This essay was presented during the seminar by Misko Stanisic, Director of Terraforming. This short essay aim to emphasize a need to include gender perspectives in teaching and learning about the Holocaust, and the new opportunities in reaching educational goals when using the intersectional and multidisciplinary approach.
Tales from Auschwitz: survivor stories
The Holocaust represents the genocide against the Jews, which was systematically planned and carried out by the German Nazis and their collaborators throughout the occupied Europe during the Second World War. It is a complex and multilayered historical event that forever changed the world as we knew it. It shaped the post-war Europe and stipulated the foundation of the shared humanistic values of diversity, tolerance and Human Rights.
The objective of teaching is to engage the intellectual curiosity of students in order to inspire critical thought and personal growth. Thus TLH is extremely important but a challenging task, complex and multilayered as the history itself, as it forces us to investigate ourselves, our own choices, roles we take, actions we make, responsibilities and accountabilities — then, now, and tomorrow. Understanding the crime of such scope is impossible without investigating its causes and consequences, the life before the persecution and the catastrophic everlasting impact it left behind.
It is also an investigation of human nature and its extreme manifestations: from perpetrators and victims to bystanders and helpers. Understanding these complex issues is impossible without a holistic approach that would take into account all aspects of Human experience: social, cultural, emotional, physical, psychological, spiritual… One of the most obvious, but almost entirely absent in TLH, is a gender perspective. Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.
As this is the cornerstone of the Holocaust studies, and its greatest value for the contemporary societies and future generations, modern TLH must include a gender perspective. I will briefly mention just some of the points and examples that emerges when using gender perspectives in analyzing the Holocaust and its contemporary accounts:. Thus women and men were equipped with the very different skills, knowledge and life-experiences when they faced the persecution.
The first anti-Jewish laws in Nazi Germany affected most directly the Jewish men dismissing them from their jobs and professions. In many cases the first victims were men, taken away from their families and communities, imprisoned, or already shot dead by killing squads. Women were left with the children and the elderly, taking the role of a decision-making adult and family leader, coping, improvising and creating surviving and resistance strategies. The Nazis implemented different policies towards local population in different occupied territories.
In East- and South-East Europe the treatment of the local population was incomparably more cruel and severe, with a rapid implementation of anti-Jewish measures and almost immediate start of mass-killings of the Jewish men, and other civilians. This swift deadly development pushed some to join the resistance very early. Such was the case of the Baruch family from Belgrade, a poor working-class Jewish family with 6 children.
Three brothers and two sisters Baruch were killed fighting Nazis as Yugoslav partisans, or as members of the underground resistance movement: Josif, Bora, Isidor, Rashela and Berta Baruch. In this case, both women and men, despite the traditional gender roles of the time, equally actively and most directly took part in the armed resistance. Gender analysis also discloses specificities among women and men as helpers.
Another example from Belgrade reveal how a group of women, a mother and two daughters Marija, Natalija and Vera Andeselic, used their particular traditionally gender-typical skills, knowledge and experience to save a 2-years old Jewish girl Sonja Demajo when her family was taken and killed in the concentration camp at Sajmiste.
Little Sonja was in a very poor condition severely ill with rickets. Thousands of women were accomplices and killers during the Holocaust.
My mother was taken aback by this find but did not offer any explanations. I knew my father wanted me to find this photo. I could not fathom why. One of 10 children, my father grew up in Krasnik, a town near the Polish city of Lublin. His parents, who owned a large kasha grain mill, were wealthy. During the Holocaust, when he was in his late 20s, my father was taken to the brutal Budzin labor camp near Lublin, where he survived by pretending to be a carpenter. In May , the camp was closed, and the prisoners were marched to the Majdanek extermination camp. Jumping into a ditch at a curve in the trail, my father escaped this death march and hid in the forest with the partisans for the remainder of the war.
After the war, my father returned to Narutowicza Street in his hometown of Krasnik, but he found no survivors. His parents, grandparents, and all of his siblings—except for one sister and one brother, who had immigrated to Palestine before the war—had been murdered. He left Krasnik behind and moved to Germany, where he met my mother and married her in a gloomy displaced-persons camp in I have a single black-and-white frayed photo from their wedding.
No one is smiling. My parents left for the Land of Israel immediately after the wedding. Later, when I was a child, my father made sure to show me his battlefields in the old city of Tzfat and at the Dan and Dafna kibbutzim. I particularly loved hearing about the bridge he built over the Banias River in a long dark night under enemy fire. For me, the bridge became a symbol of his valiant struggle to traverse his crushing past with his empowering new life in Israel.
In Haifa, my father owned an all-consuming wholesale produce business. Every morning, he rose at a. Even in the glaringly hot summer days, when temperatures often climbed over degrees, my father sported a straw fedora. He loved my mother immeasurably and was a devoted husband and father. He rarely disciplined my sister or me and was most proud of his two children, named after his father and my maternal great-grandmother, both of whom were murdered in the Holocaust.
He rarely spoke of the Holocaust.
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This poem was written in response to the pogrom of Jews in the shtetl of Przytyk:. Our poor shtetel is burning, Raging winds are fanning the wild flames And furiously tearing, Destroying and scattering everything. All around, all is burning And you stand and look just so, you With folded hands … And you stand and look just so, While our shtetl burns. My father was short but physically strong; even in his 70s, he easily won our arm-wrestling matches.
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He was gentle and kind and mostly silent. He spoke little of his past, was equally silent about his hardships and years of struggle in the nascent State of Israel, and was hermetically closed about the Holocaust years. After his retirement, my father set up a carpentry studio in a windowless bomb shelter. Using the skills he developed in the labor camp, he carved birds out of olive wood.
I know why he loved to sculpt birds. They have wings.
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But my mother was unwilling, or unable, to answer my questions about the photo. I too would remain silent, for a time. My next impulse was to search the newly available online records in Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial that houses a large database of victims and survivors. I was stunned to unearth a digital image of a handwritten card penned by my father for the Yad Vashem archives in the early s, and a second record submitted by an unknown person documenting the murder of a woman named Chaya Holzberg Goldberg and her two daughters from Krasnik during the Holocaust.
I learned that Chaya and my father had two daughters, Chava and a nameless newborn baby daughter. Chaya buried her dead newborn in the cemetery in a shallow unmarked grave. My father was transferred to Budzin, but his wife Chaya and 7-year-old daughter Chava were gassed at Majdanek.
Like other second-generation survivors, I will never know what my father was like before the war, nor grasp the magnitude of his devastating losses. His fortitude in shielding his new family from the horrors that haunted him came from a courage and resilience that I deeply admire and cherish.
Would that I could tell him now. Several months ago, my daughter gave birth to a baby girl.
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She named her Chaya. I called Jack.
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