Mila 18 and Molotov Cocktails and Zivia Lubetkin

That discussion of source analysis led to the second twitter thread of the day, this one about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and memory.

It got me thinking about how the public remembers the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, if they remember it at all. That memory, that collective memory, is masculine. It’s young, strong men holed up in Mila 18. It’s a teenage boy throwing a Molotov cocktail out of a window of a deserted building. It’s a sobbing rabbi. It’s masculine action and tragedy.

There’s no place in this memory for Zivia Lubetkin. You probably don’t know her name, and that’s not your fault. The masculinization of the Holocaust narrative is no one person’s fault. But, allow me to remedy this situation.

Zivia Lubetkin was one of the founders and commanders of the Jewish Fighting Organization, the primary Jewish resistance organization inside and outside of the Warsaw Ghetto; Vladka was a member of this group. During the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Zivia was stationed in Mila 18, she commanded a group of fighters, and she was the one who led surviving fighters out of the ghetto, and through the sewers to the Aryan side of Warsaw.

That’s just a fraction, just a snippet of Zivia Lubetkin’s life and accomplishments. I could do an entire Fierce Historical Ladies post series on her, but I’m saving that material for…elsewhere.

If you want to know why you don’t know her name, why you don’t know more about women’s experiences in the Holocaust, and why you don’t know more about the imperative role of women in the Warsaw Jewish Resistance, these pieces of reading contain part of the story: Why Gender History is Important (Asshole)We Need to Talk About Anne Frank, and, of course, Vladka Meed: Female Courier to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

A Meditation on Narrative and Sources

I originally thought this through in a twitter thread, adapted here in my preferred style with minor changes for grammar, spelling, and clarity. Asterisks denote discussions too big for this post, some of which can be found in my MA Thesis.

In grad school I did extensive research on the Shanghai Jewish refugee community, specifically, by way of reading memoirs. Now I’m doing extensive research on the Warsaw Ghetto, specifically the Jewish resistance in, once again by reading memoirs.

Memoirs are a deeply fallible source, further complicated by their status as published or unpublished, with oral histories requiring a different set of questions altogether. But the strength and joy of working with memoir as primary source for a small, specific, closed communities is that memoir/oral history/diary/ego-narrative can be a surprisingly telling source.

Yes there will be self-aggrandizement, flaws in human memory, repression, mis-ordered remembrance, flattering portrayals of those who do not deserve it, but as a group, as a body of literature, they can come together to tell on odd sort of truth. They can tell the patchwork story of a community, through vastly different points of view, each with their own, unique reason for existing.

Especially in regard to Holocaust narratives, you will see people writing, or speaking, about their experiences for a very specific set of reasons: they understood that they lived through something Big and wanted to record it; they needed to cope with their trauma; they want their children and grandchildren to know their story; the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, or the Shoah Foundation asked for and took their oral histories; they realized many years after the fact that their story needed to be told, etc.

Their motivation for telling/writing will shape, or inform, their narrative. A woman writing for her grandchildren may not write about the time she slept with a Japanese man in return for food money. A Polish man writing for History may not notice that his female comrades in the Jewish resistance had to slip off into the woods for an abortion.

Their motivations for writing, and, of course their gendered experiences and national socialization issues*, will inform the narrative the historian ends up seeing in front of them.

So even though these sources are deeply flawed, and shaped by so many factors and biases on the part of the writers, together they still tell a fairly cohesive story as long as you know how to analyze and interrogate them appropriately.

And, honestly, it’s such a thrill when the same figures and events pop in different narratives; when the same events occur through so many sets of eyes. There are couriers in Aryan Warsaw. The Nazis are liquidating the ghetto. Traumatized camp survivors are disembarking in Shanghai. American planes are bombing the part of Shanghai where the Jews had to live.

Through one point of view, one recollection, these are just stories. But through the eyes of many, they approach something a little bit closer to a cohesive narrative, to a form of truth, perhaps.

