Centre for Continuing Education

The Holocaust as Reflected in Memoirs and Diaries Course

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In partnership with the Department of Hebrew, Biblical & Jewish Studies
Course materials developed by The Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning - a project of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. For specific enquiries regarding the program, please contact Hinda Young on 0432 567 917 or email.

Students will journey into the world of individuals and communities as the events of the Holocaust unfold around them. We will explore the profound record of first-person accounts in diaries and memoirs uncovered in the years since the Holocaust. Students will gain remarkable insights into the struggle for life as both young and old writers describe day-to-day life coping in the ghettoes, imprisoned in the death camps, hiding on the run, and fighting for their lives. These unforgettable images will help students understand the real events of the Holocaust and its legacy for us today.

Content

Lesson 1: Moments of Helplessness: Leaving Home

Due to Nazi policy, Jews were forced to leave their homes and were forced into Judenhause, ghettoes, concentration camps and 300 000 fled into Soviet territory. The focus of this lesson will be on some of the effects of being forced out of a home – on the individual, on the family, and on the community.

Lesson 2: Children

1.5 million Jewish children were killed during the Holocaust. In this lesson, the focus will be on the life circumstances of the children during the years of the Holocaust. The chosen texts were penned in the Warsaw and Lodz ghettoes of occupied Poland, the largest ghettoes of Europe, and in the ghetto of Theresienstadt in (what is now) the Czech Republic.

Lesson 3: Holidays and Occasions

The objective of this lesson is to examine how the holidays were celebrated, or at the very least acknowledged, in Nazi-occupied Europe, whether this helped the Jews survive and what motivated them to celebrate will living under such terrible conditions.

Lesson 4: 'The Heart within me Burns'

This lesson explores some the darkest hours of the Holocaust, when Jews were hunted down like game and when they were forced to make fateful decisions. The texts to be studied were written between the years 1942 and 1944, the years in which the bulk of the Final Solution was implemented relentlessly.

Lesson 5: The Jewish Woman

In this lesson, the world of the Jewish woman in the era of the Third Reich will be explored, including how these women managed living under the Nazi occupation and how they dealt with the waves of persecution. Dr Emmanuel Ringleblum, the director of the Oneg Shabbat Archive, wrote 'The future historian will have to dedicate a suitable section of his research to the Jewish woman in the war. Her courage and resilience have earned a place in the annals of history. Because of her, thousands of families were able to overcome the terrors of those days.'

Lesson 6: Brothers: Alienated and in Distress – Solidarity

In this lesson a window will be opened onto the relationships between various Jewish populations – what they had in common and where they differed. Especially noteworthy is the fact that some of the ties described in the texts of this lesson were formed between groups whose previous contacts were, for the most part, not amicable. The texts are grouped by geographic location: France – Paris and Drancy Camp; Poland – Lodz and Warsaw Ghettoes, along with Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Lesson 7: Jews Write in the Shadow of Death

The title of this lesson is drawn from the verse appearing in Deuteronomy 32: 25. This very verse was cited by Avraham Lewin in his journal entry dated Shabbat, August 1, 1942, at the time that the round-up of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto was at its height. It is fitting to use this verse as the title for this lesson in which texts are examined that were written a time when the threat to life was most palpable, when the enemies' weapons were drawn and at the ready, and death was knocking at the door. While the entire corpus of literature available from the Holocaust era deals with some very harrowing events, as has already been seen in previous lessons, very few were written at the very moment that murder, death, and destruction were taking place. A further objective for this lesson is to explain what led people write at this time of inner turmoil and fear.

Lesson 8: Through the Kindness of Strangers

The question about the possibility of rescuing Jews from the clutches of the Nazis was a problem raised from the very beginning of the Nazi rise to power and continued to be raised throughout the existence of the Third Reich. As a consequence of the rather small amount of Jews saved, further inquiries were made after the war was over exploring the extent of the willingness of governments, church leaders, and even individuals, to help. How high up on the agenda was the saving of Jewish lives? Was a serious effort devoted to rescuing the refugees and the innocent fugitives? These questions have still not been resolved to satisfaction and continue to perturb the public and the academic world. This lesson focuses on one area of the rescue efforts in which certain successes were seen, and that is the various schemes contrived to try to save the children.

Lesson 9: Gathering the Pieces

It would have been reasonable to expect that after all the years of persecution, denigration, terror, and life-threatening dangers that the Jews were exposed to during the Nazi era, for the days following the liberation of Europe to be filled with utter joy and the sensation of having their dreams fulfilled. However, from testimony and memoirs written by survivors concerning the days following V-E Day, another picture emerges, one of pain that will not fade away, of redemption that does not truly arrive, and of a never-ending ordeal. The objective of this lesson is to show through the writings of survivors that the suffering and trauma of what they lived through was branded onto their beings a stamp that would not be erased even years since the events transpired and that liberation from the Nazi regime did not bring with it the expected release from the tortures of the past.

Lesson 10: Art is Life

In lessons 1 -9 the voices of the victims of the Holocaust have been heard through the diaries, journals, and chronicles they have written, relating of their lives and their traumatic (and often horrific) experiences. While all of these were written with the intent to communicate, there was no intent on the part of their respective authors to create a literary masterpiece. However, other works were written specifically with the intent of communicating a message not just through the written word, but through a literary form. What is more, other victims of the Holocaust chose to communicate with the broader world not through the medium of the word, but through art and music. This final lesson explores the world of the persecuted Jews of the Holocaust through the artistic and literary works which they created.

Features

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What others say.

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