While many institutions commemorate the Holocaust, the Amud Aish Memorial Museum and Kleinman Holocaust Education Center is unique in shining a spotlight on the Orthodox experience of that tragedy. Rabbi Sholom Friedmann, the director of Amud Aish, spoke to JP Updates about the Museum’s new program, the role of faith in the Holocaust, and preserving the memory of what transpired for future generations.
“Since the majority of the victims of Nazi persecution were observant Jews, it’s important to understand how they experienced life during such a horrific time,” Friedmann told JP Updates. “Orthodox Jews use their faith to find meaning in their suffering.”
“Orthodox Jews had a built-in means to deal with their circumstances,” Friedmann explained, “a built in means to deal with their challenges.”
Friedmann said he believes the plight of Orthodox Jews during the Holocaust “certainly has been under represented.”
This is partly because most Holocaust museums, in Friedmann’s view, tend to focus on educating about the Holocaust by focusing on the perpetrators, rather than the victims. This is something Amud Aish hopes to correct.
Amud Aish’s program to educate Auschwitz Museum guides was inspired by an increase of Orthodox Jewish visitors to the Museum. Andrzej Kacorzyk, the director of the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust at the Auschwitz Memorial, said the new program provides an “important tool” to Museum educators.
This tool, Kacorzyk said, will “enable them to present this question [regarding the Orthodox experience] both to visitors who are not involved in Jewish orthodoxy as well as to Orthodox groups, as their presence in the Museum is constantly increasing.”
A greater number of non-observant Jews are now becoming interested in learning about the Orthodox experience during the Holocaust as well, Friedmann added.
“There is an interest because it’s unique,” he says. “People managed to maintain their faith, and used it for guidance. It was their faith that they tapped into as a guiding force.”
Speaking to JP Updates, Rabbi Friedmann acknowledged that preserving the immediacy and human dimension of the Holocaust will be more challenging once the generation of survivors has passed away.
“They made it a reality, very much a real experience,” he says, adding that the passing on of the Holocaust generation could cause the victims to “lose individuality” from our modern-day perspective.
“They were people just like you and I,” Friedman said, with “hopes, desires, family…[we must] focus on the individual, what they stood for.”