Eighty students from across China gather for ICJS seminar in Jinan, July 2018

Over two weeks in July 2018, the Centre for Judaic and Inter-Religious Studies at Shandong University in Jinan, China, held a summer school on the Holocaust and Jewish Studies. The first part, held over 15– 20 July, was co-sponsored and co-organised with the International Centre for Jewish Studies in London.

ICJS was founded in 2015 in part to continue the work undertaken by the former London Jewish Cultural Centre (LJCC) to provide Holocaust and Jewish education in China and other parts of Asia, as well as in Eastern Europe. The LJCC had a long history of offering summer schools on the Holocaust and Jewish history at Chinese universities, starting from at least 2006. There were led initially by Jerry Gotel ז״ל, Joanna Millan and Trudy Gold, and later joined also by Glenn Timmermans from the University of Macau.

As in previous years, the seminar sought to introduce those students new to the subject with a basic knowledge of the Holocaust, but also its context within Jewish history while at the same time offering more advanced teaching for students already studying at one the ever-increasing centres for Jewish Studies in China.

This year – in addition to classes taught by Joanna Millan, Trudy Gold and Glenn Timmermans – Wolfgang Kaiser, from the Wannsee House in Berlin, who had taught at some previous seminars, was able to join again. For the first time, Professor Gideon Reuveni, Director of the Centre for German-Jewish Studies at the University of Sussex, featured, providing a number of lectures on Germany before the War. He was very warmly received by students and teachers alike and it is to be hoped that both he and the Centre for German-Jewish Studies, will be able to play a greater role in these summer schools in the years ahead.

Over the first week of the seminar, students were taught about the long history of anti-Semitism, its origins in early Christian society, the rise of a Jewish presence in Europe and events leading up to the First World War, the rise of Hitler and the Shoah itself.  Additional seminars on Jewish costume and Jewish literature were also held.  Joanna Millan, a survivor of Theresienstadt, spoke about her struggle to trace the story of her family after the war and students were profoundly moved to meet and engage with her.

Regular participants in this programme were struck by the continued improvement of students’ language level; in earlier years a translator provided consecutive interpretation to the audience, but now all could manage with a high degree of English complexity.  Similarly, subject knowledge among students was already very high and this allowed stimulating discussion during and after class, over the lunch table and in tea breaks. The vast majority of the eighty students participating were studying for MA and PhD degrees in the wider area of Jewish Studies while some were still looking for a subject to pursue. As in previous years, they came from all over China, itself an endorsement of the programme’s reputation in China.

During the second week of the seminar various Chinese professors in Jewish Studies – history, religion, philosophy, literature – held classes and lectures and these were all conducted in Chinese. The eighty students stayed throughout and feedback on the whole programme was overwhelmingly positive.

 

In memory of Jerry Gotel, z’l

Jerry and aid Dr RosenfeldJerold ‘Jerry’ Gotel, who died in London in October, was a pioneering Jewish educator and historian, who, among other things, helped to return Jewish learning and Jewish culture to the place of its destruction in eastern Europe, and almost single-handedly created Jewish studies in China.

He was born in January 1946 to Holocaust survivors in New York City. He received a Yeshiva education before studying at Brooklyn College, and later at Pembroke College, Oxford, and the Sorbonne in Paris.

It was an unusual path to take for a man raised in the Orthodox world of Yiddishkeit, but Jerold was unusual, and he took New York City with him to Europe; in the 1980s he established an American restaurant on what was then the wasteland of London’s south bank. Visitors to this gloomy area were surprised to see, twinkling from the window of a converted Victorian house, a neon sign: American Bar and Grill. This was Studio Six, the first of his successful restaurants, although East of the Sun, West of the Moon, whose menu was based on a fusion of Asian and eastern European cuisine, inspired by an historical Jewish community living in China – which only he had heard of – was not the success he hoped. But if Jerry dreamt and lost, he laughed; he knew too much history to be hurt by small things.

If restaurants were his business, scholarship was where his heart lay. In the early 1980s, his passion for Jewish history led to his becoming involved with the nascent Spiro Institute, later the London Jewish Cultural Centre (LJCC). His encyclopedic knowledge of traditional Judaism and Jewish history, and his electric personality, made him a superb teacher. As the Spiro Institute developed a Modern Jewish History program at schools such as Eton, Harrow and St Paul’s Boys School, Jerry became integral to its teaching. He taught adults and students all over the country.

