פרס מקס גלקמן 2017
“Molds of Redemption: An Ethnographic Study of Holocaust Survivors in Israel”
חברי הוועדה הבוחרת: ד"ר אינה לייקין, ד"ר אריקה וייס, ד"ר מרסי ברינק-דנן
תקציר עבודת המאסטר
This ethnographic study examines the interactions between Holocaust survivors and the Israeli memorial landscape. Drawing on over a year of observations of a psychosocial support program for Holocaust survivors entitled Café Europe, of the preparation and culmination of two Holocaust remembrance ceremonies in which survivors participated, and in-depth interviews, the study contributes to the scholarly understanding of how the Holocaust survivor category is lived and negotiated in present-day Israel.
Café Europe is only one of many programs and initiatives that produces what I call “redemptive encounters” between Holocaust survivors and Israeli youth. By “redemptive encounter,” I am referring to 1) emotionally cathartic encounters that 2) are imagined to have psychosocially salutary effects on survivors, and that 3) allows Israeli youth to experience themselves as moral subjects by “redeeming” survivors from their Holocaust past. Organizers of redemptive encounters include the IDF; Israeli student organizations; “Service Year” volunteer programs, and others. By tracing how one of my Holocaust survivor informants was recruited into different Holocaust remembrance events, I argue that this broader set of “redemptive encounters” prepares the ground for and shapes Holocaust remembrance ceremonies.
The Café Europe is a unique approach to producing “redemptive encounters” with Holocaust survivors. The program invites Holocaust survivors not only to encounter Israeli youth in the form of volunteers and staff, but to “live in the moment” as a kind of performance of youth. The “members” are encouraged to dance, drink coffee, mingle, listen to lectures, but above all to “forget their troubles,” which are primarily assumed to be Holocaust-related. Their performance produces a kind of catharsis among the staff and volunteers, who laud them for “living in the moment” despite their Holocaust pasts. The Holocaust is thus both present and absent, but things can go awry in two major ways: either the members live in the moment “too much,” or else the members bring the Holocaust into the space too much. Either eventuality endangers Café Europe’s purpose.
Then I draw on my personal relationships with five Holocaust survivors to examine the risks involved in these redemptive encounters for survivors. I learned that survivors who participate in these encounters risk forming a lifeworld characterized by dependence on the “redeeming” youth and strenuous emotional labor involved in constantly producing catharsis. Others risk triggering repressed traumatic experiences that are beyond their young interlocutors’ ability to ameliorate, thus becoming wedged between their desire to connect with youth and their desire to avoid reliving trauma. A Mizrahi Holocaust survivor explained to me that he feared speaking about his experiences because his non-Ashkenazi racial identity made it more likely for his story to be heard as a tale of victimhood rather than redemption. However, survivors who forego the encounters risk appearing indifferent to the Holocaust and its national importance, or that they are not “real” Holocaust survivors. These interviews outline the boundaries and risks involved in the Holocaust survivor category, as well as the extent to which it is externally imposed rather than “emic” to the survivors themselves.
In conclusion, I link my ethnographic observations to the history and historiography of Holocaust survivors and Holocaust memory in Israel, arguing that the contemporary Israeli memorial landscape’s relationship to Holocaust survivors may be more continuous with the classical Zionist approach than many scholars appreciate. Though the skyrocketing interest in Holocaust survivor testimony does break with the earlier Zionist condemnation of Holocaust survivors as a danger to the youth and the new Jewish society in Palestine, my ethnographic study shows that this interest is organized as a redemptive encounter aimed at ameliorating the Holocaust survivors’ trauma through the healing power of youth. In that sense, the Israeli memorial landscape has embodied the foundational assumptions of classical Zionism regarding the survivors to the point where no “top-down” direction of these encounters is necessary. This study thus contributes to the sociological, anthropological and historical discussion on the impact of Zionist nationalism on Israeli society.