Photo journal May 2012

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T-4 weeks, Strasbourg and the Conseil de l’Europe

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I was able to travel to Strasbourg last week to conduct an interview and attend a conference at the Conseil de l’Europe about transmission of the Holocaust to future generations.  I boarded a train in Lausanne to Basel, and then transferred to the “France” sector, and got on a train from Basel to Strasbourg.  I am truly fascinated by the Alsace region.  It is France today, but was once part of German territory.  It is close to Germany and Switzerland, yet feels incredibly French (at least today).  There are French stores and businesses, authentic boulangeries, and small, quaint streets.  Also, the Cathedral is an amazing sight, incredibly large, and unique in color (photos to follow).  I arrived in Strasbourg on Tuesday evening after 4 hours on the train, dropped my bags off at the Hotel Patricia, a wonderful, small, old hotel/hostel with uneven wooden floors and old carpets, and went directly to climb the Cathedral stairs, as tired as I was at 6:00 pm after traveling all day.  I made it to the top on a gorgeous day, and had a beautiful view of the region.  I am glad I decided to take advantage and climb the Cathedral that day, since it rained the other days I was in Strasbourg.

On Wednesday evening I interviewed a lovely woman and her brother.  It was a great interview, and, to my surprise, I learned that it was her first time interviewing.  I forgot to bring them the gift (a jazz CD from NOLA) that I usually give to than the survivors, but instead they insisted that they should be the ones thanking me for my work.  I was incredibly pleased.

The conference began on Thursday in Strasbourg.  It was hosted at the Conseil de l’Europe in conjunction with the “Living Memory of the Holocaust” group, about transmitting the history and memory of the Holocaust to future generations.  There were speakers from different fields, each giving a 30 minute presentation.  I met a lot of interesting and incredible people there, and got some very good ideas for my own research and how to proceed.  There was one woman, a survivor from the Rwandan genocide, and her testimony and comments made me wonder if there has been a series of interviews conducted with survivors of the Rwandan genocide yet.  Just something to think about and for me to look into, something that inspired me in my own work and close relationship to conducting oral history testimonies.  On Thursday night we saw a theatrical piece about antisemitism in modern Europe, by an Israeli actor and his Dutch father.  It started out slow but ended up being very interesting.  I walked around Strasbourg a lot, over 20 km in 4 days, and really got to see the city.  I hope to keep in contact with some of the speakers from the conference and with the “Living Memory” association and Council of Europe.  Overall, the conference was well done and the speakers very good and inspiring.

I find myself thinking constantly about my “next move”, both physically and with my research.  I am looking forward to my trip to Le Chambon this weekend, to witness where an entire community in France worked toward saving Jewish children during the war.  I also am excited for Laura’s visit and the presentation at the US Embassy and the Lausanne Jewish Community, both scheduled for June 14, 2012.  Antoine, a talented film student at UNIL, has been working with me to make a short documentary style film for the presentations and my future use, and I am very pleased with it so far!  I want the film to show the complexities of the refugee situation, but also give the viewers a taste of the poignancy of the testimonials first hand, and how the survivors felt about their experiences during the war.  I think that the photos, video, and my lecture will provide an interesting and dynamic presentation of the subject, and will be a good capstone to my Fulbright year!  I hope to post some photos tomorrow when I have stronger internet at the university.

Israel part 2 and the last month on Fulbright!

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After leaving Zurich a week ago on Thursday, I traveled to Israel to meet my parents.  I arrived at the airport in Tel Aviv and went directly to interview Malka, the sister of Bertha who I had met and interviewed at the Warsaw conference last summer.  It’s been over a year since I found out I received the Fulbright, and a little less than a year since I started interviewing and information collecting.  It’s amazing to see how far I’ve come this year, when I give myself the chance to stop and reflect on my time in Lausanne.  However, I have not spent most of the time in Lausanne.  I’ve traveled- Paris, London, Amsterdam, Israel, Bern, Zurich, Uster, Bex, Geneva, Bienne, all over to conduct interviews and to work in archives.  I am thankful for all of the help I have received from other historians, scholars, archivists, community members, and the survivors.  After a lovely interview with Malka, I traveled from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and stayed overnight with Dina and Benjamin in Katamon, a very mixed but beautiful community.  On Friday morning I met my parents and Seth, and we went to the market at Machane Yehuda to get ready for Shabbat.  We spent Shabbat in Jerusalem, Sunday touring Jerusalem, including the Kotel tunnel tours and a walking tour of the four quarters of Jerusalem.  It was Yom Yerushalayim and there were thousands of people, including families and kids, all over the city, marching, singing etc.  It was amazing to see so many scouts and kids celebrating.  On Shabbat, I also went to see Sara, and sat with her for a while.  I met Jules there, and he told me he was rescued into Switzerland during the war.  He is Sara’s neighbor, and it was pure luck that we were visiting her at the same time!  He gave me many resources and contacts, including the story of his family written/translated into French.

