Bet Debora Journal IV






Language: German, English
136 pages, softcover with (fold-in) flaps
50 illustrations
ISBN: 978-3-95565-264-7
15.00 €


Hentrich & Hentrich Verlag Berlin Leipzig

Berlin 2018






Content / Inhalt

  • Eleonore Lappin-Eppel, Lara Dämmig: Editorial

Women in Poland – Past, Present / Frauen in Polen in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart

Family (Hi)stories / Familiengeschichten

Renewing Traditions / Traditionen erneuern

Shoah, Communism and thereafter / Shoah, Kommunismus und danach


back to the top




Agnieszka Graff: Notes from a Polish Jewish Feminist

Agnieszka Graff’s piece was presented at the panel “Polish Jewish Women and Leadership: Then and Now” which took place in the scope of the Bet Debora conference in Wroclaw, September 1-4 2016. She chronicles how she arrived at understanding the ways in which feminism and Jewishness are interconnected. In the early days of her career as a feminist, Agnieszka Graff did not attribute much importance to the fact that she had a Jewish father and thus a Jewish name. When she returned to Poland after studying in the United States, she had begun identifying as a feminist but would not recognize that many other Polish feminists including her fellow campaigners Bożena Keff and Kazimiera Szczuka were also Jewish.

In 2005, the year that marked the first resurgence of nationalism in Poland since 1989, Graff realized that a number of the persons she had labelled as homphobic, conservative and mysogynistic in her first publication World Without Women (2001) were in fact also anti-semitic.

After several interviews with prominent second wave feminists and a visit to Israel in 2010, Agnieszka Graff came to the realization that Jewishness and gender were interlinked in complicated but undeniable ways, and she was alerted to the historical interconnectedness of anti-semitism and mysogyny that extended to Poland in the present day. She found the most profound correlation, however, to exist in Jewishness’ and feminism’s history of  hate, oppression and fear.

back to the top


S.L. Wisenberg: Rosa Luxemburg in Breslau: A Room of Her Own

The author goes on to describe the role of the Jewish woman during her childhood in the United States and emphasizes the importance of literary characters that function as role models. She writes about Jewish heroines, and pays particular attention to Rosa Luxemburg.

Wisenberg analyzes letters written by Rosa Luxemburg while she was detained for her anti-war activities during the First World War; a focal point are documents from the time Luxemburg spent in Breslau, which is Wroclaw today. The young woman displayed particular empathy and humaneness in her writing on animals. Wisenberg analyzes what makes Rosa Luxemburg such a unique historical figure who embodies a significant paradox: Luxemburg was born Jewish but did not feel a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish community by merit of her genealogy – and yet today Rosa Luxemburg is solidly in the pantheon of famous Jewish activists.

back to the top


Angelique Leszczawski-Schwerk: Róża Pomeranc-Melcer(owa) (1873-1934): Eine galizische Zionistin und die erste jüdische Politikerin in der Zweiten Polnischen Republik

This paper is about the first Jewish member of the Sejm in the Second Polish Republic, the Zionist Róża Pomeranc Melcer. The details of her activities and the environment in which she worked have been largely forgotten. Who was she? What marked her work? What is the significance of her political commitment?

The aim of this paper is to shed light on Pomeranc Melcer’s work as a Zionist and politician. Her life and work reflect the close interrelation between Zionism and general politics. I will first summarize the various stages of her activities in Zionist organizations in order to show how they paved her way into politics. Then, I will give a general introduction to her literary work, and as a third and crucial point, I will address her political career and work in the Polish parliament.

Róża Pomeranc Melcer is an example supporting the theory that Zionist women in Poland conquered the public, political sphere and promoted Zionist policies for women as well as feminism. I will also show how her activities and work represent the multifaceted conception of womanhood in Zionism. She was a Jewish pioneer, visionary, pragmatic, idealist, social reformer and women’s rights advocate, who created space in Zionism in which women’s liberation could evolve, and also promoted women’s affairs and new social reform projects in Poland. Her network and activities covered southeast Poland and the area of what was Galicia in the Habsburg Empire, as well as the Polish capital of Warsaw and other European cities.