Besides teaching British children and adults, Jerold and his colleagues were asked by Sir Martin Gilbert, whose visa had been revoked, if a dozen teachers, each going once a year, could go to Russia and to teach Jewish history to refuseniks. Jerry’s allocated subject was Zionism. He gave lectures in Moscow and St Petersburg in private homes. But he was betrayed and hauled into KGB headquarters where, after an uncomfortable interview, he was told to be a tourist. Jerry’s charisma was often effective in thwarting the bureaucrats of the former Soviet Union. He was proud that his exploits were written up in a Russian newspaper, where he was accused of propagating nationalism amongst the minorities.  He also took children from deprived backgrounds to the death camps, to teach them about prejudice.

As the LJCC developed an overseas program, Jerry was perfectly positioned to become its director. He began to mastermind teacher training about the Shoah in Poland. When the International Task Force for Holocaust Education was created (now known as IHRA), the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office asked Jerry to be part of the British delegation. He pioneered the first ever Task Force seminar. The object was to train teachers in those countries where the Shoah had occurred, but had little education around the subject. This was phenomenally successful; and it took a man of great resilience and optimism to do it. Some of today’s members of the Polish delegation were originally trained by Jerry.

The success of Jerry’s work led to further seminars in the Ukraine and Belarus. The LJCC would bring in experts from the Holocaust Museum in Washington, Yad Vashem, the Wansee House in Berlin, and the Anne Frank House in Holland. Jerry also helped to pioneer the very successful tours program, taking adult students of Jewish history to sites throughout Europe.

There was nobody quite like him, and he was a man to whom strange things happened. In Bialystok, just after the fall of Communism, Jerry was approached by an old man. He had seen that the men of the group were wearing kippot, and began speaking to Jerry in Yiddish. The man told Jerold that he was a Ko’hen, that he had married the Catholic woman who hid him during the war, and insisted that all thirty of the group visit his apartment. In his tiny, modest home, this Jewish man, who had not spoken to another Jew since the war, pronounced the priestly blessing, beneath a portrait of the Pope.

Fifteen years ago, the Hong Kong expatriate Jewish community decided to commemorate Yom Ha’Shoah. They had borrowed exhibits from the Sydney Holocaust Museum, but had no educator. Jerry stepped up, and was surprised to discover that a thousand Chinese people a day were coming to see the exhibition. It was at that time that he met Xu Xin, Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Nanjing. This marked the beginning of Jerry’s last great work.

In the past 17 years, he was at the forefront of Jewish education in China. His legacy at Henan University, where he was an associate professor at the Centre for Jewish Studies, includes more than thirty students with PhDs in Jewish history; twelve with jobs in Chinese universities; the Shalom Library, the biggest collection of books in China on Jewish history; study of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust; and the institution’s Centre for Jewish and Israel Studies, which has become the research base for Israel Studies designated by the Chinese Ministry of Education. Jerry was very proud of his Chinese students, and exceptionally fond of them.

Jerry was a founder trustee of the International Centre for Jewish Studies, created in 2016 to continue and develop this work in China and the wider East Asian region, following the merger of the LJCC into JW3.

Jerry adored his children Jared and Natalie, and was very close to them. Natalie describes her father as “larger than life. He left a powerful impression on everyone who met him.  His passion for knowledge and living made him outspoken, energetic, magnanimous, bold, defiant, inspiring, argumentative and, of course, he was always right. He was never a spectator, always impatient and could not help being the life and soul of many occasions”.

His background had made him a wanderer, but he loved London, where he died, in October.

 

 

 

Chinese educators at Yad Vashem

 

yad-vashem-2016

Chairman of China’s National People’s Congress, Zhang Dejiang, meets with Chinese educators studying at Yad Vashem

Now in its 7th year, Chinese teachers are completing a two week Holocaust and Jewish studies programme at Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies in Jerusalem.

The programme is organised by Yad Vashem, with assistance from the International Centre for Jewish Studies (ICJS) which recruits the educators who participate in this once-in-a-lifetime  experience.

Participants this year met with H.E. Zhang Dejiang, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China, whose visit to Yad Vashem on 20 September coincided with their own.”Like you, I learned so much from the museum tour I just experienced,” Chairman Zhang told the participants. “We can never forget the crimes committed against the Jewish people by Nazi Germany… Activities you are engaging yourselves in here are therefore of great significance, as they enable you to spread the message of peace and justice. It is a very rare opportunity in your lifetime, which I hope all of you as young Chinese scholars and educators will cherish.”

The Chairman also toured the Holocaust History Museum, participated in a memorial ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance, visited the Children’s Memorial and signed the Yad Vashem Guest Book.

