On Warnock and Ossoff: Civil Rights History and Black-Jewish Relations

On the precipice of this historic election – Georgia’s 2020 senate runoff election – which saw both Georgia’s first Black Senator and first Jewish senator elected, it feels important to highlight the intertwined, complicated, and historic relationship between America’s Blacks and Jews. I began writing this on Wednesday, January 6th  – but stopped as terrorists targeted our Capitol building and congresspeople at work as they were meeting to certify the electoral college votes. Today, I want to finish writing this because even though the next thirteen days before inauguration will likely be tumultuous, we must look to the future. The runoff election from January 5th has great implications for the future and I want to highlight some of these here. 

A secondary historical passion of mine is Jewish involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. I used to believe that the extent of Jewish involvement was fairly well-known, but recent conversations with friends have proven otherwise. I feel that this historic relationship – that of American Jews and American Blacks – bears noting as both Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff united in a joint campaign to flip the United States Senate. 

My goal is to first present some basics about the relationship between American Blacks and Jews – introduce its origins, its pitfalls, its successes. I also want to highlight some specific individuals involved in the Civil Rights Movement that exemplify this relationship. But, I also want to note that this is not intended to serve as a full history. The goal is to provide a bit of an overview for those that may not know much about this. 

To put it simply – Jews were directly involved in the Civil Rights Movement, particularly in the era of the movement that took place in the 50s and 60s. In general, Jews of the mid-twentieth century witnessed the persecution and oppression of Blacks in America and immediately connected these experiences to their own history. Jews believe in their own history of enslavement and therefore related their own history to the experiences of bondage and suffering of Blacks under enslavement in America. At this time, Jews were also just a short generation removed from the Holocaust. They saw Jim Crow laws and policies as reminiscent of those under Nazi Germany. They remembered the time not long before when six million of their people were murdered in the Holocaust. Once again, in a very general sense, American Jews felt a direct connection between their own history of suffering and Blacks’ suffering in America. 

These feelings, these beliefs, led many Jews (particularly young Jews) to join civil rights organizations, such as SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee), CORE (Congress of Racial Equality), and SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference). It feels necessary to note that Jewish involvement in civil rights in the 50s and 60s was not new. Jews had been working with civil rights organizations for decades. The early years of the NAACP saw the participation of many Jewish leaders, most notably, brothers Joel and Arthur Spingarn who served as presidents of the NAACP in the 1930s and 1940s. Also interesting to note is Joel Spingarn’s remarkable relationship with W.E.B Du Bois. They were great friends and their letters to each other serve as a fascinating examples of a Black man and a Jewish man wrestling with civil rights issues in the early twentieth century. But, back to the Civil Rights Movement – to be clear, Jews were not often the majority of non-black participation in civil rights groups. But often Jews played critical roles in these organizations, especially as lawyers, and also as providers of financial support.

Arthur Spingarn. Library of Congress. <https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/naacp/founding-and-early-years.html>

They also played direct roles in boycotts, sit-ins, and investigations. Though most young Americans learn about Freedom Summer of 1964 in school and, more specifically, the murders of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner, very few know that both Goodman and Schwerner were Jewish. Many of the white people that participated in Freedom Summer were young Jews, who left their universities to participate in the fight for civil rights. To reiterate a well-known history, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael “Micky” Schwerner, were working for CORE – investigating the arson of a Freedom School in Mississippi when they were killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan. It is also important to note here that this story only gained nationwide attention because two of the three men were white. But they were also Jewish.

FBI’s Missing Poster from June 1964. Wikimedia Commons.

I also feel the need to mention one of the most prominent and visible Black-Jewish relationships of the Civil Rights Movement – that of Rabbi Abraham Heschel and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Rabbi Abraham Heschel was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1907. In 1938 while living in Germany he was arrested by the Gestapo and eventually deported to Poland. He stayed and worked in Poland for a few months until he was able to escape Poland just before the start of the Second World War. His family was destroyed in the Holocaust – one sister was killed in a German bombing, and his mother and two other sisters were killed in concentration camps. 

While living in America, Heschel became directly involved in the Civil Rights Movement. He first met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at a conference on Religion and Race in 1963. At this conference, Heschel spoke directly about race, claiming: “Racism is Satanism.” More of his speech utilized ancient Jewish history and biblical narrative to connect and separate Jewish and Black experiences: 

“At the first conference on religion and race, the main participants were Pharaoh and Moses…The outcome of that summit meeting has not come to an end. Pharaoh is not ready to capitulate. The exodus began, but is far from having been completed. In fact, it was easier for the children of Israel to cross the Red Sea than for a Negro to cross certain university campuses.” 