Discovery of Galileo’s long-lost letter shows he edited his heretical ideas to fool the Inquisition

This headline and the article which follows, infuriates me. Because the letter was NEVER lost. It was in an archive clearly listed in a finding aid prepared by an underappreciated underpaid archivist who did everything in their power to make it accessible to researchers.

If you go into the Royal Society’s library catalog search, type in “Galileo,” and sort by date, this “lost” letter” is one of the first results. There is no excuse for this shoddy-ass reporting, nor this shoddy-ass academic work. Yet here they are, gleefully erasing the work of the archivist!

I have two Master’s degrees: an MA in History and an MLIS in Archival Science. Archivists have their own set of Things I can yell about but lately historians have realllyyyy been vexing me in the way they erase archivists or talk about us like we’re the damn scullery maid.

Discovery of Galileo’s long-lost letter shows he edited his heretical ideas to fool the Inquisition

“Folks, there’s nothing left…”

“Folks, there’s nothing left from the Linguistics division. We lost all the indigenous languages collection: the recordings since 1958, the chants in all the languages for which there are no native speakers alive anymore, the Curt Niemuendaju archives: papers, photos, negatives, the original ethnic-historic-linguistic map localizing all the ethnic groups in Brazil, the only record that we had from 1945. The ethnological and archeological references of all ethnic groups in Brazil since the 16th century… An irreparable loss of our historic memory. It just hurts so much to see all in ashes.”

Cira Gonda, translated by Diogo Almeida, about the fire at Brazil’s National Museum

The United States, Child Detainment, and Collective Memory

Following the language and reactions being used by individuals and publications to contextualize the child internment camp situation has been fascinating, from the historian’s point of view. Specifically, I think there’s a lot we can glean about collective memory, and the impact intersecting identities have on collective memory and which pasts we invoke.

For me, I jumped right to the Holocaust because of the rhetoric I saw being tossed around, the behavior of officials, and Hannah Arendt’s arguments regarding the nature of totalitarianism, bureaucracy, and evil. And, as a Jewish woman who studies the Holocaust, it’s honestly habitual of me to jump there.

Others jumped to the Rwandan genocide, based on use of dehumanizing language like “criminals,” and “infestation.” Black Americans immediately noted that the United States has been regularly forcibly separating brown children from their parents since before the United States existed. Native, Japanese, and very left wing Americans from educated classes and progressive niches were quick to note the similarities to US government actions which forcibly separated Native children from their parents in an act of attempted cultural genocide, and the Japanese internment camps.

I didn’t see much invocation of other historical instances of dehumanization, racism, and genocide. That could, however, speak to the sample size I have access to.

I do not have a conclusion to this yet. But I do think there’s something here about race, class, ethnicity and the nature of memory.

It’s not for the Weak

Don’t study history if you’re too weak for cognitive dissonance. Don’t study history if you’re unwilling to face that your core beliefs are built on a shaky foundation. Don’t study history if you’re unwilling to grasp that your heroes are fallible, and your ideals just violence disguised as altruism.

Vladka Meed Part 10: A Four-Day Visa

In January 1978, thirty-three years after they left Warsaw for what they thought was the last time, Yad Vashem officials invited Vladka and Benjamin back to Warsaw for the commemoration of the 35th anniversary of the January 19 Uprising in the Ghetto.

In the days before the ceremony, Vladka and Benjamin explored the city which had once been their home. In the old Jewish Quarter, the familiar streets of their youth were long gone, new, unfamiliar networks of broad boulevards lined with tall, alien, apartment buildings in their place. Some areas were unexpectedly hilly, as though no one had bothered to level the ruins of the Ghetto before rebuilding that quarter of the city.

The entire area, it seemed to them, had been scrubbed clean of its Jewish past. The only thing they could find which acknowledged the Jews who had lived and died in that space was the monument to the Warsaw Ghetto Fighters.