On Monday, my parents and I joined Gideon, our guide, for two days up north.  We went along the Jordan river, visited Tsfat, the Galilee, the Golan, a Syrian bunker and the border, and the Kinneret.  We stayed overnight on a kibbutz (Ginosaur) in Tiberias and ate an amazing dinner at The Decks on the water.  On Tuesday, my dad visited Lageen, and my mom and I went to Rosh HaNikra and Akko.  Then we went to Haifa and saw the Bahai Gardens, visited Caeseria, and returned back to Jerusalem.  I met Amichai for dinner in Tel Aviv, and met my parents later back in Jerusalem.  On Wednesday my parents went to the Dead Sea and Masada, and I went to Hertzlya to conduct an interview with Nadine.  It was a great interview and I was very glad to meet her.  I met my parents back in Jerusalem on Wednesday night.

On Thursday, I woke up early and went to Yad Vashem, where I gave my presentation to the research fellows at the International Institute for Holocaust Research.  There were about 20 people in attendance.  About half were the fellows, and the other half were interested in the subject- people who lived in Switzerland, or who had Swiss parents, etc.  The round table was very intense, but I think I handled myself well and gave good answers.  The overall outcome was positive.  The main critique at this point was that I need to focus my research question/problamatique, which is something that I can definitely do!  I need to find some help with it, as I’ve basically been working on my own, without a close adviser, and have been doing a lot of “information collecting” this year.  I now feel ready to focus myself, look through the material I have, and move forward with a new framework and methodology before I sit down to write. (As you can see, this post is as much for me as it is for everyone else!)  The feedback I received was positive, and I did manage to impress some of the toughest professors.  Overall, I’m satisfied.  My parents gave me a wonderful gift on the occasion of my presentation, and I am forever thankful to them for their ongoing support and love.

I am now back in Lausanne for the weekend.  I am going to Strasbourg from Tues-Fri to conduct an interview and attend a conference at the Conseil de l’Europe.  Then I’ll be in the archives in Bern for a week, and June 14 is my presentation at the US Embassy in Bern and at the Jewish Community in Lausanne. I also am still hoping to visit Le Chambon before I leave Europe.

I can’t believe I only have about a month left of my scholarship.  It’s amazing to see how far I’ve come, and to feel humbled by the experience.  Now I need to find a way to fit this research into a focused framework and work with a good adviser to help me continue.  It’s no longer about the Fulbright name, it’s about the research and what I am able to do with it in the end.  I will post photos on this blog soon, from my trip!

I will end with one reflection.  I am lucky enough to have an American passport, and a Swiss carte de sejour for the year.  However, I still have experienced some difficulties when exiting and entering the country.  When coming back to Zurich from Tel Aviv, there was a man with a lot of small papers with Arabic writing on them. He had just flown in from Egypt.  He was being questioned by the security guards, and they looked through his briefcase and papers at least three times while I was in line.  I don’t know what ended up happening with him.  I was also reminded when I left Israel that I only had 20 days left on my carte de sejour, even though I have been reassured three times by the Canton of Vaud that with an American passport it will not be a problem if I leave 15 days after my card ends.  I’m still looking into this.  All of these difficulties make me imagine what it must have been like for Jewish refugees during the Nazi period, fleeing their countries, with false papers or no papers at all, and how scared they must have been while traveling to get to safety.  I am thankful for the freedom I have today, and pray that one day all people will experience such freedom around the world.

Things come full circle, a very personal account

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Today I went through the archives of Charlotte Weber.  They included her personal files, with correspondence and letters between Charlotte and many of the people in her life.  I saw two amazing things that I feel the need to post about.  The second is even bigger than the first, and brings my research and life full circle.

First, Charlotte had many letters from children who were refugees in Switzerland during the war, both Jewish and non-Jewish.  The children, now grown, were writing to her in 1994, which (from what I gathered) was the last year of her life.  There were cards for the holidays, for New Years, and some just because.  Most of them were in German so I couldn’t read too many, but the idea that Charlotte received many letters, over 50, from those children she helped, was inspiring.