In the summer of 1963, Heschel was invited to the White House, along with other civil rights leaders, for a meeting with President Kennedy, in the hopes they would stop planning the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Rabbi Heschel responded with the following in a telegram to President Kennedy:

“Please demand of religious leaders personal involvement not just solemn declaration. We forfeit right to worship God as long as we continue to humiliate Negroes. Church synagogue have failed, they must repent. Ask of religious leaders to call for national repentance and personal sacrifice. Let religious leaders donate one month’s salary toward fund for Negro housing and education. I propose that you Mr. President declare state of moral emergency…The hour calls for moral grandeur and spiritual audacity.” 

The president did not heed these calls. As we know from popular history, the next few years only saw further violence and oppression of Blacks in the United States. A few days prior to the Selma march, Dr. King invited Rabbi Heschel to join the marchers. He walked in the front row alongside other civil rights leaders. Heschel wrote much about this experience, but one line that has always stood out to me was his statement: “I felt my legs were praying.” 

Selma March. Rabbi Heschel stands second from the right in this image. Jewish Women’s Archive.

Rabbi Heschel and Dr. King would also stand together to protest the Vietnam War shortly before Dr. King’s assassination. The relationship between these men showcased the unique relationship that many Blacks and Jews maintained in this era. It is also important to note that this example is not indicative of all Black-Jewish relationships of the Civil Rights Movement. Indeed, Jewish involvement created much antagonism between these two groups. 

As Jews became more involved in foundational civil rights organizations, many Blacks began to question their role in the movement: weren’t these Jews privileged members of white American society? They questioned Jewish claims to understanding Black struggle. Some Blacks also felt that the Civil Rights Movement, the gaining of equal rights in American society, was their battle to win on their own – what would it mean to accomplish this under Jewish leadership and involvement? These questions were part of the shift in Black organizations towards ideas of Black Power and self-determination. 

These questions, this discomfort with Jewish involvement in the movement, did lead to fractures in this relationship. Even more fractures developed due to American Jews’ relationship with Israel, especially after the Six-Day War in 1967. Many Black Americans began to identify with Palestinians and saw Jews, particularly Zionists, as colonial racists. 

These fractures in this relationship had real consequences for the future. Though the separations between these groups were based on real differences in experience, privilege, and standing in American society, they led to some resentment by Jews who had given much effort to the movement and felt cast aside. It also led to distrust within the Black community of Jews that would last for decades. I find it important to note that antisemitism was also a factor in this conflict between Blacks and Jews in the Civil Rights Movement. 

For all of these reasons, Warnock’s and Ossoff’s wins the other day are even more significant. Yes, they will be the “firsts” – the first Black and Jewish senators representing the state of Georgia. But they also ran a joint campaign – something reminiscent of Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel linking arms at protests. Their win is also reminiscent of the Blacks and Jews that worked together in Freedom Summer. For these reasons, their win is incredibly significant. 

Reverand Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. Michael Holahan, AP. <https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/politics/2021/01/06/democrat-jon-ossoff-wins-election-us-senate-georgia/115264346/ >

But this win also makes me hesitant in a few ways. First, it is not enough for us (white people, I’m speaking to you here) to cheer on this win, when we were not responsible for this. We need to demand more from our leaders to fix problems in this country, especially surrounding racial inequalities. I am also concerned about a rise in antisemitism that will inevitably come from Ossoff’s role as Senator.

In general, I feel incredibly hopeful, especially about the future of the American South, after Warnock’s and Ossoff’s wins. But I am also worried about the future of the relationship between Blacks and Jews in this country. My hope is that we can work together to fix the very serious issues ongoing in the United States. But the unity of Blacks and Jews in the past has historically led to even deeper divisions. From here, white Jews must be critical of their complex position in our country – we remain both privileged members of society and targets of hatred. We must be willing to use our history of suffering to support those currently suffering, not obscure their experiences or realities. It is also necessary for us to use the privilege we have – both economic and social – to directly aid our BIPOC communities. 

My hope is that Georgia’s runoff election on Tuesday will bring Jews and Blacks together in a productive way. Celebrate now, it is important to feel hope (especially now) – but it is not enough to only celebrate. We need to demand more of our leaders. We need to restore the parts of this relationship that have worked in the past and actively analyze those that have not benefitted both communities. 

For more reading on this topic:

Jewish Women’s Archive: “Tensions in Black-Jewish Relations”

Susannah Heschel, “Two Friends, Two Prophets.”

SNCC Digital Gateway – For documents and images from SNCC’s history.

Harrison-Kahan, Lori. “Scholars and Knights: W. E. B. Du Bois, J. E. Spingarn, and the NAACP.” Jewish Social Studies18, no. 1 (2011): 63-87. doi:10.2979/jewisocistud.18.1.63.

Greenberg, Cheryl. Troubling the Waters: Black-Jewish Relations in the American Century. Princeton, 2006.