Why ICJS? – a short film

“Our work in China has produced concrete results, because it’s reached hundreds of Chinese teachers and academics”, says ICJS founder trustee, the late Jerry Gotel, in a short film about the aims and work of the International Centre for Jewish Studies.

“The main focus”, explains Joanna Millan, ICJS’s chair, is currently to “run conferences in Chinese universities about Jewish studies, history and culture, including the Nazi Holocaust.”

Herself a survivor of the Holocaust, Joanna observes that, as a result of learning about the Holocaust, Chinese teachers feel better equipped to speak about traumas that their own people have endured: “The fact that I talk about what happened to me gives them permission to talk about what happened to them”, she says.

Trudy Gold, also a trustee says that: “As a result of our conferences, we’ve created a whole cadre of Chinese academics and intellectuals who feel incredibly positive towards the Jews.”

For Jerry, the connection between Jews and Chinese occurs in the insights they gain from a deeper understanding of each other’s culture: “The Chinese are looking for answers as to how they can function in the modern world without losing touch with their traditions”.

 

Remembering John Rabe, ‘the good man of Nanking’

JohnRabe

On 10 December 1937, the Japanese army invaded Nanjing. It would not take long before Japanese troops embarked on the now infamous Rape of Nanjing – eight weeks of looting, rape and killing that left tens of thousands of Chinese civilians dead.

The unlikely rescuer of thousands of Chinese during those dark, terrible weeks was Siemens branch manager and local Nazi party official, John Rabe.

Fearing the consequences of invasion, Rabe (pronounced Rah-bay) and a small group of westerners had, one month earlier, set up an ‘International Committee for the Nanking Security Zone’. The zone was a four-square kilometre safe area in the western part of the city, which included foreign embassies and Nanjing University, in which food and shelter could be provided for Chinese civilians. John Rabe was elected chairman of the committee in the hope that a Nazi might influence the Japanese military command.

Rabe did indeed manage to persuade the Japanese government not to attack parts of the city that did not contain Chinese military forces, and were also partially successful in persuading the Chinese government to move all their troops out of the area.

When the invasion was launched, Siemens ordered Rabe to leave the city; he chose to stay and defiantly opened his premises to 650 refugees. During the weeks that followed, Rabe and the committee’s efforts would provide refuge for some 200,000 Chinese non-combatants.

Rabe recorded his personal account of the atrocities in a 1,200-page diary. He tells of people who were shot, doused with gasoline and burned alive. In an entry dated 17 December, he writes:

“In one of the houses in the narrow street behind my garden wall, a woman was raped, and then wounded in the neck with a bayonet. I managed to get an ambulance so we can take her to Kulou Hospital… Last night up to 1,000 women and girls are said to have been raped, about 100 girls at Ginling Girls College alone. You hear nothing but rape. If husbands or brothers intervene, they’re shot. What you hear and see on all sides is the brutality and bestiality of the Japanese soldiers.”

The diary also contains Rabe’s reflections about the personal choice he has made: “There is a question of morality here…I cannot bring myself for now to betray the trust these people have put in me, and it is touching to see how they believe in me.”

John Rabe left Nanjing in 1938 and returned to Germany in February. Still an enthusiastic Nazi, he gave a lecture in Germany shortly after his return, in which he explained that: “Although I feel tremendous sympathy for the suffering of China, I am still, above all, pro-German and I believe not only in the correctness of our political system but, as an organizer of the party, I am behind the system 100 percent.”

Rabe’s faith in the Nazi system was not however to be reciprocated. He wrote to Hitler, begging him to persuade Japan to stop the violence. The letter was intercepted by the Gestapo; Rabe was arrested, interrogated and ordered to keep silent on the subject. His documents and photographs of the massacres were destroyed.

Rabe spent the remaining war years working for Siemens. After the war, he was arrested – first by the Soviets and then by the British. He was denounced for his Nazi party membership, stripped of his work permit and made to undergo a lengthy de-Nazification process in the hope of regaining permission to work. Unable to work and with his savings depleted, Rabe and his family were reduced to poverty and malnutrition. Finally, in June 1946, he was declared ‘de-Nazified’ for his humanitarian acts in China. The investigation had proved draining, and Rabe died of a stroke in 1950.

It is only in recent years has John Rabe’s story become known and his contribution fully appreciated. In 1997, his tombstone was moved from Berlin to Nanjing where it was given a place of honour at the massacre memorial site. In 1998, his diaries were translated into English and published in US under the title, The Good Man of Nanking. Most of those who have written about Rabe draw a parallel with Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who protected Jews, in recognition of his courage and humanity in the face of cruelty.