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The monument as Vadka would have seen it in the late 1970s. Note the apartment blocks in the background. Image courtesy of Yad Vashem.

“It was a powerful monument,” Vladka wrote. “Once it had stood alone in a sea of rubble but now it seemed incongruous—dwarfed by huge, faceless, apartment blocks to which it had no relation. It is as if the monument had come from another time or another world, intruding, almost by force, into the smug grey world of contemporary Polish reality.” Two frozen, wilted flowers sat beside it.

Once a prison, Pawiak, stood in the very center of the Jewish Quarter. During the war years, “it had been the setting of a particularly brutal and bloody chapter of the Warsaw Ghetto.” Standing in its place was a museum. Inside, visitors could tour former prison cells, see the material remains of Nazi torture methods, and view documents and photographs illustrating the Polish struggle against the Nazis. A section was devoted to Polish suffering under Nazi rule. But, Vladka wrote, “nowhere [was] there a photograph, a document, even a single word, to indicate that this was also a place of Jewish suffering and destruction; this despite the fact that within the walls of this terrible prison, thousands of Jews had been tortured and executed. Their lives and their deaths are totally erased, as if they had never been.”

At the site of the Umschlagplatz stood a block of houses. The only trace of the place’s past was a plaque, placed on a low brick wall, and inscribed in Yiddish, Polish, and Hebrew with the sentence, “This is the place from which the Nazis sent tens of thousands of Jews to their deaths.”

The Jewish cemetery was largely the same as it had been in 1945. Empty, destroyed, abandoned, and impossible to breach. At Treblinka, Vladka and Benjamin found only “A vast, empty, snow-covered field filled with huge stones of many sizes and shapes, all pointing toward the sky.”

At the commemoration, the purpose of their trip, Vladka, Benjamin, and a few others stood in silence. There were no speeches. There were no Polish representatives. Nobody walking by showed the slightest interest in the small group congregated at the memorial.

Their past in Warsaw was, for all intents and purposes, gone.

They returned to New York.

While this trip was surely, for both Vladka and Benjamin, a traumatic one, made worse through the apparent erasure of their six years of hell, it did not disrupt their work in the United States.

In 1981, Vladka and Benjamin founded the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants. Its 1983 commemoration, held in Washington DC (which she chaired) was attended by over 20,000 survivors and their families. The Gathering continues on today, acting as the umbrella organization of all Holocaust survivor groups in North America, and inspired a boom of commemorative action, books, films, curricula, and museums.

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Vladka, shaking hands with President Jimmy Carter in 1979. Image courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

In the year of its founding, the Gathering established the Benjamin and Vladka Meed Registry of Holocaust Survivors as a national registry to document the lives of survivors who came to the United States after World War II. Today, the Registry, located in the United States Holocaust Memorial and Museum in the Holocaust Survivors and Victims Resource Center, includes over 200,000 records related to survivors and their families from around the world.

As Holocaust education became part of American curricula in the mid-1980s, Vladka worked with the American Federation of Teachers and other groups to train teachers in Holocaust education. In 1985 she, with representatives of the Jewish Labor Committee and New York’s United Federation of Teachers, founded the annual American Teachers’ Seminars on the Holocaust and Jewish Resistance. She remained director of that organization for many years. Because of her work, thousands of educators across the United States received training in Holocaust pedagogy.

Vladka received many honors for her work throughout her life, including the 1989 Morim Award of the Jewish Teachers’ Association, the 1993 Hadassah Henrietta Szold Award, the 1995 Elie Wiesel Remembrance Award, and honorary degrees from Hebrew Union College and Bar Ilan University.

Vladka Meed passed away on November 21, 2012 at 90 years of age after a long battle with Alzheimer’s.

Her work remains unfinished.