Back to Business

I started this blog as a requirement for the Graduate Certificate program I began in 2016. The program itself lasted around two years, during which time, we were required to regularly post on various subjects relating to the digital humanities. Up until this post, all of the posts on this blog were directly related to this program: responses to readings, analysis of projects, and reviews of an internship. Since the end of that program, I have not used the blog, but I decided to keep the domain name, blog, and other sites associated to it, in case I found new use for it in the future.

However, I believe I have found a new use for this blog! I will soon be starting a Ph.D. program in history at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. A part of my first year at the school will also include a fellowship in Digital Humanities through UNC-Chapel Hill’s Digital Humanities Launch program. My hope is that I can use this blog from here on out as a means of sharing current and ongoing research, showcase goings-on at UNC’s Digital Humanities, and maybe other reflections on topics like being a Ph.D. student and current events.

If you come across this page, I hope it can bring you a sense of what types of historical work can be done using the digital world, as well as any other insight into History Ph.D. programs.

Final Blog Post

It has been around nine months since I began my internship with the Smithsonian. It’s hard to believe that it’s almost over!

Overall, this was the perfect internship for me. While I don’t necessarily believe that this internship taught me much about Digital Humanities, it was a great opportunity to work with an organization like the Smithsonian on such an important project.

The mission of the  Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative is to “protect cultural heritage threatened or impacted by disasters and to help U.S. and international communities preserve their identities and history” (SCRI Website). A goal of the group is to collect information on museums from around the world. Ultimately, this data would be used to create a global list of all museums in the world. With this list, any site at risk of destruction would have a better chance to be saved. Once this list had been compiled, the idea was to create a map of all of these sites for public use. It would be the first time a list of all museums from the entire world had been created.

The SCRI has been working on compiling this list for only a couple of years. So far, the SCRI has compiled museum and cultural heritage data on around eighty-one countries. Not all of the datasets for these countries have been completed, but various interns have been working on the data.

The George Mason interns first worked on Caribbean datasets, since the many hurricanes from last summer/fall had done much destruction to this region. Organizations tasked with aiding in hurricane recovery needed information on the museums of the Caribbean as quickly as possible. Then, in the second semester of this internship, we were each assigned the dataset of a country of our choice. I received the Poland dataset, which was around eighty percent complete at that moment.

To complete the dataset, we needed to fill in the following information about each museum or cultural heritage site: longitude and latitude, whether the site is known locally, nationally, or internationally, whether the site is affiliated with the state, whether the site had a military function, as well as a description of the site. To compile this information, I had to do a lot of internet searches. All of the searching meant that, in the end, I really had learned a lot about the sites we were researching.

I am happy to have been able to work on this internship. I feel proud to have worked with the SCRI, to have worked on a project like this. Even before this internship, I had a strong passion for cultural heritage. With this internship, I could learn more about organizations that are working to save cultural heritage around the world, while learning about museums in various countries.

Towards the end of the internship, we were tasked with finding a way to map all of the data that had been collected up until that point. As a group, we tried to find the best platform for such a map. It was decided that we would use Google Fusion Tables for the map. Before this, I had never used Google Fusion Tables, so it was a good experience for me to be able to experiment with this program. We ran into some issues with the program, and ultimately I’m not sure if it was the best program to use. I was glad that I had some previous mapping experience from the GMU Digital Public Humanities program. This previous knowledge helped me figure out this new website and work through the issues that I had run into along the way. Ultimately, we were able to map all of the sites and figure out some ways to manipulate the program to function better for us. In this way, I did gain some digital humanities experience in using a new-to-me program and working with others to map this data.

In the end, this really was the perfect internship for me. Concurrently with the internship, I was working on finishing up my Masters degree. This internship’s style and type of work was therefore perfect for the hectic nature of my life this past year. Not only was it a virtual internship, so I could work on it on my own time, but it was very peaceful, tedious work. I do wish that they had given us more time to work on the map portion of the project. Despite that, it was still a very enjoyable internship and I feel as though I learned a lot about the Smithsonian’s work around the world.



Last Month with the SCRI

Up until this point in the semester, the George Mason interns have been working on the individual countries we had been assigned in January. I have been working on the Polish dataset, which has been really exciting for me since I have a personal and academic interest in Poland and Polish cultural heritage.

When I first received the Poland dataset, it seemed to be about eighty percent complete. However, after comparing the museums listed on the Polish dataset to the museums in the book, “1,000 Museums of Poland,” I realized that many of the museums in the book were not included in the dataset. The first edit I made of the dataset was to put the entries into alphabetical order. This made it so the museums were listed alphabetically by town name, which would allow me to discover which museums were missing from the original dataset.

