By Dara Bramson, Manager of Programs Abroad & 2010 AJC Fellow
January 27 is UN International Holocaust Remembrance Day, held on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in 1945. Institutions and individuals around the globe commemorate this day annually with ceremonies, special exhibitions, and public programs. In Oświęcim this year, AJC staff visited the Jewish cemetery with high school students from Katowice. Since I was an Auschwitz Jewish Center Fellow in 2010 and became a staff member in 2011, I have made a point to partake in commemorative events each year, which have recently included ceremonies at the Museum of Jewish Heritage and at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Museum. This year, I was honored to have the opportunity to speak at the Documentation Center of Cambodia in Phnom Penh (DC-Cam) on January 27.
I first visited DC-Cam in 2014 while studying peace and conflict in Thailand as a Rotary Peace Fellow. My conversations with their staff quickly blossomed into reciprocal interest in each other’s work; despite geographical differences, we recognized common elements in our shared histories that we could each learn from. I was invited to speak in a classroom at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21), where visitors to the former high school-turned-prison tour the haunting site’s empty rooms, some filled with images, artifacts, and testimony. The site is encircled by bustling city streets; the mugshots of prisoners reminded me of those in Auschwitz. At that site, I couldn’t help but reflect on my experience as an educator in Poland, and how concepts of space and place affect communities recovering from the past.
In honor of the commemoration, I spoke at DC-Cam about our work at the Auschwitz Jewish Center and Museum of Jewish Heritage, and important initiatives and concepts related to memory and reconciliation in Poland. I posed questions that arose for me throughout my visit to historic sites and the city itself. These questions were not unlike those I continue to examine in Poland. The event closed with an engaging discussion focused on personal histories, the importance of learning about genocide in a broad context, and developing empowering ideas that can lead to a sense of cross-cultural solidarity.
Dara Bramson is the Auschwitz Jewish Center’s Manager of Programs Abroad. Since 2011, she has organized the Program for Students Abroad and Customized Programs throughout the year. In 2010, she was an AJC Fellow and Lipper Intern at the Museum of Jewish Heritage.