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Above the Death Pits, Beneath the Flag

Above the Death Pits, Beneath the Flag: Youth Voyages to Poland and the Performance of Israeli National Identity

Jackie Feldman
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Above the Death Pits, Beneath the Flag
    Book Description:

    Israeli youth voyages to Poland are one of the most popular and influential forms of transmission of Holocaust memory in Israeli society. Through intensive participant observation, group discussions, student diaries, and questionnaires, the author demonstrates how the State shapes Poland into a living deathscape of Diaspora Jewry. In the course of the voyage, students undergo a rite de passage, in which they are transformed into victims, victorious survivors, and finally witnesses of the witnesses. By viewing, touching, and smelling Holocaust-period ruins and remains, by accompanying the survivors on the sites of their suffering and survival, crying together and performing commemorative ceremonies at the death sites, students from a wide variety of family backgrounds become carriers of Shoah memory. They come to see the State and its defense as the romanticized answer to the Shoah. These voyages are a bureaucratic response to uncertainty and fluidity of identity in an increasingly globalized and fragmented society. This study adds a measured and compassionate ethical voice to ideological debates surrounding educational and cultural forms of encountering the past in contemporary Israel, and raises further questions about the representation of the Holocaust after the demise of the last living witnesses.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-007-4
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xi)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xii-xiii)
  6. Preface: Seeking a Personal Past in the Deathscapes of Poland
    (pp. xiv-xx)
  7. CHAPTER 1 Introduction and Methodology The Shoah, Jewish-Israeli Identity, and the Voyages to Poland
    (pp. 1-29)

    The Shoah, the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis and their helpers, is an event of tremendous import for Western civilization and for Jewish history. Some Western thinkers have designated Auschwitz as aZivilizationsbruch(a breach of civilization), “a monstrous, disastrous and terrible degeneration of human character” (Isaac Deutscher in Kraushaar 1997: 64). For Jews, however, the Holocaust has been designated as thehurban, a momentous event comparable to the destruction of the First and Second Temples (cf. Fackenheim 1972; Roskies 1984: 14–41; Shaked 1996: 560), or as the Shoah, a Hebrew biblical term referring to utter catastrophe.¹...

  8. CHAPTER 2 The Historical and Social Context of Israeli Shoah Commemoration
    (pp. 30-55)

    The first Ministry of Education youth voyages to Poland date from only 1988. But it is impossible to understand the voyages in isolation from the social and historical context which gave birth to them. This chapter will briefly survey the changes in Holocaust memory in Israel over the past sixty years and the forms of transmission closest to those of the Poland voyages. This survey is necessarily incomplete and provisional.¹ Not only because new documents of the 40s and 50s have recently been made public, but because in recent years, Israeli Shoah memory has become the subject of highly politicized...

  9. CHAPTER 3 The Structure of the Poland Voyages
    (pp. 56-95)

    As I put forth in chapter 1, I see pilgrimage as the closest analogue to the experience of the voyage as described by students and educators. As characterized by Turner and elaborated by Eade and Sallnow (Eade and Sallnow 2000: x-xiv), although pilgrims’ roles are often shaped by various authority structures that construct the spatial and temporal frames in which pilgrims’ behavior takes place, the performance of pilgrimage is loaded with creative potentials for self-transformation.

    In the chapter that follows, I will analyze many of the “top-down” factors built in to the structure of the Poland voyages by the Ministry...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Performing the Poland Voyages
    (pp. 96-187)

    In the previous chapter, I described the fixed, structural elements that determine the text of the voyage. But voyages are “dynamic and diversified communicative events that are shaped and reshaped in and through participants’ construction of their narrative roles” (Katriel 1997b: 102). In this chapter, I will show how the structural elements are expressed in the development of the voyage, and how the messages of the trip are internalized by participants over time, or modified or resisted by participants through their interaction with the site, state symbols, authority figures of the voyage, and each other.

    Through a detailed ethnography of...

  11. CHAPTER 5 The Ceremonies of the Poland Voyages
    (pp. 188-228)

    Ceremonies are an essential activity in the Ministry of Education’s program for the Poland voyages, and are frequently mentioned by students afterwards among the most significant aspects of the trip.¹ A group will perform between three and eight group ceremonies in the course of an eight-day trip. The ceremonies take in the fragmentation of the sites, absorb it, tame it, and turn it into a collective expression. They communicate the themes through a dense, compelling ritual language of symbolic display and dramatization. According to an instructor of the Ministry of Education’s training course for guides, ceremonies are designed to create...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Homecoming—the Transmission of Holocaust Memory and Jewish-Israeli Identity
    (pp. 229-253)

    The voyage does not end in Poland. Students are expected to testify to what they have seen and experienced there, and the voyage is promoted as transforming the lives of participants. In the course of my analysis, I made claims about the aims of the voyage, as they affect attitudes towards the State, Judaism, the Jewish past, and the world. By tracking the initial processing of the voyage in the month following the students’ return, employing open-ended questionnaires and citing the results of recent studies on Poland voyages by social psychologists and educators, I will show how students develop strategies...

  13. CHAPTER 7 Holocaust Memory, National Identity, and Transformative Ritual
    (pp. 254-268)

    The implications of the voyages to Poland extend beyond Israeli society. Holocaust memory and commemoration have come to play an important role in shaping collective memory and national identities in many European nation-states (cf. Carrier 2005), and the Holocaust is indexed by various social movements throughout the world (Sturken 1997). By understanding the construction and role of transformative Holocaust ritual in Israel, we may come to understand better how both Holocaust memory and state ritual function in other societies in the global era.

    In this final chapter, I begin by summarizing my conclusions on the Poland voyages as a pilgrimage...

  14. Afterword
    (pp. 269-270)

    The night before I was to present a lecture on my research, I had a dream. In it, I was wandering around my grandfather’s house in Ungvár (Uzhhorod), a house that (in the dream) also contained his tombstone and those of the extinct Jewish community. A group of young Hungarians were performing some activity at the new swimming pool built on the site. I slinked around, trying to find my grandfather’s tomb, with no success. In a second dream scene, I sat at a long wooden picnic table somewhere in the house, along with the participants of the training course...

  15. Appendix: The Orthodox Delegations to Poland
    (pp. 271-276)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 277-299)
  17. Index
    (pp. 300-308)