Starting from the “A’s,” I began comparing the museums in the “1,000 Museums of Poland” book to the museums on the dataset. Though I haven’t kept track of how many museums I’ve added along the way, it has been a substantial amount. This process has also allowed me to find duplicates that were in the original spreadsheet. In this way, I’ve been able to streamline the dataset and make it more accurate.  I am nowhere near finishing the Poland dataset. I have made it halfway through the alphabet in comparing the dataset to the museums in the book, while also completing entries that had previously been left blank.

With only one month left of this internship, the George Mason interns have been given one final assignment. A main goal of the SCRI is to find a way to share the information they’ve gathered on museums around the world. The leaders of the SCRI have imagined this as a map. Knowing that we have learned skills in the digital humanities, they have asked the George Mason interns for help in determining the best mapping program to use for this project.

As a group, we did some basic internet searches on programs that we have either used in the past, or know could potentially be used for this project. Together, we put various information on these programs into a Google Sheet so we could get an accurate image on which program would work best for us. Ultimately, the group concluded that Google Fusion Tables would be a good option, probably the best for our use.

This program is new to me. So far, I’ve tried messing with the program to see how it works before we figure out the best way to start importing data. I have a spreadsheet that I’ve used for a previous mapping project that I imported into Google Fusion Tables as a test. It worked quickly and easily. So now, the next step is to figure out the best way to go about importing the data. There are still some aspects of the program that we need to figure out. But hopefully, soon, we’ll have a map of the SCRI data.

Internship Update #5: Poland

Now that we have finished working on the Caribbean database, we have been given the opportunity to work on the museum database of a region of our choice. Since my research has been focused on Polish history, I asked to work on Poland’s dataset or any other dataset from Eastern Europe. I was given the Poland database to clean up and finish. When I first received the database, it was around eighty percent complete. An intern, I believe from the summer of 2017, had already worked on Poland’s dataset and had completed much of it. Now, my task is to clean up the work has been done previously, and finish cataloguing the remaining museums.

This has been really wonderful so far, as I have such an interest in Polish history. I have been to many of the museums in this database, which makes writing about these museums much easier. I  also get to learn about other museums in a country that I have been to many times. As I’m planning a trip there this summer, I am keeping track of some museums in this dataset that I might want to visit!

Some of the staff of the SCRI suggested I purchase a book called 1,000 Museums of Poland to help with working on the dataset. When first going through the book, I noticed a few museums in this book that were not previously included in the Poland dataset. I double-checked the internet, to make sure these museums were still open, and then added them to the dataset.

One of these was of particular interest to me because it’s a museum I have been to and is an incredibly important museum in Poland. The Bełżec Memorial Site and Museum is the site of the Bełżec extermination camp from World War II. Besides containing a large memorial to Holocaust victims, the site also contains an excellent and informational museum. On my most recent trip to Poland I got to visit this site and explore the museum.  It was one of the most incredible places I visited on that trip. I’m glad I recognized that this site was not on the Poland database yet. While all the museums on this list are important, Bełżec Memorial Site and Museum is internationally-known and recognized.

Because I have noticed that there are some museums missing from the dataset, I have decided to go alphabetically by town and try to catch any other missing sites. So far I have caught about twenty museums that were not previously on the dataset. It has slowed my progress a bit, but now I can be more confident that the dataset is as complete as possible.


Internship Update #4: Spring Semester

I recently began the second semester of my internship with the Smithsonian’s Conflict Culture Research Network. Last semester, the George Mason interns worked on archiving museums and cultural repositories in the Caribbean. This project was particularly important at the time due to the multiple major hurricanes that hit the Caribbean around last September. The CCRN had no information on Caribbean museums cataloged, so this region was designated as a priority. I worked on cataloguing museums in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Our work on the Caribbean finished up in December.

Starting in January, the GMU interns began working on finalizing lists from other countries around the world that are not finished yet. I specifically asked to work on the Poland list because my research focuses on Polish history. I am very grateful to be able to work on this list and am thankful to the Smithsonian staff for allowing me the opportunity to work with data that interests me.

When I first received the Poland list, about eighty percent of the list had already been mostly completed. However, it was difficult to work on the rest of the list because the list was in no specific order. This became an issue for me when I started to work on one museum but had difficulty finding it on Google. I wanted to look at the other museums listed in that same town to help distinguish which specific museum I was looking for on Google. However, it was really difficult to find the other sites because the list was in no order. Because of this, I reorganized the list so it would be alphabetical by town name. In this way, I can view all the museums in the same town easily which can make discovering other museum sites much simpler.

This work is slightly different than the work we were doing last semester. Last semester, we had small lists of sites in the regions we were assigned. It was then up to us to discover all the information we could on them and also find other museums that were not already on the list. This semester, we are working primarily on finalizing museum lists. The lists we are working on are nearly finished, it is just up to us to finish them.

I am not sure yet what we will be assigned after we have finished these sites. The Smithsonian wants to create a digital platform for the data we are compiling and we talked at one point about helping them think of the best way to share this information. Hopefully we will get to work on that component of the project. It would be exciting to help them establish this data on a digital site.