Digging deeper into her file, I came to “thing two”.  Charlotte knew and had much correspondence with a woman named Sarah, in Israel.  Sarah is a woman who I met through my internship in Israel with Ziv Tzedakah Fund in the summer of 2006.  Sarah runs a foundation, Keren Hanan Aynor, named for her late husband, that grants scholarships for education to Ethiopian students in Israel.  Sarah and Hanan were Ambassadors in Africa for many years, and had a deep connection to the culture and community.  During my Ziv summer, I spent a lot of extra time with Sarah, mostly because she spoke French and was active in France during the war years, working with the Youth Aliyah movement.  Sarah worked, voluntarily, as she was a citizen of then Palestine, not Europe, in children’s homes and orphanages, looking after the children and then helping them make Aliyah from a war-torn France.  I spent many Shabbat lunches and afternoon coffee dates in her apartment, speaking French and learning about her work.

Meeting Sarah in 2006 was a major turning point for me, as it opened my mind, and I began asking questions about Jewish rescue and resistance during the war, and looking into the role Jews played in the resistance in France.  It allowed me to discover that therewas a Jewish resistance movement in France, and that there were also Jews involved in other, secular resistance movements in France as well.  Hearing her story opened my eyes to the knowledge of Jewish resistance, the world in which I live today through my current Fulbright and prior research.  I had always intended to go back and interview Sarah, and it took six years for me to get back to that apartment on Alharizi in Jerusalem.

The story continues.  In March 2012, this year, when I went to conduct my field research in Israel, I contacted Sarah and arranged a meeting with her.  I had nearly forgotten about her through the whirlwind that this year has been- meeting new people, conducting interviews, and scheduling each item on my two-week Israel agenda.  Somehow, I remembered that I should contact her, and dug through my old emails to find her number and address.  We made an appointment, and I showed up (with moral support-Laura) to the apartment.  Standing outside, I remembered being on that exact street six years earlier.  I remembered the smell of the wildflowers growing on the block, the sight of the makolet on the corner, and the building, with windows open to let out the heat.  I stopped for a minute, took a breath, and walked up the stairs to the apartment where I had sat so many days in 2006.  Sarah greeted me, with an aid who lives with her now, and we spoke for over 2 hours.  I am not sure if she remembered me from so many years ago, but I still felt so connected to her. I told her the story of how she inspired my work, and she reassured me that I had chosen the right path and that my work would be successful.  I have the passion, she said, she can tell that people will listen to me because of the power and passion in my voice.  I decided not to tape the interview with Sarah for various reasons, and I know I will never get the full interview.  I just have to rely on my memory of sitting with her and listening to her stories from years ago.

Flash forward to today, in the ETH archives, Zurich.  I found a collection of letters written between Charlotte Weber and Sarah that made me stop and cry.  Reading Sarah’s letters reassured me of the type of person I remember her as, strong, honest, caring, and innovative.  Her friendship with Charlotte was close and personal, as I remember her being with me.  I could not believe that I had found and was able to read the letters from Sarah, at this point in my work and in my own life, which makes me feel as if things have come full circle.  There is so much left to be done, but I am lucky to have these experiences now and to be given gifts that give me the strength to carry on. 

a few words about Zurich…

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I have been in Zurich since Sunday evening, working in the ETH Archives of Contemporary History.  One thing I love about historical archives are that they are generally underused.  Therefore, when a researcher shows real interest in discovering new things and working on an in-depth project with the archivist and the documents available, they are pretty much able to do and see what they want.  I have had a wonderful experience in the clean, well-lit room of the ETH archive, and have been warmly welcomed by the main archivist there.  Contrary to popular belief, archival research does not involve me in a small cubicle in a dark, stuffy room, unless you find me working at certain archives in NYC, sans reading room.I am excited to have found individual collections from rescuers, adults in charge of kinderheims and orphanages for refugee children, and the documents, at least some of them, of the ORT and OSE in Switzerland (which I have been searching for!)  I’ve accumulated over 400 new documents (mostly electronic, thankfully), and now have a lot more to work with.  I know it doesn’t sound too exciting, but the documents are the basis for proving certain things that historians believe about how the situation was during a time period that we did not experience.  It shows who provided money, who provided support, who was in charge of different aspects, such as children’s homes, camps du travail, travel, housing, etc, and what types of individuals these people were.  Finding archival documentation makes the testimonies real, and highlights the things that are important trends in them. 