Vladka Meed Part 9: Meanwhile, in Poland…

As you will remember from Part 8, Vladka and Benjamin left Poland for good upon as resurgent anti-Semitic violence made it clear that they had no future in the country of their birth. For, in the immediate post-war years, Polish Nationalists had finally achieved their dream: a Poland in which Roman Catholic ethnic Poles were the majority. But, this dream only came to fruition under Communist rule within the Soviet sphere is influence, not within the bounds of Polish self-determination. With the destruction of the Polish Nationalist underground during Operation Tempest, and the 1944 withdrawal of US and UK support for the Polish government-in-exile, the Communist regime could operate with interference from neither the West, nor the Polish Nationalist parties.

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1946 ceremony memorializing the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Yitzhak Zuckerman stands on the left-hand side of the speaker. Image courtesy of Yad Vashem.

As the 1940s rolled on, the Polish government set out to craft a narrative of the war years which downplayed the contributions of Polish Nationalists to World War II. Government officials memorialized the Jewish dead and set up monuments to their martyrdom, while persecuting Poles who had fought the Nazis as representatives of the Armja Krajowa and similar groups.

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1948 unveiling of Nathan Rapaport‘s Ghetto Heroes Monument. Image courtesy of Yad Vashem.

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Memorial service at the 1948 unveiling. Image courtesy of Yad Vashem.

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Monument close-up. Image courtesy of Yad Vashem.

In the eyes of those Poles who fought and/or supported the fight against the Nazis, this indicated nothing less than a Jewish takeover of the government, intended to suppress all memory of Polish action and oppression under Nazi rule. This led to a period of what was perhaps the worst anti-Jewish violence in the history of Polish-Jewish relations.

Between 1944 and 1947, Poles murdered between 1,500 and 2,000 Jewish survivors as they returned to their homes. Poles bombed the few remaining Jewish institutions in the country, and perpetrated pogroms against their Jewish neighbors. In Kielce, July 1946, a Polish mob attacked a communal residence set up for Holocaust survivors, murdering 42 and wounding more than 100 people. After the Pogrom, many Jewish survivors—like Vladka and Benjamin—concluded that they had no future in Poland, and left. The Jewish population of Poland shrank to under 80,000 individuals. When the government sentenced the perpetrators of the Pogrom to death, Poles protested, arguing that the Pogrom and others like it had been nothing more than Zionist plots to stimulate Jewish emigration. Anti-Semitic violence continued through the 1950s. Between 1956 and 1960, another 40,000 Jews left Poland. By the 1960s, only 30,000 Jews remained.

In 1956, an official named Mieczyslaw Moczar began to accumulate power. A member of the Polish United Workers Party and General in the Polish People’s Army, Moczar was influential in the parts of the government which controlled the police and security forces. In the 1960s, he became leader of the state-controlled veteran’s association, the Society of Fighters for Freedom and Democracy (the Związek Bojowników o Wolność i Demokracje, or, ZBoWiD), an organization with at least 300,000 members. At the same time, Polish political culture was moving away from the hard-line anti-Nationalist Stalinism of the 40s and 50s, to a climate more open to Polish nationalists. In this new climate, veterans of the Armja Krojowa and similar were now able to assert themselves in public. They took up government positions, many of them in the same departments which fell within Moczar’s sphere of influence, and, as the changing climate moved to the ZBoWiD, its ranks swelled as it opened membership to all veterans of Polish organizations which fought the Nazis.

Through his roles in the government, and in the ZBoWiD, Moczar built a power-base for himself made up of newly accepted and emboldened Polish nationalists and Home Army veterans. With this base, called the “Partisans,” behind him, Moczar launched a campaign to take control of the memory of the war years, pulling it from the custody of the earlier hard-line Stalinists into the hands of the Polish Nationalists. This meant pulling it away from a body which emphasized the plight of the Jews, to a body desperate for recognition of Polish action and victimhood.