This internship was the perfect experience for me. I am still working on my master’s degree which takes most of my time. Working on the spreadsheets can be calming, especially when compared with my work for school. I also find this internship interesting, as I love museums and cultural heritage. Finally, I enjoy working on a project that resonates with me, as some of my research focuses on the preservation of material culture and memory.

Internship Update #3

As of now, I have been working on the SCRI’s Culture Conflict project for nearly three months. Not much has changed since my last post, so I will briefly go over what I’ve done since and where our projects will go from here on out.

Since the beginning of the internship, I had been tasked with compiling a list of museums that are located in Puerto Rice and the US Virgin Islands. It was not always easy finding these museums. For Puerto Rico in particular, the sheer amount of museums in this small island was somewhat overwhelming. Adding to that, the lack of power that Puerto Rico is STILL experiencing due to the hurricanes that hit months prior, it was difficult to find information on museums as their internet servers were down.

In the end, I was unable to fully complete the Puerto Rico dataset. The last remaining areas that need to be completed are the descriptions of the museums, which I had trouble finding due to websites not working. But I checked with our internship coordinators and they were satisfied with the progress and understood that there would be issues because of Puerto Ricos’s lack of power.

The US Virgin Island list was easier to complete. For the most part, I didn’t run into the same server issues as I did with Puerto Rico. Though it was more difficult to distinguish between museums that were real cultural heritage institutions versus those that were made for tourists, I was able to track down and record information on around thirty museums in the US Virgin Islands.

Since we have hit a stopping point with the Caribbean museum lists, the GMU interns will be starting work on different museum sets in the next few weeks. I am excited to start working on the Polish museum list, as this is the country that I spend most of my time researching.

A future component of this project will be a discussion about how to create a digital space for the cultural heritage repository lists. Though our coordinators have mentioned that this is an end goal for our internships, we have not had much of a chance to discuss this yet. It will most likely be a project for the next semester. I am looking forward to these discussions. It will be interesting to see how we can use our digital humanities skills to help the Smithsonian with this project.

Two Months into Virtual Internship

It’s hard to believe that it has already been two months of working on the SCRI project. For two months now, I have been working on cataloging and documenting museums and cultural repositories in the Caribbean.

To reiterate, the general goal of the SCRI project is to create a list that includes all cultural heritage sites in the world so that in case of some form of disaster, people would be aware of what cultural repository sites exist in that region so that they could help save the cultural heritage within them. The George Mason interns (there are now four of us) started out tasked with documenting sites in the Caribbean. But when multiple large hurricanes hit the Caribbean, our task became amplified. We suddenly needed to work as hard as possible to immediately document the museums in the Caribbean. Our work would potentially help FEMA and other agencies determine where to send help.

I have been working specifically on discovering and documenting museums in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI). So far, I have documented 133 sites in Puerto Rico and 29 sites in the USVI. There has been some difficulty in documenting and recording information about these sites that were unforeseen. The main issue I have run into is the fact that many servers in Puerto Rico and the USVI are down due to the loss of power that is still ongoing after Hurricane Maria. It seems that the longer the power is out, the more servers go down and therefore the more difficult it has become to find information on these sites. Of course, this problem seems minute when considering that power loss is still impacting over fifty percent of Puerto Rico. Much of this work has been humbling to say the least.

This next week will probably be my last week working on the Puerto Rico and USVI datasets. I will be finishing up the spreadsheets, working on finalizing the description sections and general “cleaning up” of the data. After this, the George Mason interns will be tasked with other countries. Because of my research interests in Poland and Eastern Europe, I have been told that I will start there. I am very excited to work on these lists, as so much of my studies and research are focused on these regions.

We have also been told in a recent conference call, that next semester’s work will be more focused on how to create a digital site that will incorporate all of the cultural repository data. This will probably be a very difficult task, but I look forward to the conversations and work that will go into it.

Beginning of DPH Internship

For the next two semesters, I will be interning with the Smithsonian Institution, specifically through their Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative. While this group is multi-facetated, I will be working on one of their projects in particular, the Conflict Culture Research Network. To sum it up as briefly as possible, the goal of this project is to document all of the cultural heritage sites throughout the world. Currently, no single list exists that compiles such sites. Our efforts will work to fix this. With such a list, we would be able to better locate sites of cultural heritage in events such as hurricanes, earthquakes, flooding, or even human destructions to sites were to occur. In these cases, a list of sites within a damaged nation, would help us assist these sites and save whatever culture heritage we could.

As our work with the Smithsonian began, the US and Caribbean got hit with three major hurricanes within a week. Suddenly, our project became imperative. The three George Mason interns were told to immediately focus on documenting museums in the Caribbean. As we got to work on this, I was tasked with focusing solely on Puerto Rico, as so much damage occurred to this island with Hurricane Maria.

