Field working photos Part 2

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Possessions kept by a survivor, from her mother.

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A man traveling 2000 km with a shell, walking toward Jerusalem.  Met outside of Geneva.

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The dead sea, and it’s salt.

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Jerusalem

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The former Institut Ascher, in Bex, Switzerland

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The synagogue in Lausanne

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Another perspective of Bex

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Sunset in Jerusalem

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Photos from field working days.

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In the field.

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I have not yet learned how to embed photos into my blog like some Fulbrighters.  But I did want to write another post before Shabbat and the weekend begins, as a lot is happening here in Switzerland.

I am happy to say that the Museum of Tolerance New York has agreed to host an event featuring Laura’s photography and my research.  I am excited for this event, which will take place in NYC in the fall.  Here is a link to their website:  www.museumoftolerancenewyork.com/.

The most exciting thing about being here in Switzerland has been the “field” aspect to my research.  Many historians don’t get to engage in field work when working on their research.  Besides the presentations and lectures I’ve given, I’ve had to go inside communities, speaking to all types of different people, in order to find the survivors with whom to speak, engage in their trust, and allow them to have a good interview experience, too.  I’ve been speaking to experts on testimonials, to learn how to best conduct the interviews and to find out how to learn what I need to learn from them.  When I began the Fulbright experience, a friend and colleague asked if I was going to spend time in the local communities where Jewish refugees actually were.  I had never thought of this as a potential part of my Fulbright research, in addition to the interviews and archival work.  I am happy to say that I have spent many days traveling the French-Swiss Border, at the former Institut Ascher in Bex, in Versoix and Geneva at the homes, and at other places.  I am also planning a trip to Le Chambon to look into the community there and see where Jewish children were hidden during the war, in addition to meet with a historian and archivist there who will help me navigate and learn.

I have been preparing a paper for a presentation to a scholarly research circle, and subsequently spent over two hours with an archivist at the Cantonal Archives in Geneva yesterday.  The goal was to create a list of Jewish refugees, age 2-18, who were accepted into the Canton of Geneva between 1 August 1942 and 1 June 1945.  After the archivist spent 30 minutes telling me the limitations of the search and some of the inherent problems with creating such a list, he agreed to work with me on it.  In the end, we were able to create the list. The thing that surprised me the most was that around 3,000 children and adolescents were accepted into Switzerland during those dates, with only 114 (or possibly 118) refused.  There are a lot of complexities and codes with the list, but it was very exciting to see some numbers, even if they are not 100% accurate at this point. 

More to come soon!  I am going to try and post more photos and reflections in these last few months!

The Interview Table

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The Interview Table

Photo Credit: Laura Bernier

Yom Hashoah, and not Yom Hashoah

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I originally sat down to write this post on Thursday, which was Yom Hashoah in the Jewish calendar.  I had a lot of feelings and ideas flowing, but after reading all of the posts on Facebook from friends, colleagues, and others (magazines, archives, museums, etc.), I was left with a sense of overwhelming sadness and found I could not write a single word.  So I am writing this post today instead, with Yom Hashoah still in mind.

I started off this Fulbright year in August, in Warsaw, Poland, at a conference for survivors of the Shoah and their families.  I had many interesting discussions, met many inspiring people, and participated in a wonderful panel on resistance and rescue.  I met Bertha and Bracha, and Paula and Rene, who inspire me each day to continue the work I do.  But I realized, I do not need a Yom Hashoah to do this work.  It doesn’t compel me in the same way- to have one day to remember, but all the other days we go about our lives, sometimes thinking of others, sometimes not.  I don’t usually get overwhelmed, or sick, from my work.  I can count the number of times it has happened.  In March, when at Yad Vashem with Laura, I told her I would meet her in the museum after I had a few meetings.  Two hours later I wandered through the museum and found her in the section about the concentration camps.  I looked around, and started to literally feel sick to my stomach.  I told her I would meet her at the end of the museum, and quickly walked to the end of the exhibit.  I had been in the museum at Yad Vashem 5 times before, and never had this visceral reaction.  I pinned it back to Poland, as I had visited Majdanek, Auschwitz, and Birkenau in August, and for the first time witnessed first hand what had happened to 2/3 of my people in Europe.  The second time I felt sick was on Thursday.