The campaign began in earnest in 1966. In that year, the prestigious Wielka Encyklopedia Powszehna, the Great Universal Encyclpedia, printed an article which differentiated between Nazi labor camps, in which prisoners were worked to death, and death camps, which existed solely to exterminate prisoners, the majority of which were Jews. The state-controlled press picked up on this, and pundits from every corner of the country were incensed. They accused the Encyclopedia staff of erasing the history of Polish victimization during the War, while emphasizing suffering of the Jews. As a result of the controversy, a new article was printed, this one presenting all Nazi camps as inherently similar, and all existing to murder all victims equally.

In June 1967, days after the Six Day War, Polish leader Wladyslaw Gomulka, having noted that some of Poland’s Jews seemed excited about Israel’s victory in that conflict, made a speech warning of the presence of a “fifth column” in Poland.1 A little over a week later, he made a speech which containeing references to the consequences of the presence of a people with “two souls and two fatherlands” within Poland. The result, as intended, was a widespread perception of Polish Jews not as Poles (not that they every truly were viewed as Poles), but as untrustworthy “Zionist” agents. In 1968, an official named Tadeusz Walichnowski, one of the leaders of the Nationalist faction of the Polish United Workers’ Party, published a highly influential, best-selling books called Israel and West Germany.

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The book.

In this book, Tadeusz Walichnowski accused the State of Israel of committing genocide under the tutelage of 1,000 former Nazis. This relationship between the Nazis and the Zionists, he argued, dated back to the pre-war years. The Zionists, he continued, needed the Holocaust to happen in order to build support for the creation of a Jewish State, and collaborated with the Nazis to make it happen. Therefore, the real victims of the Nazis were the Poles, while the Holocaust had been nothing more than a German-Jewish, I mean ”Zionist,” conspiracy against the Poles.

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Ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, April 1968. Image courtesy of Yad Vashem.

In March 1968, in a seemingly unrelated turn of events, the government banned a production of Adam Mickiewicz’s play Dziady, due to perceived anti-Soviet themes. Students at Warsaw University went on strike in protest, and the police—rife with Partisans—came down hard on the protesters, jailing or exiling many of them. Seizing on the moment, Moczar made his move. Taking the rage of 1966, the “fifth column” fear mongering of 1967, and the conspiracy theories of 1968, he tied them all together, and placed the blame for the student protests on Zionists.

In his framing of the situation, these Zionist agitators were representatives of an anti-Polish conspiracy in which agents, both at home and abroad, actively worked to to mutilate the memory of the war years, defame the actions of the Polish Nation, and erase wartime Polish martyrdom. Major actors in this conspiracy, he argued, included West Germany, historical institutes in Israel, and centers of “Zionist” activity in the United States—you know, like the organizations Vladka worked with while giving Holocaust lectures. Under Moczar’s leadership, police and security forces instituted a search for Polish officials of Jewish descent. Tadeusz Walichnowski created a card index of all those in Poland of Jewish descent, using a system potentially stricter than that used in the Nuremberg Laws to determine descent.

Beginning in March 1968 and continuing through 1970, across Poland Jewish employees were “unmasked” and dismissed from jobs. Afterwards, it was impossible for them to find work in Poland. Further, these Jews were only allowed to leave Poland under the condition that they give up their Polish citizenship. From there, the government gave them only one thing: an exit permit valid only for travel to Israel.2 As a result of this expulsion-in-all-but-name, another 20,000 Jews left Poland. The Partisans perceived this as “proof” of the Jews’ true, Zionist, allegiance.

The legacy of the Anti-Semitic Campaign lasted through the mid-1980s. In accounts of the war published between about 1968 and 1985, the fate of Polish Jewry during the war was presented as indistinguishable from that of the Poles. Even the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was discussed only in the context of Polish aid rendered to Jewish fighters.

