Two Holocaust Museums Rethink Their Missions

At a time when there are increasingly fewer Holocaust survivors and witnesses, the last year has seen a surge in anti-Semitism and other forms of racism and bigotry (such as White Nationalismon the rise. Of even greater concern, these forms of bias and hate are moving from the fringes to the mainstream. The Washington Post recently called on Congress to take action. These worrisome trends have had at least two Holocaust museums re-examine how they present their collections. The first involves a young girl, a name world famous but a history often misunderstood. The second commemorates the ghetto uprising in Korczak’s home of Warsaw.

 

The Anne Frank House, Amsterdam

Although attendance at this Amsterdam landmark has increased sharply over the past seven years, the curators have noticed that many of the younger and foreign visitors have a limited knowledge of the Holocaust and Anne Frank. The challenge, according to and article in the New York Times, is how to make this history relevant to today without trivializing it. The museum has expanded both its exhibition space in an building adjoining the old house and its educational outreach efforts, especially to enable these audiences to experience the what happened in the house. The museum also has traveling exhibitions, such as the new “Let Me Be Myself.” Anne Frank has long been a metaphor for hope and the belief in the inherent goodness of people even in the worst of circumstances.

Anne Frank Card Stamps with Korczak

 

Lohamei Hagetaot – Ghetto Fighters House Museum, Israel

In another recent New York Times article, the Ghetto Fighters House Museum, which commemorates the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and honors notable people of the city during the Holocaust, including Janusz Korczak. Yad Layeled commemorates the children. According to the article, “…instead of dealing with the Holocaust as a static historical event, and only a Jewish tragedy, the museum is advocating a more dynamic approach with a focus on the moral lessons for all of humanity.”

Ghetto Fighters House 50

Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War Is a Tale of Moral Courage

sharps-war
Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War is a powerful new film by Ken Burns and Artemis Joukowsky.  The film tells of the courageous mission of an American couple in 1939, to assist refugees in escaping Nazi-occupied Europe.  During their two-year mission, Waitstill and Martha Sharp risked their lives so hundreds of Jews would find freedom.  It will be shown on PBS on September 20, 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
Screenings in New York City are also planned; many other resources and links can be found on this website.
Update, Sunday, September 18:  Nicholas Kristof wrote wrote a masterful column, explaining both the background of the Sharps’ true story and why it is relevant today, especially regarding the Syrian refugees – Would You Hide a Jew from the Nazis?

Remembering the Past – Finding a Direction for the Future

Some thoughts as Tisha B’Av passes by…

This is a time to remember.  Tisha B’Av is also the saddest day of the Jewish calendar, as it was the day of the destruction of both the First and Second Temple.  In addition, the Nazis, in their warped ideology, decided it would be a suitable day for the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto.  This was the time of Korczak’s famous last march, two days after he penned his last diary entry.

Shamor v zachor – observe and remember.  It’s uniquely Jewish and it’s a mitzvah, a moral duty.  Or, as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said, “Do remember the past, but do not be held captive by it.”  Learn from the past; don’t dwell on it, but use it to take the right direction, to do good deeds.

With both themes in mind, it is good to reflect on the life of Emmanuel Ringelblum.  Like Korczak, Ringelblum had the opportunity to flee the Warsaw Ghetto but saw it was his duty to remain for a purpose.  Knowing that an event of historic importance was taking place and fearing that nobody would be around to write it, Ringelblum assembled a staff of historians and witnesses to record what they saw.  This information he used for his own journal, to be published as Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto and for an archive.  He called his project and group of witnesses “Oyneg Shabes,” normally a term denoting the joy, oneg, of celebrating Shabbat; these priceless documents telling of the suffering of hundreds of thousands he hid in milk containers buried beneath the rubble.  The Nazis eventually found and executed Ringelblum but were not successful in silencing the voice of the Warsaw Jews.  Historian Samuel Kassov tells of this tragic story in his brilliant, compelling book, Who Will Write Our History?

Both books will be reviewed in this space in greater depth.  For now, let us take the time to remember those who remembered, history guarding memory to tell history.

Emmanuel Ringelblum Warsaw Ghetto Journal

Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto: The Journal of Emmanuel Ringelblum. First English-language hardcover edition. New York: Macmillan, 1958.

 

Kassow Warsaw Ghetto Ringelblum Oyneg Shabes archive history

Samuel D. Kassow, “Who Will Write Our History? Rediscovering a Hidden Archive from the Warsaw Ghetto.” New York: Vintage, 2007.

 

A Polish Expatriate Remembers His Dad, Who Saved Korczak’s Diary

Roman Wroblewski remembers his father, the man who saved Korczak’s Ghetto Diary so we could remember him.  Dr. Korczak’s last entry was August 4, 1942:

I have watered the flowers, the poor orphanage pants, the pants of the Jewish orphanage. The parched soil breathed with relief.
A guard watched me as I worked.  Does that peaceful work of mine at six o’clock in the morning annoy him or move him?
He stands looking on, his legs wide apart.

. . .

A cloudy morning.  Five thirty.
Seemingly an ordinary beginning of a day.  I say to Hanna: “Good morning!”
In response, a look of surprise.
I plead: “Smile.”
They are ill, pale, lung-sick smiles.

You drank, and plenty, gentleman officers, you relished your drinking – here’s to the blood you’ve shed – and, dancing, you jingled your medals to cheer the infamy to which you were too blind to see.

. . .

Our father who is in heaven…
This prayer was carved out of hunger and misery.
Our daily bread.
Bread.

I am watering the flowers.  My bald head in the window.  What s splendid target.
He has a rifle.  Why is he standing and looking on calmly?
He has no orders to shoot.
And, perhaps, he was a village teacher in civilian life, or a notary, a street sweeper in Leipzig, a waiter in Cologne?
Perhaps he doesn’t even know that things are – as they are?
He may have arrived only yesterday, from far away….

 

Roman Wroblewski

Ghetto Dairy - New    Warsaw Ghetto Memoirs of Janusz Korczak EPK

 

 

And the last photo of Janusz Korczak shows a very worn man, but his spirit still shone.

Last Picture

 

And to note:  On this day, in 1944, Anne Frank and her family were arrested.  Here’s the article from the Anne Frank House.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering Dr. Paul Winkler, a Man Who Helped Us All to Remember

This month, we lost another champion of Holocaust studies.  Dr. Paul B. Winkler was in charge of the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education, a position he used to make this critically important subject available to all New Jersey students, teachers, and adults who wanted to learn more.  He was a strong supporter of the Korczak Society of the USA and presented at many conferences and workshops dedicated to the life and work of Janusz Korczak.

winkler

For more information of this wise and gentle scholar, please visit the page in Dr. Winkler’s honor, at the website for the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education.  Baruch dayan ha-emet.