For Rabe himself, the choice had been a simple one. In a diary entry dated 10 December 1937, he writes: “If you can do good, why hesitate?”

Chongqing hosts weekend of Jewish learning

chongqing

Prof Glenn Timmermans lectures to students and the origins and history of antisemitism: Chongqing, March 2016

Over the long weekend of 25-28 March 2016, Jerold Gotel from London, and Glenn Timmermans from the University of Macau, travelled to Sichuan International Studies University  (SISU) in Chongqing in China for an ICJS weekend of Jewish learning.

Chongqing is one of the four municipal cities in China (the others being Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin), i.e. cities that are not part of provinces and so are self governing.  It is also the largest of these, with a metropolitan population of over 33 million people!  Apart from its immense size and population, Chongqing is important in recent Chinese history as the capital city during WWII and after the fall of Nanjing to Japanese forces in December 1937.  Throughout the war it was extensively and continuously bombed; today it is a vast modern city with over one hundred universities and is the economic powerhouse of China’s western regions.

This weekend of Jewish learning was held mostly with students from the Department of English, within their Centre for Judaic and Israeli Studies, but was attended by students from a variety of departments and the turnout was impressive to say the least.  On the Sunday afternoon – the only day students have off – over 70 filled a lecture theatre to listen to Jerold Gotel on the origins of Jews and Judaism. This was the first of a two-part lecture – and on the afternoon of 28 March, he took the students into the rabbinic age and the rise of Islam, covering three thousand years in four hours. Student response was exhilarating, and on both occasions the Q&A session has to be curtailed as it could have gone on indefinitely.

Glenn Timmermans had intended to talk about Jews in the Modern Age but after hearing how many students wanted to know about the Holocaust, historic and contemporary animosity towards Jews, and the obsession with ideas of Jewish influence, he decided to give a lecture on the history of antisemitism instead. Over a 90-minute lecture he took the students through the long and grim history of anti Judaism, from the beginnings of Christianity up to the end of the nineteenth century. Again, there was not time enough to answer the many questions students had, but in this the lecture series was more than successful as it was a ‘taster’ for the planned summer programme at SISU, when ICJS will run a week-long seminar on Jewish History and the Holocaust over 10–16 July.

During their brief visit to SISU, Jerry and Glenn were hosted by Professor Fu Xiaowei, head of the Centre for Judaic and Israeli Studies, and who they met in 2012 during the annual Yad Vashem Seminar for Chinese Educators in Jerusalem.  Meetings and dinners were also held with the Vice-President of the University and the Dean of the Graduate School and plans laid for the forthcoming summer school, for which ICJS is now awaiting formal permission.

Throughout the three-and-half-days spent in Chongqing, Jerold and Glenn were with students at lunch, dinner and in between lectures; the learning was thus not confined to the lecture hall but was part of all interaction whether in taxi rides or over dinner or on walks around the campus.

SISU is a university where students go to learn a foreign language (over fourteen are offered) and classes are also offered in international relations and in business.  These are students who will go on to become school and university teachers but also many will look for careers in trade, government and journalism. It is to be hoped that their interest in and exposure to Jewish history will enrich their own future lives in whichever careers they eventually choose.

Looking ahead, the ICJS summer programme at SISU in July is aiming to attract students from other universities in Chongqing, from Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan Province, of which Chongqing was once a part, and also from Yunnan, the province immediately to the south west of Chongqing and Sichuan. Students from other parts of China will also be attending, as will teachers from various centres for Jewish studies in Nanjing, Zhengzhou, Kaifeng and Shandong. ICJS chair and trustee, Joanna Millan, will also be teaching on this programme.

Good friends for difficult times

Joanna and students

ICJS chair Joanna Millan, chatting with students: Kaifeng 2013

The International Centre for Jewish Studies (ICJS) was formed after the merger of the London Jewish Cultural Centre with JW3.  The LJCC had been organising many conferences in China over a number of years which have been a tremendous success.

So many students, from different parts of China, have benefited from the insightful lectures and workshops given by eminent international scholars in Jewish history and culture – not least because the experience deepened their understanding and tolerance is fundamental to peace and prosperity.

It was felt essential that this work continue. The Chinese are one of the greatest friends of the Jewish people and they have a high regard for their history, culture and their creative abilities. We need such good friends in these very difficult times, and the Chinese themselves realise that links with Jews and Israel is of great benefit to them.

It is our intention to reach a wider audience both in China and other countries and forge links with academics in those countries so that we can continually improve the quality and quantity of our conferences.