By the late 1970s, early 1980s, there was a new generation in Poland, one removed enough from the war that it could look back on Polish history not as something personal, but as something to be learned. Slowly, students and members of the intelligentsia became interested in Jews, Judaism, and Jewish History in Poland. The silence of the post-1968 era was replaced with a collective interest in a long-gone, multinational Poland past. This younger generation of Poles fely comfortable mourning the Jews, and Polish historians and intellectuals felt as though they were able to engage in dialogue with their Jewish and Israeli counterparts. However, this was not simply the product of a generational shift. In Ocotber 1978, Pope John Paul II, born Karol Jozef Wojtyla in the Polish town of Wadowice, ascended from Archbishop of Krakow, to Pope. During his tenure as Archbishop of Krakow, he had been an important figure in parts of the Catholic community interested in learning about Jewish culture and history in Poland.3 As Pope, he visited Auschwitz and spoke specifically about Jewish victims of the Nazis, identifying them not as enemy nationals, but as the older brothers of the Catholic people.4 He pushed for interfaith dialogue, and remembrance of the specific Jewish experience of World War II.

In 1983, the Polish government, now long past the anti-Semitic campaign, and operating in a new atmosphere of inquiry and dialogue, arranged an elaborate commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The government invited thousands of Jews and Jewish organizations to attend. However, Marek Edelman, the last surviving leader of the ZOB, called for a boycott of the proceedings, arguing that Poland’s martial law and censored press went against everything the Uprising stood for. A state-organized mass commemoration of the Uprising, therefore, could never be anything more than a propagandic farce. As a result, an unofficial memorial ceremony was organizaed, with Edelman’s blessing, to take place a few days before the government’s. Several hundred people attended. Standing before the monument, they made and listened to hurried speeches, laid flowers, and said Kaddish. And then they were dispersed by riot police.

Days later, in front of an audience of thousands, a Military Guard of Honor laid a wreath at the base of the monument to the Warsaw Ghetto Fighters.

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1983 memorial ceremony. Image courtesy of Yad Vashem.

This is not where the story of the Polish relationship with Holocaust history and memory ends, but that’s where I’m going to end the the present discussion. Because, in January 1978, right before new forces took hold of the the memory of Poland’s Jewish past, Vladka and Benjamin returned.

 


1 The “fifth column,” for those unfamiliar with it, is a form of xenophobic, racist, and otherwise bigoted rhetoric used to target minorities, immigrants, refugees, outsiders, and anyway else deemed unworthy of membership in the nation-state. As applied to Jews, it cast them as inherently untrustworthy, loyal to each other (“International Jewry”) over any state in which they resided. It led to a lot of scapegoating during the Dreyfus Affair, the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War, and the Hitler-era American nativist line that Jewish refugees were German spies. After 1948, the trope shifted to convey that Jews living anywhere outside of Israel were loyal to Israel before all else. To illustrate how this works, allow me to give you an anecdote: at a grad school happy hour I toasted “l’chaim” before downing my shot. A colleague across the table sneered at me and toasted “Free Palestine” before downing his shot. This colleague was making assumptions about my politics and loyalties as a Jewish person despite knowing nothing about me or my politics. This is fifth column thinking. And then, of course, there’s our best friend, the cab driver. This all dovetails nicely with Jewish Conspiracy, and Protocols of the Elders of Zion type shit. To provide examples of how this applies to other groups, the 45th President of the US likes to insinuate that all Hispanic immigrants represent MS-13, and that all Muslims are anti-American terrorists. This is fifth column rhetoric in action. It’s gross and highkey ethnic-cleansey.
2 Subtweeting all of Eurasia and North Africa here okay like if you hate the State of Israel and do not want it to exist, then maybe don’t kick out your Jews and/or treat them so horribly that their only choice is go to Israel as a result of international immigration policies/your fucking exit permit???? I mean, I know why, but…
3 In the late 1970s, liberal, educated classes of the Polish Catholic community began to take an interest in Jewish history in Poland. One of their organizations, the Warsaw Club, organized annual Weeks of Jewish Culture. On these Weeks, they would pay visits to the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw and work on restoring its tombstones, attend lectures on Jewish culture, and participate in similar activities.
4 There’s a whole clusterfuck involving a convent opening in a former Auschwitz gas chamber because Lol Memory, but that happened outside of the 1946-1983 time frame of this post, so that’s a memory clusterfuck I will not be discussing here.