In addition, Pomeranc Melcer was one of the politically most active Jewish women in interwar Poland, whose work has hardly been studied and should be made more visible. The aim is therefore also to highlight the parliamentary work of representatives of minorities in the Second Polish Republic and to recall women’s contributions to Zionism.

back to the top


Alicia Svigals: The Yellow Ticket

Performing my multimedia work The Yellow Ticket – an original live score
accompanying the rare 1918 Pola Negri silent film Die Gelbe Schein – at the White
Stork Synagogue was a moving and joyful experience for me and my musical
partner, Marilyn Lerner. We had presented the program in performing arts centers,
movie theaters and synagogues in the U.S., but this show was more than a
concert: it was a homecoming for the film. Like the White Stork Synagogue, the
sole survivor among Wroclaw synagogues after Kristallnacht, the celluloid which
underlies my restoration was the only print known to escape the Nazi edict that all
copies of this philo-semitic movie be destroyed. Filmed on location in Nalewki,
the Jewish quarter of pre-war Warsaw, and starring Poland’s most internationally
celebrated film idol in one of her earliest roles, this would be the first time since the
war that the film would be projected in its home country with accurate intertitles
based solely on the original.

back to the top


Rabbi James Baaden: Edith Stein (1891-1942), Daughter of Breslau

Edith Stein (1891-1942) was the youngest child of a large, middle-class German Jewish family. She grew up in Breslau, where she completed her secondary education and entered university. After moving to Göttingen she came under the influence of the great phenomenologist Edmund Husserl. Husserl took her with him as a research assistant when he moved to Freiburg. After receiving her PhD in 1918, Edith Stein returned to Breslau. Shortly after leaving Breslau again in 1921, she converted to Roman Catholicism. In 1933, she entered the community of Carmelite nuns in Cologne, taking the veil as Sister Teresia Benedicta of the Cross in due course. In late 1938, her order transferred her to another Carmelite community at Echt in the Netherlands. Two years later, Nazi Germany invaded and occupied the Netherlands, and in 1942, Edith Stein, a “non-Aryan” refugee, was deported to Auschwitz and murdered.

After the war, the nuns of the Carmel assiduously collected all items relating to her, creating the admirable Edith Stein Archive in Cologne. In 1962, the Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Josef Frings, commenced the process of her beatification (formal declaration as “Blessed”). However, that Edith Stein should become a saint was the achievement of three Polish men: Roman Ingarden, Bolesław Kominek, and Karol Wojtyła. Roman Ingarden, Poland’s most famous philosopher, was Edith Stein’s closest friend in her Göttingen and Freiburg years. In Cracow he befriended the Catholic Archbishop Karol Wojtyła, who was also the friend of Archbishop Kominek of Wrocław. In the 1960s, the two archbishops labored hard to bring about diplomatic relations between the People’s Republic of Poland and the German Federal Republic. In 1968, they initiated and supported the first memorial events for Edith Stein. In 1978, Cardinal Wojtyła was elected Pope John Paul II. In 1987, Edith Stein was beatified in Cologne and in 1998 canonized a Saint of the Catholic Church in Rome by John Paul II.

back to the top


Eleonore Lappin-Eppel: Karla Wolff – Surviving the Shoah in Breslau/Wroclaw

The title of the first edition of Karla Wolff‘s autobiography, published in 1990, translates as: “I remained behind. The story of the survival of the daughter of a Christian mother and a Jewish father.” (Ich blieb zurück. Die Überlebensgeschichte der Tochter einer christlichen Mutter und eines jüdischen Vaters) This title indicates the problem her survival constituted for the author. Having felt closely connected with the Breslau Jewish community, Karla Wolff did not share their fate till the end. Protected by her Christian mother, she and her father were exempt from deportation. But as Karla Wolff had converted to Judaism in 1937, attended the Jewish school, and worked as an assistant nurse for the Jewish community between 1942 and 1944, she was forced to watch this community’s annihilation, of which she bears moving witness in her autobiography.
Born in 1928, Karla Wolff regularly attended the Friday evening services at the liberal New Synagogue and went to the Jewish school even before converting. When in 1937 the authorities required “Mischlinge” (children of ‘mixed’ couples) to choose a denomination, Judaism was her obvious choice. This decision made her a “Geltungsjüdin” (“considered Jewish”), who suffered all the discrimination inflicted on the Jews.

