Louise Ryan

After completing a two week study abroad intensive (ATS3284: Final Journey – Remembering the Holocaust) which took 22 students through the Holocaust sites of Italy, Germany, Poland, and Lithuania, I spent another week working at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, Poland. The Jewish Historical Institute is a public museum and research archive which is home to tens of thousands of pre and post-War artifacts, photographs, literature, and video footage. It is one of the most important centres in the world actively involved in the preservation of Jewish history.  The institute is constantly frequented by scholars throughout the year, so they were more than happy for me to use their library and photo archives.

 

During my week there, I worked on the testimonies of child Holocaust survivors. The accounts were recorded shortly after the War’s end by a Jewish committee, yet it is only within the last few years that they have been translated from Polish and Yiddish into English. I was given 15 testimonies to work on, each of which varied in length and content. I was required to thoroughly read through the accounts, write a brief synopsis, and find corresponding photographs in the photo archives. The work seemed relatively straightforward yet the testimonies had a profound impact on my understanding of the Holocaust. They drew me in and individualised the towns, synagogues, and concentration camps that I had visited on the Final Journey tour; they remembered childhood memories of family, friends, and neighbours not unlike my own; and tried to make sense of six years of senseless destruction. My time at the Jewish Historical Institute was intense yet extremely rewarding, and definitely one of the most valuable experiences I had on the trip. My understanding of the Holocaust was refined by my experience at the institute, and I got a small taste of what it is like to work with real, untouched history in a place which is doing tremendous work for the conservation of Jewish memory.  

I am incredibly thankful to Monash University’s Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation (ACJC) and particularly the ACJC’s Kronhill lecturer, Dr Karen Auerbach, for helping set up the internship and supporting me to spend the extra time in Warsaw. I would strongly encourage all students to talk to their lecturers and tutors about how they can get some ‘hands on’ experience in whatever area of study it may be, as it is so enriching not only from a contact and future employment perspective, but even more so for helping understand whether a particular role is suitable for you or not.

Louise Ryan
Bachelor of Arts (Jewish Studies)