Students of the Weiss-Livnat MA Program in Holocaust studies were recently treated to an engaging and poignant lecture by Dr. Jolanta Ambrosewicz-Jacobs; Memory, Non-Memory, and Post-Memory of the Holocaust in Poland.
Dr. Ambrosewicz-Jacobs is a lecturer at the UNESCO Chair for Education for the Holocaust, and former Director of the Centre for Holocaust Studies at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. She holds a Ph.D. in Humanities and Habilitation in Cultural Studies from Jagiellonian University and has been a Pew Fellow at the Center for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University and a DAAD fellow at the memorial and educational site at the Wannsee Conference House.
With the recently enacted “Amended Act on the Institute of National Remembrance” causing waves in both academic and political spheres, Dr. Ambrosewicz-Jacobs’ lecture provided students the opportunity to learn first-hand about the internal politics behind the new law and how it is perceived by Polish Holocaust scholars. Although the Amended Act refers to accusations against Poland as a country, not against individuals, and provides room for artistic and academic statements, critics worry that it could make it a crime to discuss anti-Semitic acts committed by Polish individuals.
In 1995, Hannah M. Lessing took the helm of Austria's National Fund, an institution entrusted with Holocaust recognition, restitution and remembrance. At the time, her father, himself a survivor, was less than impressed with her decision to turn her back on a successful banking career. His response? "Can you give me back my childhood? Can you bring back my mother from Auschwitz?"
"That's when I decided to do it, with the knowledge that we cannot turn back the hands of time, that we cannot repair anything," Hannah explains. And true to her word, she approached the then President of Parliament and asked for the job.
"He asked what I would need to get started. I told him that I need you to write a letter, together with me, on Austrian parliament paper, where we say that we’re sorry, that it’s too late and we are aware that nothing can be repaired. Then, I need historians who will research, I need staff who will listen, and I need open access to the archives.
"'Very interesting', he said, and he told me to send him a letter with all of my ideas. I left the meeting thinking I'll never hear from him again. Still, I wrote the letter and two weeks later I had the job.
Every year, Yitzhak Livnat would proudly welcome the new cohort of students and share his remarkable story of survival. He did so “in a very authentic way”, his son, Doron, tells us. “My father was always very genuine and very honest.” Sadly, Yitzhak passed away in March 2017, and so, Doron now carries the torch in his father’s honour.
Cohort VI joined Doron, together with his wife Marianne, at the Yitzhak Rabin Centre for a tour of the Israeli Museum. After all, Yitzhak Livnat was a devoted Zionist and his story, just like Rabin’s, is deeply entangled with that of the birth and development of the State of Israel. The perfect setting, then, in which to remember a dear friend of the programme.
Thankfully, Yitzhak’s story is well documented. He survived internment at Auschwitz, as well as subsequent death marches to Mauthausen and Gunskirchen, where, finally, liberation arrived in the form of American troops. From there, he began an arduous, improbable journey to Eretz Yisrael, one that took him to Bucharest, the Alps, the Vatican, Cyprus and, at long last, Haifa.
"A person is only forgotten when his or her name is forgotten." Words from the Talmud, no less, and the inspiration behind the world's "largest commemoration project", the Stolperstein.
The brainchild of German artist Gunter Demnig in the early 1990s, Stolpersteine – stumbling stones or blocks – are commemorative brass plaques installed in the pavement in front of a Holocaust victim's last address of choice. Each engraving begins with the words, "Here lived…"
Cohort VI enjoyed a lively afternoon with ethical campaigner Terry Swartzberg, who is a tireless and, quite clearly, passionate advocate of the memorial project. “Stolpersteine are just the start of getting to know someone, an introduction to the victim,” he explains. “We can restore their name to our consciousness.”