My main project, currently, is to work on a spreadsheet that contains a list of museums in Puerto Rico. We need to record their latitude and longitude, along with other information about their cultural affiliations and holdings. While working on this spreadsheet, we received a spreadsheet from FEMA, listing the museums they believe exist in Puerto Rico. I was then tasked with comparing our list with theirs, and adding any sites that were missing from the FEMA list. This is the most recent task in the project that I have been working on.

So far, I am enjoying this internship. It is important work that has a very clear purpose, especially now with the recent massive hurricanes hitting the US and Caribbean. I also enjoy the simplicity of the task, though that doesn’t mean it is easy. Sometimes it is incredibly difficult to discern aspects of the museums, which museum is which, and also specificities of the museums. This is especially true for the smaller, local museums.

I also feel very connected to the Smithsonian, even as a “virtual intern.” I was able to go to the Smithsonian for our initial meeting and meet some of the people working on this initiative. I may also get the chance to go into the Smithsonian more often later on in the semester.

I am very excited to continue working on this project and delve deeper into other components of the project.

Final Project: Mapping the Remembrance of Jewish Cemeteries in Poland

I first visited Poland during the summer of 2012. The trip was a chance for my mother and I to discover our Polish roots and to find answers to some of our genealogical questions. It was a brief stay, but in the short time we were there I became fascinated with the interactions between Polish and Jewish culture and the way Poles seemed to remember the Jewish past.

Over the course of my undergraduate classes in history and anthropology, I became more and more interested in this topic. I visited Poland once again during the summer of 2015 through a study tour with a memory organization in Lublin, Poland called Brama Grodzka – NN Theatre Centre. This study tour brought me to many incredible places and raised even more questions for me. I returned to college, desperate to find more answers.

My senior thesis focused on the remembrance of Jewish material culture in Poland. I specifically focused on Jewish cemeteries and mezuzah impressions (the marks left on the doorposts from the removal of mezuzot). In order to try to answer questions about memory in Poland, I analyzed the data of over one-thousand Jewish cemeteries in Poland. This data was found through Virtual Shtetl, a group that collects information on Jewish sites in Poland, the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland (FODZ), a group that works to preserve important physical sites of Jewish history and culture in Poland, and from my own travels throughout Poland. One goal of this project was to map the Jewish cemeteries on which I had collected data. In the end, I ran out of time to complete this part of the project.

Through research and examination of the material culture, I made a few conclusions about the memory of Jewish sites and objects in Poland. First, it is possible that “separate memories” of the past exist in the minds of the Polish people. An anthropologist completed a study of one small Polish town and through her interviews she discovered that the Poles in this town see the Polish history of the town and the Jewish history of the town as two separate histories. This anthropologist also suggests that the Jewish history is remembered by Poles as an almost fairytale-like story rather than actual history. I expanded upon this notion in my thesis by arguing that the “separate memories” notion could be the reason why some Jewish sites in Poland are being neglected and forgotten. (For more on this project, see: Wloszycka, Malgorzata. “Neglected Memory: The Recollection of Jews Among Poles. A Case Study of a Town in Southern Poland.” European Judaism 44 (2011): 81-90. Doi: 10.3167/ej.2011.44.02.06)

Specifically for cemeteries, I argue that there still exists a passive memory of these sites in Poles. But many Jewish cemeteries have been destroyed, left neglected, and do not have any forms of active remembrance (i.e., signs, information boards, fencing, cleaning, dedication ceremonies, memorials, etc.). Why is this the case? Why are some places/sites remembered while others are not? Through the “separate memories” theory, people that see Jewish history as separate from their own history will be less likely to act on remembering Jewish sites.

Jewish cemeteries in Poland are actively remembered and actively neglected in many ways. Through my research I established five categories of remembrance for Jewish cemeteries in Poland:

  • Absent (where there are no physical remnants of the cemetery above the surface and the cemetery has not been actively remembered in any way). This category indicates a lack of remembrance towards these site. In my thesis, I argued that the lack of physical markers on these sites might contribute to why there has been no acts of remembrance.

Czerwinsk nad Wisla New Jewish Cemetery Source: Virtual Shtetl

  • Neglected (where cemeteries have physical remnants above ground and have been neglected or destroyed. Many of these sites are overgrown, left in a state of disrepair, or destroyed.) This category also indicates a lack of remembrance. For me, this category is very intriguing. Even though physical remnants of these cemeteries remain, the lack of remembrance signifies that it is not the physical remnants that indicate whether a site will be actively remembered.