I walked off the tram on Sunday evening in Zurich in the neighborhood where I was staying, only to find that there is, indeed, a Jewish shtetl in Zurich.  There were young women with long skirts, boys with kippot riding bikes, in masses.  Not just a few Jewish people like in Lausanne, but many.  It was exciting to walk through this quartier and see that Jewish life in Switzerland was still alive, even if only in a few blocks.

Tomorrow evening I have an interview with a 91 year old woman in Zurich who worked for the SHEK, a women’s led organization that was responsible for over 5000 refugee children in Switzerland, both Jewish and non-Jewish, during the war.  It should be very interesting!

I am off to Israel on Thursday.  My parents will be there with me, which is very exciting!  I’ll have to balance work and travel, but it can be done! Also, I am looking forward to my presentation at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.  I found out that some of the biggest Shoah scholars will be in attendance, but no pressure.  I’ll keep you all posted!

 

Reflection on an article by Michael Berenbaum

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Reflection on an article by Michael Berenbaum.

Reflection on an article by Michael Berenbaum

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I was very inspired by an article that was shared with me from The Jewish Daily Forward, written by Michael Berenbaum of the Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethical and Religious Implications of the Holocaust, and a professor of Jewish Studies at American Jewish University in Los Angeles.

The article is entitled: What the Survivor and Historian Know, Detente Between Those Who Lived the Shoah and Study It.

I feel that Berenbaum spoke justly and rightly about the perceived tension between survivor and historian, between testimony and archival documentation, between memory and history.  These are concepts I grapple with all the time in my “line of work”.  I will point to the cycle of learning that has occurred for me from my first interviews to those I conduct now, 10 months and 60 individual stories later.  During my first interviews, I did not know the names of the camps d’acceuil, camps du triage, or kinderheims where Jewish children and adolescents were places once they were allowed to remain in Switzerland.  I did not know the border crossing sites, the rescue and resistance hubs, or the location of any of these places.  What I knew was limited, from books about the OSE and MJS, from other historians, scholars, and mentors in the field, and from the legwork I had already done.  When I asked questions, I listened intently for answers, for names of specific homes or maisons for children, for names of rescuers, passeurs, and educators, and for places that existed in a survivor’s memory over 60 years ago.
 
Soon, a shift occurred.  I had learned about the places; Le Camp du Bout Du Monde, Charmilles, Champel, Asocna, Adleswil, Les Mureilles, Home de la Foret, Versoix, Institut Ascher, and I heard stories about children passing through border towns of Annecy, Veigy, and Annemasse.  I went to visit these places, I traveled across the border, and I started to learn more specifics from the archival work and dossiers.  I was then able to ask more educated questions, and I started to realize the consistencies and themes that occurred in the interviews, from individuals who experienced the same camp d’acceuil or kinderheim.  Having a strong basis and knowledge of the history and facts shows the survivors that you respect them and their stories.  I realized this as I continued to conduct the testimonies, and as survivors opened up and trusted me with things they had never shared before.
 
I was taught that history and memory play into one another, and if a historian is not careful in his work then lines become blurred.  However, each aspect has merit in its own right.  History, including archival documents, letters, journal and diary entries, police reports, media reports, speeches, and other primary source material is extremely important to verify the facts, although, as Berenbaum mentions, some documents represent special interests of the time and are not completely objective.  Testimonies show the more human aspect to the story, the things that historians cannot explain solely through studying documents; the feelings, the emotions, the connections, and what it was like to be somewhere and in a circumstance that is unimaginable today. 
 
I do not interview many concentration camp survivors, although I know many.  I mostly work with Jewish children who were refugees in Switzerland during the war.  The fact is that most of these children survived the war, and, though traumatic, their stories have a different sense than those survivors of concentration camps.  At the Warsaw conference this summer, one survivor, a hidden child, told me that she used to believe that her story was not as important as those of survivors of the camps.  She did not feel she could contribute to the study of the history, as she did not go through the same experience as them.  Now she knows, as I do, that all who lived through this time period have something to share, something that will soon be lost if we do not act now. 
 
As a historian, I aim to find the truth to the story, which is not an easy task.  It will always be tainted by my own analysis, convictions, and beliefs, no matter how hard I try to be objective.  However, for the sake of education, of remembrance, and of not repeating the mistakes of humankind, historians must do their job, in telling true stories based both on fact and oral history, on archival and testimony, and on history and memory.  I believe strongly in this, which, to me, is as certain as fact can be.
 
 

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