Remembrance & Reconciliation:
The notion of reconciliation is present among our society in relation to our indigenous past. It has sparked much debate in the past. On Sunday, September 14 we heard about reconciliation and remembrance and the Shoah.
We were very privileged to be able to participate, albeit vicariously on a rather incredible journey. It took place in August 2002 and is known as the International Summer Program of the Holocaust. What we were hearing this winter’s evening was Amelia Klein’s recounting and sharing of a life changing experience she had undertaken.
Amelia is the Melbourne Jewish Holocaust Museum and Research Centre’s first PhD student, participating in a program that is linked to Deakin University. She is Sydney born and has recently become a welcome addition to the Melbourne scene, especially in the area of Holocaust studies.
The program she was engaged in happened last year and took place in Washington, Berlin and Krakow. It is a program facilitated by Professor Bjorn Krondorfer, religious studies Professor at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, USA.
There were 20 participants, students all in their 20’s, nine Germans, nine Americans, one Czech and Amelia as the sole Australian.
Our audience was comprised of survivors, second and third generation. We sat spellbound as Amelia recounted the events and shared some profound and often very confronting experiences.
For one month these students were thrown together in a radically alternative approach to learning about the Holocaust and its legacy. Here we have the grandchildren of the survivors confronting the grandchildren of the perpetrators.
In this month they were together there were direct encounters and dialogues that enabled the participants to explore their national and religious identities.
One chilling account recalled the time spent in Washington at the archives - archives which contained details of Germans who had served in some capacity in the Reich. Amelia talked about some of the Germans finding out about what their grandparents had done - matters that they had not known about prior. How brave these students were to confront the unknown. Throughout one got a sense of the strong bonds that developed between them. How in the beginning Amelia found that the common language with two of the German students was Hebrew.
How on Shabbat in Washington where they were billeted out to families, she and a German girl went to the home of children of survivors and the powerful experience this proved to be.
Throughout one also got a strong sense of healing, of the willingness of these young people to confront and go where no one had trodden before - really quite uncharted territory.
They left the USA and travelled to Europe. They stayed in the town of Auschwitz at a Centre for youth. Their brief was to plan and implement a commemoration ceremony together in Auschwitz.
Amelia told us what a profound impact the whole program had on the way she understands Holocaust history, memory, legacy and commemoration. Some of the questions that were posed for her included the differing perceptions for each when hearing the survivors personally retell their stories, what did it mean to the German participants to be post holocaust 3rd generation and, for herself as a 3rd generation Jew? She feels enlightened to realise that a space had been created where German and Jews of her age could meet and discuss significant questions that impact on our lives today. It was a space where the third generation would be able to learn to acknowledge and respect each others’ different pasts - the history, the culture and family backgrounds.
It was a powerful session and I think reflects significantly on the role of the third generation.
Thank you Amelia for your honesty and willingness to share your experiences with us.