Auschwitz Jewish Center

The Auschwitz Jewish Center is the only Jewish presence in Oswiecim – the town the Germans called Auschwitz – which is primarily known as the site of the darkest tragedy of the 20th century. We honor the former residents of Oświęcim and teach about the destruction caused by the Holocaust.

Location: Oświęcim, Poland , Oświęcim, Poland
Year founded: 1995

Description

The Auschwitz Jewish Center Foundation (AJCF) was founded in 1995 to rebuild a Jewish spiritual center in Oswiecim, Poland; honor the former residents of the town; and teach future generations about the destruction caused by the Holocaust. In 2000, the Center opened its doors just two miles from Auschwitz-Birkenau to provide a place for people from around the world to learn about the vibrancy of Jewish culture through exhibits, lectures, and educational programs. The Center also serves as a haven where visitors to the camps can memorialize Jewish victims of the Holocaust and commemorate the rich tapestry of pre-war Jewish-Polish life and culture that the Holocaust eradicated. The more than one million visitors to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum learn about how Jews were murdered in Auschwitz, but not how they lived – the vibrant Jewish community that once existed, its destruction, and its aftermath.

In 2006, the AJCF and the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to Holocaust united to broaden the reach and expand the capacity of both institutions.

The Center’s facilities include the Jewish Museum, Chevra Lomdei Mishnayot Synagogue, and Education Center.

  • The Jewish Museum’s permanent exhibition about the history of the Jews of Oswiecim illustrates, through vivid photographs, original materials, and new technology, the 400-year history of Oswiecim’s Jewish community.
  • Special exhibition galleries host original, collaborative, and visiting exhibitions focusing on various aspects of Polish-Jewish life, the Survivor experience, and contemporary Jewish views of Poland.
  • The Chevra Lomdei Mishnayot Synagogue – the only surviving Jewish house of prayer in the town – stands as evidence of the long Jewish history and culture of Oswiecim. Donated to the Center in 1998, the synagogue was the first Jewish communal property to be returned to a Jewish community in Poland; it was restored to its pre-war condition and reopened in September 2000.
  • The Education Center offers a wide range of programs – lectures, seminars, meetings, tours, and cultural events – to tourists, students, teachers, and the local population. As the custodian of the Oświęcim Jewish cemetery, the Education Center also offers guided tours of the synagogue, the cemetery, and the Jewish sites of Oswiecim for family, school, and adult groups.

Activities include: Program for Students Abroad – a scholarly visit to Oswiecim/Auschwitz through which participants engage with the history of the Holocaust and Jewish life in Poland; Anti-discrimination and anti-hate speech workshops for high school students; the American Service Academies Program – a two-week intensive for select cadets and midshipmen from the U.S. Military, Naval Academy, Coast Guard, and Air Force academies; the AJC Fellows Program; monthly public seminars featuring professors, writers, historians, and others on Holocaust history, Jewish culture, and Polish-Jewish relations; and seminars for Polish law enforcement and police trainers that examine the contemporary responsibility of law enforcement to police crimes against members of diverse ethnic, religious, and social groups.

Through this grant opportunity, the AJC is seeking support in the amount of $35,000 toward "Policing Hate: A Joint Program for Polish and German Police" in connection with Confronting Antisemitism 2017-2018, a bi-national training program will teach German and Polish police officers about the causes and mechanisms of the Holocaust and help sensitize them to its legacies – anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and hatred of the Roma – still prevalent today. Along with Holocaust history, the seminars explore the aspects of human psychology and behavior that underlie mass hatred and violence, which motivate and equip participants to recognize and respond to anti-Semitic and other hate crimes today.

Policing Hate: A Joint Program for Polish and German Police

About

Organized by the Auschwitz Jewish Center in Poland and the House of the Wannsee Conference in Berlin, “Policing Hate: A Joint Program for Polish and German Police” is a model one-week seminar that focuses on the role of police during the Holocaust and the challenges of combating hate crimes in Germany and Poland today. The seminar will take place in 2018 at the Auschwitz Jewish Center in Oświęcim and the House of Wannsee Conference in Berlin.