Szczebrzeszyn Jewish Cemetery Source: ACurry 2015

  • Altered (where cemeteries have been altered in some way and are no longer used as cemeteries. These sites include cemeteries that have been turned into parks, schools, housing developments, government buildings, playgrounds, gas stations, etc.) These sites now function in completely different ways than their original purpose. This category indicates neither remembrance nor neglect/ignorance. It seems to be a mix of both. While it seems some memory of these sites remain, as many of these sites have memorials to the Jewish cemeteries, this category overall indicates an ability for Poles and Polish society to overlook the Jewish history present in order to function within their own society.

Jozefow nad Wisla Jewish Cemetery Source: Virtual Shtetl. Site is used as a garbage dump today.

  • Memorial (where the only form of remembrance to the cemetery is through a monument or memorial.) This category usually indicates remembrance, where the memorial present identifies the site as being the location of a Jewish cemetery. It is often the case that though there are memorials at these sites, the memorials might mark a completely different event and disregard the Jewish cemetery present. In the site pictured below, the memorial contains plaques commemorating those that died during the war, but is not specific to Jews or to the Jewish cemetery present. The plaques are written in four different languages, including Hebrew. So while these sites mainly reflect remembrance, they also reflect a lack of memory.

Goleniow Jewish Cemetery Source: Virtual Shtetl

  • Remembered (where there exist multiple forms of active remembrance to the cemetery. This can include: cleaning, fencing, memorials/monuments, on-site tours, dedication ceremonies, etc.) These sites indicate remembrance, and often remembrance in multiple ways. In my thesis, I analyzed how these sites are being remembered and who is remembering them. For the most part, these sites are being remembered by Jewish organizations, or Jewish groups that have a connection to the site. Despite remembrance efforts being led by Jewish groups, there are many examples of Poles leading remembrance activities as well. This indicates that some Poles understand, view, and remember this history in a way that makes them feel responsible for it in some manner.

Milejczyce Jewish Cemetery Source: Virtual Shtetl

This class, Introduction to Digital Public Humanities, has given me the opportunity to map the Jewish cemeteries in Poland. The goal of mapping these cemeteries is to understand if there is a spatial reason for the remembrance or neglect of Jewish cemeteries in Poland. Through my senior thesis, I was able to understand the social, anthropological, and psychological reasons behind the remembrance of Jewish cemeteries in Poland. But my analysis lacked a geographical perspective…until now! Thanks to CartoDB, I was able to map data that I have been collecting for over a year.

This link will take you to the interactive version of my general remembrance map. This map is a color-coded map of all of the Jewish cemeteries in Poland that I found data on. The sites are color-coded based on the remembrance of the site. In all, I have mapped 1,124 Jewish cemeteries in Poland. The majority of the sites are actively remembered in some way, but as you can see from the map, there are also many sites that have not been remembered.

Here is another interesting image from the general map of the cemeteries:

This is a heat-density map. It shows where most of the Jewish cemeteries in Poland are located (the red areas) and where there is a lesser density of Jewish cemeteries in Poland (the blue/green areas). This map shows that most of the Jewish cemeteries are centered around southeastern Poland. Though there were Jewish settlements throughout all of Poland, most Jews lived in this southeastern region of Poland. (We also have to remember that the boundaries of Poland changed many times throughout the last one thousand years. But this project is using the modern map of Poland to understand the past). In this way, it makes sense that most of the Jewish cemeteries would be located in this southeastern region of Poland.

Before digging into the remembrance data, I also want to post a time-lapse map of the establishment dates for these cemeteries. The establishment of cemeteries often denotes the establishment of Jewish populations in a specific town or village. This map, though it shows the range of establishment of the cemeteries, also thereby shows the establishment and spread of Jewish communities in Poland.

This first image shows the first step in the time-lapse map. Here we can see one of the first established cemeteries in Poland, the Wroclaw Medieval Jewish Cemetery, established around 1190. From the year 1200 on, we can witness through the time-lapse map the expansion of Jewish communities in Poland.

By 1300, a few more Jewish cemeteries had been established. We can see that there is a cluster of these early cemeteries in western Poland and cluster in eastern/central Poland. This shows the expansion further into Poland, from the west towards central Poland, which would only continue in the coming centuries.

By 1400 C.E., we finally see the expansion into southern Poland and into eastern Poland. The Warsaw Medieval Jewish Cemetery was one of the cemeteries established by 1400, signaling the beginning of a town that would become a center of Jewish life in Poland.

The explosion of Jewish life in Poland would not begin until around 1600 C.E. By this time, Jewish life, specifically in southeastern Poland began to expand fairly rapidly. This image from the time-lapse map further shows the expansion of Jewish communities in Poland, showing that many communities settled in the southeastern region.

The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were the climax of Jewish expansion in Poland. By 1800 C.E., there are more Jewish cemeteries throughout the entirety of Poland. We also see the first cemeteries in northern Poland during this time.

