November 1, 2007

A Personal Exploration

Rachel Abramovitz ’10 shares her perspective on the Jewish Responses to the Holocaust course

Rachel Abramovitz ’10 (New York, N.Y.) is currently taking the religious studies course, Jewish Responses to the Holocaust, taught by Robert Cohn, Philip and Muriel Berman Professor of Jewish Studies. The course is especially relevant for Abramovitz as two of her grandparents are Holocaust survivors. In the following paragraphs, she shares some of her insights.

Upon beginning the course Jewish Responses to the Holocaust, I knew from the title that we would be looking at different accounts of the holocaust, rather than merely focusing on the facts. That being said, I was surprised by the little time we did devote to secondary sources that supplied us with an overview of the series of events that transpired during the Holocaust. I expected the many first hand accounts that we were going to explore to shed a light on what Jews during the Holocaust lived through, though I learned soon enough, that these stories would serve to do much more than that.

Through the use of contemporaneous writings, such as the diaries of Zalmen Gradowski and Chaim Kaplan, we were able to experience uncensored daily emotions, while through memoirs like that of Elie Wiesel, we were able to view experience with the knowledge of subsequent experiences and their results. In addition to the written works, we watched documentaries and films to “experience” the holocaust audibly and visually. We continued this experience when we visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

In this class, I have learned not only about the Holocaust, but also about how to survey different sources, as well as the importance and power of looking at a single event from various perspectives.

The course has also been somewhat of a personal exploration in that two of my grandparents are survivors of the Holocaust. That being said, the textual material covered, and the documentaries that we have viewed have served as my first real exposure to first hand accounts of the Holocaust. In studying these accounts, not only do I have a further understanding of the horrific events that took place, but also why most Holocaust survivors choose not to talk about it.

In looking at religious beliefs with regard to suffering, and why the Jewish people did not take the position of martyrs, I began to grasp the extent to which suffering and beliefs about suffering could shape a people. In Jewish Responses to the Holocaust, I not only learned the history of an important period, but also about the Jewish religion and my own family.

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