From 1942 onwards, Jewish children were no longer permitted to receive formal schooling. Karla was therefore trained as an assistant nurse at the Jewish community’s home for the elderly, which gave her a fulfilling occupation. However, it involved her looking after patients, friends, acquaintances and relatives at the assembly points before their deportation in 1942/43, and she developed the profound wish to share their fate till the end.
After their liberation, the few survivors tried to rebuild German-Jewish community life. But after a few months they realized that Polish Wrocław was no longer home to them and they moved to the West. Karla Wolff came to Palestine in 1947 on one of the illegal transports and has made Israel her home.

back to the top


Gail Reimer: Judith Berg: Dancing the Jewish Past, Creating a Jewish Future?

Dancer and choreographer Judith Berg spent the war years in the Soviet Union, fleeing the Nazis and pursuing her vocation wherever and in whatever way she could. She was repatriated to Poland shortly after the war ended. Best known for her choreography in the 1937 film of The Dybbuk, her art was dedicated to capturing the essence of Jewish religious life, and to building a bridge from the past to a new Jewish future.
Before the war Berg opened a school of modern dance in Warsaw and built her reputation as a modern dancer on the Warsaw stage – performing expressionist dances that drew upon Jewish tradition, rituals and folk forms to create a new dance form that melded elements of tradition and modernity, learned from Chasidim and from Mary Wigman. After the war, it was inconceivable to Berg that there could be a Jewish future ever again flourishing in the mass grave that was Warsaw.
But for a short few years she held out hope for a rebirth of Jewish life elsewhere in Poland and threw her lot in with Bundists and artists invested in a creating a new Jewish centre in Wrocław. It is these years, 1946-1950, that are the focus of this essay, though understanding them necessarily entails looking at what came before, if only superficially. Understanding Berg’s choices and commitments in the postwar years has also entailed looking at my own history which, as I discovered in my research, resonates with Berg’s in more ways than I can possibly discuss here.

back to the top


Elianna Mitchnik, Ruth Herzka: „Shorashim“/Roots – Transgenerational Resources and their Elaboration in Art

Ruth E. Herzka is an artist and art psychotherapist and studied arts, psychology, anthropology and had further training in art psychotherapy in Zurich (Switzerland), Haifa (Israel) and Basle (Switzerland). She works and lives with her husband and her two sons in Basle. She belongs to the second generation after the Shoa. At the 8th International Bet Debora Conference in Wrocław, Ruth E. Herzka was interviewed about her art by Elianna Mitchnik, a 21-year-old psychology student whose family comes from Ukraine and Russia. She belongs to the first generation born in Berlin (Germany).

Inspired by textiles from the East (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania), Ruth E. Herzka works with motives, patterns, colors and their transfer of a specific and not exchangeable atmosphere in her paintings. Additionally, she works on canvas and textiles in mixed media. As her ancestors come from the above-mentioned countries, she works on her ancestors’ impact on herself and her family by using these resources. Following are excerpts from her interview.

back to the top


Tanya Ury: Personal Affects – Going into the Archive

With the destruction of the Cologne Archive, a thousand years of German history was projected into the rain and mud; but it also included the legacy of my Jewish family that had previously already been marked by exclusion, during the Nazi regime – for in spite of having lived through persecution and exile, my family had been fortunate enough to possess archived material, over and above our aural history.

Eberhard Illner, who until 2008 had been responsible for the departments Collections, Photography and Estates at the Historical Archives in Cologne, had expressed an interest in collecting our legacy because my British-German-Jewish family had been culturally active in Germany before and after the Second World War. I quote Illner, who since 2008 has been the Director of the Historical Centre in Wuppertal, speaking about our legacy in a German radio interview broadcast in January 2015:

“You have to be aware that in Germany, not much has survived from this era, so that the deceased, suppressed cultural life in Germany was, or is actually only reconstructable by those creative artists in exile, who have emigrated – you will only find authentic material there.”