This image of the time-lapse map shows the Jewish cemeteries present by 1940. This map is fairly precise to the first Remembrance map, as most of the Jewish communities in Poland were destroyed during and after WWII. Very few cemeteries were established post-war, but there were a few. Overall, the time-lapse map is a great way to visualize and portray the settlement of Jewish life in Poland over the last eight hundred years. By viewing this map in motion, we can almost witness the expansion of Jewish communities as it happened.

Back to the remembrance of Jewish cemeteries. I broke down this map into five different maps, one for each category of remembrance.

When I first went through and separated these maps, I couldn’t find many differences between them. For the most part, many of these maps resemble the initial map: it seems most of the sites are in southern Poland, which was true for the initial map showing all of the Jewish cemeteries in Poland. So I decided to look at heat maps instead, to see if those would show more than the regular “dot” maps do.

Sure enough, this type of map was a great way of portraying the remembrance of Jewish cemeteries in Poland. I started again with the Absent category, which includes any cemetery that is not being actively remembered in any way. This map looks very different from initial map of the Absent cemeteries. Here, the Lublin region and a region near Wroclaw are highlighted as the areas with the least amount of remembrance. Also important to note is the absence of sites in the very southern portion of the country and in the regions surrounding Krakow.

The heat map of the neglected cemeteries in Poland shows concentrated regions of neglect in eastern Poland, southern Poland, southwestern Poland, and northwestern Poland. North-central Poland is conspicuously lacking neglected cemeteries.

Cemeteries that have undergone a change in identity have some interesting hot-spots in the heat map. Regions highlighted in this map include Bialystok, Lublin, Rzeszow, and an area outside Lodz. The majority of the Altered Category cemeteries are in the eastern/southeastern part of the country.

Though these maps are all different, many of the concentrated areas of cemeteries reside in southern Poland, where most of the Jewish cemeteries in Poland are located. However, these maps do show slight difference. The map of the neglected cemeteries shows a very concentrated regions of cemeteries northwest of Krakow and other less concentrated regions in central Poland and around Lublin.

Finally, the map of the remembered cemeteries shows intense concentrations of cemeteries in southern and central Poland. The cemeteries that have been actively remembered are centered around Krakow, Warsaw, Lodz, and the very southeastern tip of Poland. This patterning is understandable: Warsaw, Krakow and Lodz are some of the largest towns in Poland, places that still have Jewish communities to this day. It is likely that the remembrance of Jewish cemeteries in this region is due to the Jewish communities and organizations present in these towns.

Conclusions and Final Thoughts:

Mapping the Jewish cemeteries in Poland based on their remembrance did not highlight much new about the remembrance of Jewish cemeteries in Poland. Many of my initial conclusions about how Jewish cemeteries are remembered in Poland are supported by these maps. The cemeteries that are remembered seem to be located near some of the larger cities in Poland, where modern-day Jewish communities are centered, and in southeastern Poland where Jewish life in Poland was centered. It is these Jewish communities and organizations that are completing much of the memory work on these cemeteries.

This project did aide in helping me to visualize the data that I have been collecting. I can now see how heavily saturated the southern area of Poland is with Jewish cemeteries. I could also use the time-lapse feature in CartoDB to visualize the spread of Jewish civilization in Poland throughout the past one-thousand years.

CartoDB was a great tool to use for this project. The most complicated part of the project was editing my spreadsheet to work with CartoDB because my spreadsheet contained so much data. Despite this, working with CartoDB was simple and user-friendly. From the minute I connected my spreadsheet, CartoDB recognized my categories and my data. The work on my end from there on out was very little.

I think CartoDB, though it is a fantastic and simple mapping tool, could expand its possibilities in a few ways. First, I would love if there were a feature to add photos to the data in the maps. As my project was focused on material culture, being able to add pictures to the maps would enhance viewer interaction with the maps. Next, there were certain aspects of working within CartoDB that were repetitive. In order to alter or change a map, you need to re-publish the map to change the features. Even though I was working with much of the same data, I needed to publish six different maps just to show various aspects of the analysis or to change the text overlays.

Overall, this process was fairly straightforward and simple. If I were to continue this project, I would spend more time working with Carto’s various mapping tools. I focused here on the categories tool and the heat map tool, but  better tools to use to understand this data might exist within CartoDB. I would also take some time to overlay certain data in order to better understand how this data interacts. It would be interesting to spend some time with the heat map of remembered cemeteries and overlay “dot” data from the absent and neglected ceremonies to see if there is any overlap. This might help to more deeply understand my data. I hope to work with CartoDB more in the future and gain a better understanding of how this program works.

I will leave this project with a quote from Polish journalist Anna Bikont on the memory of a small town in Poland:

“Polish truth. Jewish truth. It’s obvious to many residents that there are two separate truths here.”

(Bikont, Anna. The Crime and the Silence: Confronting the Massacre of Jews in Wartime Jedwabne. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015. pg 140).