Exploring Primary Documents in Holocaust Studies

Meet Jason Hochman, a student in the Holocaust Studies master’s program at the University of Haifa, class of 2015-2016. After a short discussion with Jason, we were able to get a look into his experience in the program.

Jason 1An Oleh Chadash of about 4 years, Jason is originally from the United States. He studied Judaic Near Eastern studies at Umass Amherst, then moved to Israel. He explains that though many students also have bachelors’ degrees in Judaic Studies, the Holocaust Studies program is multidisciplinary and consists of students from all sorts of backgrounds including Journalism majors, German Studies majors, and a former dancer.

It’s been about two months since the program began. Jason reflected on his experience thus far, starting with a smile, that his favorite course is German. He then went on to highlight more about coursework in the program, including the “Final Solution” course which he is currently taking with Dr. David Silberklang. Professor Silberklang is the Editor at the International Institutional for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem, and his course includes an exploration of primary and secondary sources that students analyze alongside Christopher Browning’s The Origins of the Final Solution, which provides students with a historical and analytical back drop.

This is a particularly fascinating and challenging course. Jason discussed one of the documents in the curriculum from the Oneg Shabbat Archives, which is a collection of documents and letters in Yiddish written during the war by Polish Jewish victims of the Holocaust. The collection gives personal accounts of the victims’ experiences as they were happening and has provided an important account of this side of history. One letter called “Letter from Wlodawa,” is a coded, anonymous letter. It begins, “We are thank god healthy…” and goes on in code about the liquidation of the Wlodawa Ghetto and transports to extermination camps. The letter sends  warning to contacts in the Warsaw ghetto that the same fate may be on the way.

Difficult as lessons like this may be, these are important artifacts of history that help elucidate facts of the war and provide insights for researchers. Students enrolled in the Holocaust Studies program greatly benefit from this curriculum, expanding their knowledge and skills as they embark upon this field.

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For more information about the Holocaust Studies Master’s program, click here or email us at infograd@univ.haifa.ac.il.

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