An Update on Café Oshpitzin

As many of you know, on April 8th the Auschwitz Jewish Center in Oświęcim, Poland launched a Kickstarter campaign. The goal of their fundraising campaign was to save the town’s last Jewish home from ruin and transform it into a vibrant café, which would not only preserve a heritage site but would also provide the space for engaging locals and visitors in a positive dialogue with the past.

It has been over a month since I wrote my original blog post on this campaign and I am delighted to report that the campaign actually exceeded its original goal of $25,000 and raised a grand total of $28,445! If you haven’t seen it already, here is a heartwarming thank-you from the incredible team at the AJC and the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/295016835/cafe-oshpitzin-remember-the-past-feed-the-future/posts/474383

Remarkably, within the first weeks of construction two significant artifacts have already turned up. The first item is a postcard that had been sent to Oświęcim on July 17, 1935 by a lawyer in Paris by the name Georges Lewinsky. The postcard, addressed to a Jewish resident named Mendel Hoenig, outlines the acceptance of a business deal.

A card sent July 17,1935 by Georges Levinsky from Paris to Mendel Hoenig in Oswiecim.

A postcard sent July 17,1935 by Georges Levinsky from Paris to Mendel Hoenig in Oswiecim. Photo credit: AJC Poland.

A second item found during the construction process were pages from a Yiddish-language Haggadah.

Pages from a Yiddish-language Haggadah were found during the second day of construction at the Auschwitz Jewish Center.

Pages from a Yiddish-language Haggadah were found during the second day of construction at the Auschwitz Jewish Center. Photo credit: AJC Poland

In many ways, these two items speak to the importance of preserving history in Oświęcim. In fact, I think they stand as an incredible testament to the existence of pre-war Jewish life in the town and remind us of the tremendous rupture in history that the Holocaust caused. Above all else, though, I think these items signify the need to continue to foster positive community dialogue about the past, present, and future in Oświęcim (and beyond) — a task that the Auschwitz Jewish Centre will undoubtedly continue with the preservation and transformation of the Kluger family house.

A tremendous thank you to everyone who donated to this exciting project. I look forward to blogging about my future visits to Oświęcim and Café Oshpitzin.

photo-main

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Auschwitz Jewish Center, Holocaust Memorials

A Shabbat in Oświęcim

This blog post was written by Shelby Weltz*, a New York native who I had the pleasure of getting to know and beginning a wonderful friendship with during the three weeks we spent together in Poland as part of the Auschwitz Jewish Center Fellowship program in 2012.

From Accusation to Acceptance: A Shabbat in Oświęcim

I stood in the Auschwitz Jewish Center’s small synagogue, staring at the two Shabbat candles set before me. I was hesitant to proceed. Sure, I knew the blessings and ritual, but the idea of praying in a place like Oświęcim felt more than unnatural; it felt wrong.

The mitzvah of hadlakat nerot, or the commandment to light the Shabbat candles, occupies an important place in my life, not only because it’s a mitzvah reserved for women, but because watching my Grandma light the Shabbat candles is still one of my most poignant childhood memories. Standing by her side, I recall scanning her face as it glowed in the candlelight just before she covered it with her hands while reciting the prayer.  Growing up, I noticed that she would do more than pray beneath her hands; she would cry. Eventually, I learned that my Grandmother survived Auschwitz II-Birkenau and spent the rest of her life crying over those family members who did not. Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Auschwitz Jewish Center Fellowship 2012

Help Preserve the Kluger Family House in Oświęcim

Each year on Yom HaShoah, I attend ceremonies that serve to remember the Holocaust and to honour the memory of the over 11 million Jewish and non-Jewish lives lost as a result of the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime during WWII. Beyond remembering, this day has always led me to think about the myriad of ways in which we choose to educate ourselves and those around us about the Holocaust and other genocides. More importantly, I have always thought that this day has the potential to empower us to stand up to the kinds of intolerance that lead to such atrocity in the first place. In other words, I believe that through remembering the Holocaust it becomes possible to inspire a renewed commitment for individuals and communities around the world to come together to create meaningful change. This year, I want to provide at least one example of how we can come together to do just that.