Through the program, a select group of 20 high-ranking police officers will participate in learning about specific aspects of social psychology and genocide studies (anti-Semitic stereotyping and prejudice, scapegoating, conformity, obedience to authority, dehumanization) to explore and understand the behavior of perpetrators and bystanders in discrimination and mass murder during the Holocaust – both on individual and institutional levels.

Harnessing the power of site-specific engagement, participants will reflect on the consequences of these behaviors and actions at authentic sites where the planning and execution of mass murder took place, such as House of the Wannsee Conference, Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Krakow Ghetto, and the site of the Plaszow concentration camp, in addition to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

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What is the mission and purpose of this program?

This bi-national training program will teach German and Polish police officers about the causes and mechanisms of the Holocaust and help sensitize them to anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and hatred of the Roma – still prevalent today. Through these powerful lessons of history, the purpose and outcome of the program is for police officers to apply this knowledge to professional and personal challenges in fighting discrimination in whatever forms it takes.

The in-depth study of the dynamics of the Holocaust, and the role of police in mass murder, combined with a social psychological explanation of the timeless mechanisms of xenophobia, group-focused enmity, conspiracy theories, and dehumanization and violence will help participants translate the understanding of the deadliest anti-Semitic-driven genocide into their professional context of combating different types of hate crime.

With the increased understanding of and sensitivity to past and present manifestations of anti-Semitism and other types prejudice, participating police officers from Germany and Poland will be better prepared to confront and combat these kind of crimes and positively impact their respective communities in both countries.

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Program Description

The Auschwitz Jewish Center will host a one-week seminar on the role of police during the Holocaust and the challenges of combating hate crimes in Germany and Poland today. Participants will include 20 high-level German and Polish active police officers and police trainers. The target group includes officers responsible for training programs and organizing trainings in both countries.

The seminar will take place at the Auschwitz Jewish Center in Oświęcim, Poland and the House of Wannsee Conference in Berlin. The curriculum will begin with the study of the fall of democracy in the Weimar Republic and the subsequent changes in the role of police in Nazi Germany with a focus on anti-Semitic discrimination and persecution. While in Germany, participants will see first-hand the traces of prewar Jewish life in Berlin, witness sites of prewar anti-Semitic terror, and visit the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. A highlight of their Germany experience is a tour of the House of the Wannsee Conference – where in 1942, high-ranking members of the SS, the police force, the government administration and the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazi party) met to discuss the “final solution of the Jewish question” – includinh a discussion on the role of institutional anti-Semitism and racism in the Holocaust.

In Poland, officers will learn about the richness of Jewish life before the Holocaust during a visit to the prewar Jewish district of Krakow, exploring the only synagogue out of seven still left in the town of Oświęcim/Auschwitz. A significant part of the program will be expert-guided tours of the site of the Plaszow concentration camp, and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial. The final day is scheduled for workshops about modern day anti-Semitic and racist hate crimes in Poland and Germany, with a particular focus on comparative case studies.

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Demonstrated Need

Across Europe there is a visible shift in public opinion towards embracing a populist worldview and an increased support for far right political movements openly promoting anti-Semitism, xenophobia and exclusivism. Simultaneously, there is an ongoing migration crisis, with large numbers of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa arriving to the continent where they are met with openly hostile behavior from local populations.

In Germany, according to most recent available survey commissioned by the Ministry of Interior, in 2015 there was a large increase in the broader category of hate crimes, offences of a racist or anti-Semitic nature or targeting people because of their religion. Hate crimes rose 77% to 10,373 from 5,858 the previous year. The data for Poland, which is still largely a monotethnic country, collected by the State Prosecutor, shows a sharp raise in hate crimes in the past two years (1,500 recorded hate crimes in 2015 versus 200 in 2014). The main targeted ethnic and religious groups are Muslims, Jews and Roma.