Vladka Meed Part 8: Not an Epilogue

Vladka and Benjamin fled the ruined city in a Polish medical wagon. They rode out, hidden beneath a sheet, wearing Red Cross armbands. Once out of Warsaw, Vladka and Benjamin made contact with some friends hiding on a large estate. Only their expertly forged false documents shielded them from German discovery.

In early January 1945, Benjamin received word through the underground that his parents were alive and looking for him. Benjamin and his parents were reunited in mid-January, and Benjamin and Vladka married shortly thereafter at his parents’ insistence.

Now married, they returned to Warsaw five months after their initial departure. They found nothing. They rubble of the ghetto–all that remained of their former lives–yielded no answers. At the Jewish cemetery, it was almost impossible to find a grave; the place was in ruins: nothing but overturned tombstones, desecrated graves, and scattered skulls as far as the eye could see.

They remained in the deserted city for a short time before moving to Lodz. They tried to build a life there, but realized that they had no future in the country of their birth as Polish anti-Jewish violence rose in the post-war years.1 So, they set out for the United States. Following the circuitous route typical of Jewish refugees in the larger 1933-1950 period, Vladka and Benjamin finally arrived in New York City on May 24, 1946.

Benjamin launched a business in the fur industry, and later opened a successful import-export business. Vladka meanwhile, worked as a writer for the Jewish Daily Forward. In 1948, they had a daughter named Anna, now Dr. Anna Meed Scherzer, and in 1950, they had a son named Steven, now Dr. Steven Meed. Vladka and Benjamin attained their American citizenship in the early 1950s, and formally changed their names to Benjamin and Vladka Meed.

In the late 1940s, Vladka began the work that would dominate the rest of her life. She had seen the Holocaust, seen her world before and after, and she was adamant that no one ever forget what had befallen her people.

She traveled across the United States, lecturing on her war-time experiences in partnership with such organizations as the Jewish Labor Committee and the International Rescue Committee.

Over the course of the next 30-odd years, Vladka and Benjamin would become influential voices in the realms of Holocaust education and commemoration. For example, Vladka led an (ultimately unsuccessful) effort to create a Holocaust memorial in Battery Park in the 1960s, and helped to found the Warsaw Ghetto Resistance Organization in 1962.

In 1978, Yad Vashem officials reached out to Vladka and Benjamin to invite them to a memorial service in Warsaw. They accepted, and, through Yad Vashem, received two visas allowing them to return to Poland for four days each. During these four days, they were to find in their former home a radically different relationship with the Holocaust than the one Vladka and Benjamin had dedicated their lives to building in the United States.

1 More on this in Part 9.

Before Europe: The Christian West in the Annals of Medieval Islam

“Is it possible, then, to write a history of Europe using only Arabic sources? König’s answer is still a resounding yes, albeit with a caveat. He recognizes in medieval Muslim historians an impressive ability to trace the roots of Latin Christendom in the Roman Empire, follow the rise of the Franks, and record the development of the many kingdoms that made up the western world of the High Middle Ages. At least by the late-medieval period, they ‘undoubtedly’ had the notion of a distinct Latin-Christian sphere. But if their writings ultimately lack the sense of a coherent, uniform entity called Europe when viewed from the outside, then it was just “as vague and imprecise as their ‘Latin-Christian’ contemporaries’ sense of cohesion.’”

Love this! This is post-modern historiography done beautifully! Not rejection of narrative and contextualization abilities, but re-framing of narratives in a challenge to Euro-centric constructs and modes of thought!

Before Europe: The Christian West in the Annals of Medieval Islam