Personal Affects – Going into the Archive is a paper about some of my art and written work but in particular about the history of the bequest that my siblings and I entrusted to the Archive in 1998, following the death of our mother in London.

back to the top


Tania Reytan: The Doctor and all the Others …

Tania Reytan-Marincheshka’s short text and family photos chronicle her family’s fate during World War 2 in Bulgaria.

back to the top


Sarah Egger: The Female Muscle Jew – Women in Jewish Sports Associations in the German-Speaking Sphere between 1900 and 1912

A multitude of topics is linked to Jews and Sports. For my master thesis I was analysing women’s articles and articles on women’s sports in the Jüdische Turnzeitung. Monatsschrift zur körperlichen Hebung des Judentums (Jewish Gymnastics Magazine. Monthly Journal for the physical elevation of Jews) in the twelve years of its existence under this name, 1900-1912. One of the things that struck me when reading different Jewish newspapers from the first half of the twentieth century, both general and on sports, was that although I knew for sure that women were part of the sports associations discussed, they were never mentioned. The newly proclaimed ideal of the „Muscle Jew“, and also the way members addressed each others as „Turnbrüder“, brothers in gymnastics, seemed to leave no space for them. How, I wondered, did female members of these sports associations deal with that at the time? How could they follow an ideal that was so masculine in its very own sense of the word? How could they make it their own?

back to the top


Mimi Sheffer: Cantor + Woman = Feminist?

Not in the last of my dreams did I ever expect to become a cantor. As the  path of life led me to become one, first in the USA and then in Germany, being a woman led me to exciting situations on the one hand, and unbearable ones on the other hand.  And I raise the question: Do these situations award me the title of a feminist? Was my father, an orthodox man who saw me as a person, not as a girl or boy, not as a woman or man; who therefore trained me for religious tasks as he did many other women; was he just naïve If operating as the person I am, did not save me from these unbearable situations? Pictures and anecdotes of warm memories and frustrations, of embracement, indifference and rejection, will lead you through my very personal perspective.

back to the top


Miranda L. Crowdus: Women’s Rosh Chodesh Services in Orthodox Judaism: Music, Gender, and Power-Negotiations on the Periphery

This article is a discussion on my research that examines the social and musical aspects of orthodox women’s Rosh Chodesh groups. These groups, both past and present, are not a widespread phenomenon and have remained very much on the periphery of Jewish practices which, apart fromcommunities based in Israel, already operate on the periphery of non-Jewish societies. As such, my research has required a broad, international focus. My discussion is largely based on groups in North America and Europe (specific locations examined include New York, Montreal, Amsterdam, Berlin, and London, which is also the site for fieldwork on the relativelyrecent phenomenon called the ‘Partnership Minyan’). I also conducted preliminary fieldwork with the much-discussed group Women of the Wall (WoW) based in Jerusalem.

back to the top


The Happy-Hippy Jew-Bus

For years Anna Adam and Jalda Rebling have been traveling through Germany with the happy hippie jew bus, a flying classroom that they use as a platform to playfully familiarize people with Judaism. The 8th Bet Debora conference in September 2016 was one of their pit stops, and so they drove their colorfully painted van from Berlin to Wroclaw where it pulled up in front of the White Stork Synagogue, exciting the curiosity of conference participants, locals and guest alike.

back to the top


Marion Kahnemann: Texts as Found Objects

Marion Kahnemann works to a great extent with found objects, made by humans and marked by human use, each with its own history, thrown away by people. She returns them to a human context, albeit a different one. She also explores the possibilities of interaction between the visual and the textual. Dealing with texts is part of a longer process, in which she brings together her findings – these may comprise found objects, found texts, stories, daily experiences, encounters, mismeetings or just visual discoveries during the process of making them. It’s a kind of dia-, tria- or tetralogue – a conversation between the different materials, the colors, forms, texts, subtexts, herself, the viewer, etc. Her aim is not at all to illustrate the texts!