In light of these disturbing developments, it is vitally essential and timely to address the steady rise of anti-Semitic and xenophobic incidents by strengthening the capacity of police in Germany and Poland to effectively respond to hate crime through indepth study of relevant historical examples, such as anti-Semitism of the Third Reich and duirng the Holocaust.


The living
memory of prewar Jewish life in both countries, and the anti-Semitism and the destruction
of Jewish communities during the Holocaust, combined with being in the actual
footsteps of that dark period, such as former camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau, provide
a unique opportunity for engaging police officers in a constructive study of
this chapter of history and the modern day professional challenges they face.


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Program Accomplishments

The Auschwitz Jewish Center is the principal institution in Poland dedicated to teaching about Auschwitz and the Holocaust in the context of universal mechanisms of stereotyping, prejudice, and intergroup relations. Since 2007, the Center has successfully conducted a number of projects in this field for diverse audiences, ranging from programs for Polish middle school students to law enforcement professionals.

The program proposed herein was piloted in September, 2015, under the name Democratic Policing after the Holocaust for a group of 26 high-level police officers from Germany and Poland. The success of the pilot enabled us to continue the program with support of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance in 2016/2017. By the end of this iteration (April 2017) we will have trained over 75 officers from both countries, including teachers from police academies in Berlin, Muenster (Germany) and Katowice (Poland).

The Auchwitz Jewish Center has been widely recognized for its work in the community and for its efforts in promoting cultural undestanding and anti-discrimination education. In 2011, the board of the Malopolskie Province awarded the ‘Krysztaly Soli’ prize to the Auschwitz Jewish Center in the category of the protection of cultural heritage. The prize was awarded for the overall engagement for the benefit of bridging a difficult and painful past with contemporary times, for an innovative and original form of showing Polish history, for the fight against prejudice and for shaping social sensitivity, respect and tolerance among young people. In 2012, the Center received the Austrian Holocaust Memorial Award for its work to educate youth about the Nazi genocide of European Jewry.

The Center was honored with the 2013 Oświęcim Year of Culture Award by the Town of Oświęcim for our “contribution to active participation in culture, strengthening of local identity, promoting the town of Oświęcim, and raising the aesthetics of public space.” Also in 2013, the Center joined the Polish Coalition for Anti-Discrimination Education, which connects various organizations advocating a greater emphasis on tolerance education in the Polish school system. In 2013 and 2014, the Center proudly partnered with the Matzevah Foundation, headed by Steven D. Reece, whose volunteers spend a week each year in Oświęcim working on the maintenance of the Oświęcim Jewish cemetery.

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How do you measure the success of your program?

The past iterations of the program received overwhelming interest from prospective candidates and have garnered tremendously positive feedback from graduates who especially appreciated acquiring new skills, applicability of the new knowledge, and the exchange of expertise with colleagues from the neighboring country.

In order to ensure the success of the new program moving forward we are going to design a three-stage online survey (pre, immediate, and post-seminar) by an independent external expert to assess the short and long-term impact of the program on participants.

The indicators of success will include: Significantly increased participant knowledge of the relevant chapters of the Holocaust; Enhanced understanding of and interest in the mechanisms of stereotyping, prejudice, anti-Semitism, and discrimination during the Holocaust and today; Ability to identify manifestations of anti-Semitic and xenophobic statements and acts; and increased personal motivation to respond to hate speech/hate crime. The results of the assessment will be compiled into an evaluation report and made available online.

Overall, the success of the Center’s programs – including Fellowships for undergraduate and graduate students, cadets and midshipmen from American service academies, and workshops for young students – are measured by the number of participants and increased interest in enrollment, participant response, and feedback from scholars and organizational partners involved in the Center's initiatives.

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