Dealing with trauma: China and the Jewish people

nanjing massacre

(c) People’s Daily Online. people.cn

In 1937, an episode of mass murder and mass rape was perpetrated against the residents of Nanjing in eastern China. The Nanjing Massacre occurred over six weeks from the 13 December 1937 – the day that the Japanese captured Nanjing.

During this period, soldiers of the Imperial Japanese army killed Chinese civilians and disarmed combatants numbering up to an estimated 300,000, as well as committing rape and looting on a wide scale. Several key perpetrators were subsequently tried and found guilty at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East and the Nanjing War Crimes Tribunal, and were executed.

For a number of years, Chinese teachers, academics and students have become increasingly interested in how the Jewish people have dealt with tragedy, given their own share of tragic events and national traumas.

The connections made between Chinese and Jewish suffering was given additional strength by increasing awareness within China of the role played by Shanghai authorities, who provided a refuge to tens of thousands of Jewish refugees during the Nazi persecutions.

Among the first to make these connections, was Professor Xu Xin, Professor of Jewish Studies at Nanjing University. In 1993, he held the first seminar at the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall and had already held seminars on the Nazi Holocaust.

More than 20 years later, the ICJS (and its forerunner the LJCC) has found that interest has spread across universities in China, with hundreds of teachers, academics and students eager to learn- and to understand better their own national suffering by viewing it through the lens of the sufferings of another people, who also lay claim to a long, long history.

Henan hosts Holocaust conference

henan 10 seminar

For almost 15 years, ICJS (and its forerunner, the LJCC) has worked closely with Henan University in Kaifeng to provide its students with seminars, conferences and workshops on Holocaust and genocide studies and Jewish history.

Here’s the report – published by Professor Zhang Qianhong, who at the time was director of the Institute of Jewish Studies at Henan University – of that very first conference, which took place in November 2003:

“Over the three days of November fifth to seventh, Jerold Gotel gave three lectures on the Holocaust and Judaism at Henan University, Kaifeng, China.

“In his lectures, Jerold Gotel defined the Holocaust, analysed Hitler’s war against Jews and the causes of the Holocaust. He enumerated many facts of Nazi crimes and described historians’ responses to ‘the Final Solution’. He also talked about Judaism and Jewish life, especially the relationship between Jewish religion and culture.

More than 700 students attended these excellent lectures. Many of them asked questions and had discussions with the lecturer.

The series of lectures was organized by Dr. Zhang Qianhong, director of the Institute of Jewish Studies at Henan University. The Institute was founded in 2001 in the ancient city of Kaifeng to promote the study of Judaism in China.

As the honorary professor of the institute, Jerold Gotel donated nearly 500 English books on Jewish topics to the Shalom Library, which was set up at the institute with the help of many oversea friends and organisations.”

 

 

China: ‘hunger for Jewish knowledge’

Jerry and aid Dr Rosenfeld

ICJS trustee Jerold Gotel, with the former aide to Dr Jacob Rosenfeld, surgeon general of the Chinese 4th root army – and one of two Jewish generals in the Chinese army during WWII

Bound for China, where he is running the latest seminar on Holocaust studies and Jewish history, ICJS trustee Jerold Gotel explains how the China education programme first got off the ground.

Gotel, who was previously director of the overseas division of the London Jewish Cultural Centre, explains: “My brief at the LJCC was to develop Holocaust education in Eastern Europe.”

“But at the same time as this was getting off the ground, in 2001, I was asked to lead a Holocaust education conference in Hong Kong. It turned into a tremendous success, and the following year I was invited by the academic Xu Xin, whom I had met in Hong Kong, to a conference he was running about the Jews of China – the history of Harbin, Shanghai and Kaifeng.”

Working with a group of programme directors and teachers at the LJCC, Gotel pioneered the first ever teaching programme on Jewish, Holocaust and genocide studies in China. Over the decade that followed, the LJCC team provided lectures and seminars at various top-tier Chinese universities, such as Kunming, Nanjing, Kaifeng, Xian and Shanghai, at the same time making teaching materials available for these and other Chinese universities.

They started up an annual week-long summer conference, run at various Chinese universities – which over the years has reached over 1,500 students and teachers from all over China. They also introduced British, Israeli, French, German and American lecturers to Chinese audiences through the support of the LJCC and the International Task Force and Claims Conference, now known as IHRA.

“I fell in love with China on that first trip,” recalls Gotel.

“I came back and started to read Chinese history, to study Mandarin at SOAS in London. Then one day, the penny dropped. We were teaching the Holocaust in places where there was still endemic antisemitism. But there had never been antisemitism in China. The Chinese don’t think that way. In China, I discovered a hunger for knowledge of matters Jewish, as well as for European history.”