Apart from biblical and rabbinic texts, in recent years the poetic and prose work of Else Lasker-Schüler, as well as she herself, have begun to take center stage in Kahnemann’s artistic confrontations. The trigger of this interest and a growing curiosity was Uri Zvi Greenberg’s remembrance of the poet:

“It may be worth mentioning that when I said to her in Berlin in 1921 that her poems ought to be translated into Hebrew, she replied angrily: What? But I am writing in Hebrew!” A truly cryptic statement, which is even more significant when we take into account that today hardly anyone whose mother tongue is Hebrew knows Else Lasker-Schüler, even though she spent the last years of her life in Jerusalem and is also buried there …

back to the top


Martina Bitunjac: The “lost generation” of female Jewish artists in former Yugoslavia: Riki Levi, Lea Deutsch and Stella Skopal

Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jewry had not only influenced the various local Jewish communities in the territory of the first Yugoslav state (1918-1941), but also shaped the economic, social and cultural development of the southern Slavic country. Jewish creative and performing artists belonged to the avant-garde – and yet many have become almost or completely forgotten today. Creative artists such as the dancer Riki Levi, the stage actress Lea Deutsch or the ceramic artist Stella Skopal were at the peak of their careers in the interwar period. These came to an abrupt end with the destruction of the multinational state and the ensuing persecution of the Jews by the Nazis and the (local) fascists. Using these three talented women as examples, three distinct profiles and fates of Jewish life and survival during the Holocaust in the Balkans will be presented.  

back to the top


Lara Dämmig : Jüdischsein in Ostberlin             

The author grew up as a Jew in East Berlin, where her grandparents and her mother had returned from exile after the war. As the GDR understood itself to stand in an antifascist tradition, it took no responsibility for any of the crimes committed during the Third Reich by the Nazi regime. Official historiography as well as the fact that the GDR purported to be a homogeneous society in which all of its members were officially equal, did not allow an unencumbered treatment of Jews and Jewish tradition. Therefore, it was not easy to live the otherness of being Jewish. 

East Berlin’s Jewish community was small and aging – in the 1980s it counted around 200 members. It did, however, offer the author a space to experience Jewishness. Despite material and staff shortages, and the political conditions it was operating under, the community tried to keep up Jewish life, although it was impossible to reconnect to the traditions of the pre-war community. In the Rykestrasse Synagogue, one of the few that had not been destroyed during the Kristallnacht in November 1938, regular services were held, and sometimes also concerts led by the chief cantor of West Berlin’s Jewish community. Children, teenagers and women got together in their own small groups. A shochet routinely took the trip from Hungary to Berlin to perform ritual slaughters so that the community butcher could supply the members with kosher meat. In the summer, children from all over the country had the chance to go to holiday camp on the Baltic coast, organized by the GDR’s Jewish communities.

The fall of the Berlin Wall, and the decision by the first (and last) freely elected People’s Chamber in 1990 to allow Jewish men and women from the former Soviet Union to immigrate, gave Jewish life in a soon-to-be-reunited Germany hope for a brighter future.

back to the top


Alina Marincean: Alternatives for Jewish Women in Maramures, Romania: Woman of Valor, Yiddishe Mamme or Communist Comrade

The Second World War brought with it a huge gap in the long line of Jewish tradition in Eastern Europe. When survivors wanted to rebuild Jewish life after war, they had to decide what values to promote. This also concerned the role of the women. Did they keep, reinvent or discard older traditions? Did their values correspond to the post-war realities, to the contemporary context under the current social, economic and cultural circumstances and under the pressure of a specific gender dynamic? How did this affect the Jewish feminine identity? What were the perspectives of these women? What were their alternatives? These questions have been an object of historical and sociological study after the end of the Second World War in Romania.
The romantic literature is portraying the Jewish woman in different manners but mostly activating the two images promoted within the traditional Jewish communities: the Woman of Valor and the Yiddishe Mamme. After the war, Jewish women in Eastern Europe struggled between the reminiscence of these prewar concepts and the New Woman that was facing the cruel reality of a new world built on a lost one. In Maramures, like in the rest of Romania and Eastern Europe, Jews who returned from the camps at first were clinging on to the values of the Yiddishe Mame, a homemaker, an ideal house wife, a good mother, known for her strength and passion, the one responsible for the spiritual bonding that kept members together. However, soon Jewish life and gender roles changed under the new Communist regime. Women were working, making careers, often marrying non-Jewish men. Jewish tradition became diluted and almost forgotten. The Jewish community also dwindled because the Romanian Communist regime allowed emigration to Israel. Today Jewish women’s traditions can only be seen in museums.

back to the top