I don’t need a special day to think about the horrors of the Shoah, and the importance of new and focused scholarship on the subject, with the main goals to teach and show so that we can learn and never forget.  I have been told- why are you focusing on this subject?  It’s all been done, it’s all been told.  People are sick of hearing about the Shoah, especially Europeans, so why waste your time?  But when I have a survivor who emails me for four weeks straight, asking when we can conduct his interview, as he does not know how much longer “he has” and wants so badly to speak with me, I know I am doing the right thing.  Ultimately, it is not about me.  I was almost embarrassed at the conference in Warsaw, that I did not have any family who survived the Shoah, and that I did not even know what happened to my great-grandfather’s family after he left Bialystok in 1929.  But in documenting the stories of others, I feel redeemed, that I can be a witness to their stories that they sometimes can’t even tell their own children and grandchildren- at least not yet.

I have 12 weeks left of my Fulbright in Switzerland, although I know that when June 30 arrives, I will still not be finished with this subject.  It has been the biggest blessing in my life, to have this opportunity.  During the 12 weeks, I will attend a conference in Strasbourg, will work in the archives in Bern and Zurich, travel back to Israel to work at Yad Vashem, will conduct 10 more interviews, and will present my research at the US Embassy in Bern and the Jewish Community in Lausanne.  I will work with Laura to find the most appropriate photos to show the human side to this project, and display them.  I will be busy, but it will be worth it.  We need some people in the world to think about the Shoah every day, not just on Yom Hashoah.  It can’t be everyone, each person finds their niche and changes the world in his or her own unique way.  This is my way, and the way of my colleagues, little by little, to shed light with information like “Jews Rescuing Jews”, my colleague and mentor Pat Henry’s new book about Jewish Resistance to the Nazis in Europe, and more. 

I hope to post again in the next few weeks to keep you all updated.  Thank you for allowing me to engage my philosophical side for this post. 

Ups and Downs…and Stateside on Monday

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Things are always growing and changing with this project.  That’s the theme of this post.  I didn’t make it to a 2nd post in March which was my goal, but I’m only one day late. 

I already explained what it was like in Israel for Laura and I.  Now that I am back in Lausanne and have had some time to reflect on the whirlwind of a trip, I realize how truly amazing it was, and lucky that everything worked out!  Only one person cancelled their interview, but I also was able to schedule another one, keeping the number at 12 total in 2 weeks.  I also received more names of people to interview, which is always exciting.

These past two weeks back in Lausanne have been both positive and negative.  First, my laptop was stolen at the university cafeteria.  The funny thing is I am only at the university once a month on average, but it happened to me.  The up side is that I had done a post-Israel full computer backup the DAY before it was stolen, so I didn’t lose anything from the project.  I’m lucky to be an obsessive back-uper.

I’ve been learning a lot of new French words, words that I had trouble finding before.  I attribute this to having a few close French-speaking friends, and the amount of time I spend with native French speakers.  I have been trying to do more social and fun things here as my time is coming to a close, and this past week was a good example of that. I took a 4 hour walk through Geneva with another Fulbrighter, saw a small library exhibit from a Swiss friend, went to a sushi-making party, and spent time with friends in general.  It definitely has enhanced my week.

I am going back to the US for Pesach for two weeks.  However, everyone in Lausanne made sure I’m coming back, as they said they will miss me too much.  I do feel like I have some family here. Some upcoming things: working with a talented film student from the University of Lausanne on a short film/video for my upcoming presentations, meetings in NYC and DC at the Museum of Tolerance and the Swiss Embassy about presentations in the fall, and lots of advice-seeking about the book and article writing process.  Also, a car trip with Laura in June to Le Chambon and some of the other places where Jewish children were hidden and saved during the war in France.  Any suggestions would be appreciated!

Sorry there are no new photos this time.  I will post some when I get a new computer.  I can’t believe it’s the last 3 months of my Fulbright experience. I could use another year! Chag pessach kasher v’sameach and Happy Easter to everyone who is reading!