At York, we hosted numerous events for Holocaust Education Week, and each was meaningful in its own right. A major highlight was seeing such a large turnout from the York community – students, administration and faculty alike – to come and hear Judy Cohen, a 91-year-old survivor of Auschwitz, come and share her story.
The event we wish to focus upon, however, was our experiential workshop led by Professor Belarie Zatzman, a professor of Theatre Studies here at York. Once again, we had a great turnout that saw Jewish and non-Jewish students, York faculty and Hillel staff come to participate. At the workshop, Professor Zatzman brought a replica of The Heart From Auschwitz, a heart-shaped booklet made of purple fabric, embroidered with an F on its front cover. The heart is a birthday card for a twenty-year-old girl – Fania Fainer – who was a prisoner at Auschwitz. The heart contains handwritten birthday wishes from 19 other female prisoners and represents an act of resistance on their part – they wished to bring joy and humanity into the darkness of Auschwitz. Fania preserved the Heart throughout the waning stages of the Holocaust, even managing to keep it safe during a death march she was forced to go on as the Soviets approached the camp.
To engage with the Holocaust through a material object was fascinating, and our discussion helped us understand just how powerful a statement it was to create this object and to give it as a gift. Everyone in the session was encouraged to think about the object’s materiality – we explored the nuances of its creation and imagined the challenges associated with creating an intricate piece of artwork within the nightmare of Auschwitz. Everyone also read the birthday wishes inscribed in the heart and identified messages that resonated with them. Afterwards, we explored ways that the resonant messages could perhaps intertwine with our personal narratives.
Overall, Professor Zatzman provided us all with a meaningful, evocative and fascinating exploration that all who participated in will not soon forget.
Written by: Jeremy Starr, Program Director