Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Celebrating 15 Years of College Interns

This blog comes from Emily, our marketing coordinator, who is a proud graduate of our Lipper Internship Program. 

On Sunday, October 27, a hundred of my fellow “Lippers” and I gathered for the first ever Lipper Alumni Reunion. Lipper is a name affectionately used when referring to college interns here at the Museum who completed the rigorous Lipper internship program. Over the course of a semester, Lippers, who are paid interns, are trained to lead tours of the core exhibition and give classroom lessons on the Holocaust to middle and high school students.

 The Lipper internship was undoubtedly a formative experience in my college career. It was both inspiring and empowering to have the opportunity to teach students about a subject that matters so much to me. Besides providing this invaluable teaching experience, the program was also remarkable in the way that it fostered close bonds between participants. Throughout the course of the internship, we not only learned important lessons from the survivors and lecturers who spoke to us, but also from one another. The Lipper internship is a deep and unique experience that we all share, and yet, coming from a diverse range of universities and backgrounds, it is a challenge to stay in touch once the program is over.

 The reunion was the perfect setting for us not only to reconnect with the individuals in our intern class, but to meet those who participated in the program before and after us. It was great to catch up and hear about what everyone had gone on to do after college. Many of the people in my group pursued careers in fields closely related to the internship such as teaching, museum work, and Jewish community engagement. We were also privileged to hear from Museum Director Dr. David Marwell, Dr. Evelyn Lipper who represented our supporters at the EGL Charitable Foundation, and Ivy Barsky, former deputy director of the Museum, who worked tirelessly to bring the program to fruition.  Holocaust survivor Sally Frishberg, who shared her testimony with many of us during training, also spoke about the importance of Holocaust education. We learned that collectively, we have taught 65,000 public school students throughout the Tri-state area.

 It was truly a meaningful experience to be back at the Museum together and one that I’m sure we will all remember for a long time. For more information about the internship, click here (http://www.mjhnyc.org/LipperInternship_2012.pdf)

This program is made possible by the EGL Charitable Foundation with support from the
Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany: Rabbi Israel Miller Fund for Shoah
Research, Documentation and Education.

Photo of Emily (second from left) with fellow Lippers. Photo by Caroline Earp.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Gino Bartali, A Hero for the Ages

As a fan of bicycling, and one who acknowledges that there are few heroes in that community to be found today, I was delighted to learn of the selfless acts of Gino Bartali, the professional Italian cyclist. In his New York Times obituary, written in May 2000, he is remembered as a hero for cycling, and the three-time winner of the Giro D’Italia and two-time Tour de France victor could certainly make that claim, but Yad Vashem has recently declared him a hero of a different sort.

In September, 13 years after his death at 85, Gino Bartali was named a Righteous Among the Nations for helping to save Jews during World War II. According to Yad Vashem’s statement, “Bartali, a devout Catholic, was part of a rescue network spearheaded by Rabbi Nathan Cassuto of Florence together with the Archbishop of Florence Cardinal Elia Angelo Dalla Costa.”

As a professional cyclist, he was always on the road, riding from one town to another, but hidden in his handlebars or in a special trailer meant to make his training tougher were documents, photographs, and other materials needed to falsify the identities of Jews.
On the occasions he was stopped on the road by authorities, he proclaimed that his bicycle could not be touched because parts were calibrated to his training needs.

The Yad Vashem site details that Bartali’s work extended beyond his courier persona; he helped hide and support a Jewish family. It also informs us that Bartali refused to talk about his efforts during the war, wanting no recognition or documentation. A pious man, he was motivated by his conscience. To Gino, and all the righteous, we say Amen.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Excerpt: Hitler's Furies by Wendy Lower

While we partake in many discussions throughout the year about Holocaust history, it is always exciting to be able to explore important new research with those who are conducting it. This Wednesday, October 9, we’re honored to welcome Wendy Lower, the author of the groundbreaking book Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields which has been long listed for the National Book Award. We hope you will join us.

Below, please find an excerpt. 


German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields
By Wendy Lower

In the summer of 1992 I bought a plane ticket to Paris, purchased an old Renault, and drove with a friend to Kiev over hundreds of miles of bad Soviet roads. We had to stop often. The tires blew on the jagged pavement, there was no gas available, and curious peasants and truckers wanted to look under the hood to see a Western automobile engine. On the single highway stretching from Lviv to Kiev, we visited the town of Zhytomyr, a center of Jewish life in the former Pale of Settlement, which during the Second World War had become the headquarters of Heinrich Himmler, the architect of the Holocaust. Down the road to the south, in Vinnytsia, was Adolf Hitler’s Werwolf compound. The entire region was once a Nazi playground in all its horror.

Seeking to build an empire to last a thousand years, Hitler arrived in this fertile area of Ukraine—the coveted breadbasket of Europe—with legions of developers, administrators, security officials, “racial scientists,”and engineers who were tasked with colonizing and exploiting the region. The Germans blitzkrieged eastward in 1941, ravaged the conquered territory, and evacuated westward in defeat in 1943 and 1944. As the Red Army reoccupied the area, Soviet officials seized countless pages of official German reports, files of photographs and newspapers, and boxes of film reels. They deposited this war booty and classified the “trophy” documents in state and regional archives that would remain behind the Iron Curtain for decades. It was this material that I had come to Ukraine to read.

In the archives in Zhytomyr I came across pages with boot footprints and charred edges. The documents had survived two assaults: a Nazi scorched-earth evacuation that included the burning of incriminating evidence, and the destruction of the city during the fighting of November and December 1943. The files contained broken chains of correspondence, tattered scraps of paper with fading ink, decrees with pompous, illegible signatures left by petty Nazi officials, and police interrogation reports with the shaky scrawls of terrified Ukrainian peasants.

I had seen many Nazi documents before, while comfortably ensconced in the microfilm reading room of the U.S. National Archives in Washington, D.C. But now, seated in the buildings that had been occupied by the Germans, I discovered something besides the rawness of the material I was sifting through. To my surprise, I also found the names of young German women who were active in the region as Hitler’s empire-builders. They appeared on innocuous, bureaucratic lists of kindergarten teachers. With these leads in hand, I returned to the archives in the United States and Germany and started to look more systematically for documentation about German women who were sent east, and specifically about those who witnessed and perpetrated the Holocaust. The files began to grow, and stories started to take shape.

Researching postwar investigative records, I realized that hundreds of women had been called to testify as witnesses and that many were very forthcoming, since prosecutors were more interested in the heinous crimes of their male colleagues and husbands than in those of women. Many of the women remained callous and cavalier in their recounting of what they had seen and experienced. One former kindergarten teacher in Ukraine mentioned “that Jewish thing during the war.” She and her female colleagues had been briefed as they crossed the border from Germany into the eastern occupied zones in 1942. She remembered that a Nazi official in a “gold-brownish uniform” had reassured them that they should not be afraid when they heard gunfire— it was “just that a few Jews were being shot.”

If the shooting of Jews was considered no cause for alarm during the war, then how did women respond when they actually arrived at their posts? Did they turn away, or did they want to see or do more?

Excerpted from HITLER’S FURIES: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields by Wendy Lower. Copyright © 2013 by Wendy Lower.  Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.