I began this blog, Global Conversations, last summer while I was a participant on the Auschwitz Jewish Center Fellowship – a collaborative program offered for graduate students by the Museum of Jewish Heritage in NYC and the Auschwitz Jewish Center (AJC) located in Oświęcim, Poland. I had hoped that by sharing my experience in Poland I would be able to encourage others to engage with the past (and particularly the Holocaust) with a more open-mind and that through my own perspective I’d be able to invite people to see Poland in a different light. Most importantly, I wanted to try and challenge perceptions that Poland could be captured in a single, monolithic identity. I hope that I have been somewhat successful in this undertaking.

In keeping with my desire to share with you a more nuanced image of Poland, I want to take this opportunity to introduce  an important venture that the AJC is currently working on.  Just this morning, they launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to save the last Jewish home in their community – changing the way that the lost Jewish community of Oświęcim is remembered today.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Auschwitz Jewish Center

Accounting for the Past, Re-imagining the Future: Some Post-AJCF Reflections

Please note: The following is a copy of the reflection submitted as one of the requirements for the AJCF Program that I participated in this past summer and, as a result, includes some of the material from previous blog posts.

A slender grey-haired man with a bright smile met our group in a sunny room on the second-floor of the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim. He introduced himself as Father Manfred Deselears – a German, Catholic priest who had moved to Oświęcim years ago to assist in using the lessons from the Holocaust to transform relationships in the present. In telling us about his work, Father Deselears said something that has weighed heavily on my mind since returning from Poland this summer. Sitting up straight in his chair, he leaned forward and told us matter-of-factly that to understand the Holocaust is to understand what Auschwitz itself is a symbol of. According to Father Deselears, “Auschwitz symbolizes the fundamental destruction of relationships between individuals and people and communities the world over”. What we need to do, he continued, is to begin working toward truly healing these relationships – not simply glossing over them or forgetting the past. He went on to say that, “If we do not confront memory in a real way, it will continue to haunt us and limit the kinds of relationships we can have in the future”. In this context the role of memorialization and educational programming come to create important spaces – where people, with all of their wounds and scars, are welcome to engage in dialogue with one another – while maintaining their respective identities. Father Deselears’ call to begin listening to each other in a more productive manner has a clear presence outside of Oświęcim and the former Nazi death camp that stands at the town’s outskirts. In fact, a desire to engage in meaningful dialogue about life before, during, and after the Holocaust can be seen in numerous facets of Polish society today.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Auschwitz Jewish Center Fellowship 2012

Some Final Thoughts

The last few days of our fellowship were spent in Niedzwe – located in the Tatra mountains of Poland. We stayed at a lodge tucked away in the mountains and about 800m from the border with Slovakia. We spent the day hiking in the Tatra mountains, rafting down the Dunjabec River and enjoying the incredible views from Chiata Spiska. This was a perfect, relaxing way to end the three intense weeks we spent together.

Suzanne, Shelby & I enjoying an early morning walk over the border into Slovakia

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Auschwitz Jewish Center Fellowship 2012

Remnants of a Jewish Past

Our last full day of the trip took us to a number of sites and small towns en route to our final stop in the Tatras Mountains of southern Poland. In pairs, we were responsible for learning the history of each of the places we visited. Please bear with me as I recount some of our experiences on the last day of educational programming in Poland – we did a lot!

Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under Auschwitz Jewish Center Fellowship 2012

An Afternoon in Wadowice

Zach, Suzanne, Michelle & I in Wadowice

Deciding that we wanted to spend an afternoon outside of Oświęcim, a few of us went to the neighbouring city of Wadowice, which is famously known as the birthplace of Pope John Paul II. The city itself is quite small, with only about 20,000 people living there.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Auschwitz Jewish Center Fellowship 2012