrounding villages until liberation. The people of Chambon acted on their conviction that it was their duty to help their “neighbors” in need.”

-article, Yad Vashem


If you wonder where I am escaping to this weekend, it is Le Chambon-Sur-Lignon on the plateau in France.  It will take me two trains and a near 2 hour rental car ride to get there, but I am fortunate to have the unique opportunity to work with the main historian there, now retired, who has agreed to spend the weekend with me, largely due to Pat and Nelly’s help.  I will post about the weekend when I get back, but I think the trip and travel time will be worthwhile!  I’m excited to try and establish the Le Chambon-Swiss connection, which is clearly there, to travel somewhere I may never go again, and to get to work with this amazing historian and community.

A lundi, Lausanne!


Photo Journal June 2012

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