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29 September 2020

Learning about Spiritual Resistance during the Holocaust

In his poignant recorded testimony, Pinchas Gutter discusses observing Yom Kippur in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942

Due to time constraints, religious observance during the Holocaust is all frequently not included in many Holocaust curricula. However, belief in tradition, seeking comfort, or simply trying to make sense of what was happening around often compelled Jews to observe religious practices. For us as learners, recorded oral histories or written memoirs can provide an important window into how some Jews responded to the oppression they endured.

Our In Their Own Words collection of curated oral history excerpts, includes this concise but poignant account by Pinchas Gutter. This recording was done in 1993 and since that time Pinchas has gone on to record a VR film titled The Last Goodbye as well as an interactive software program called Dimensions in Testimony, both by the USC Shoah Foundation. A compelling narrator of his experiences, Pinchas conveys both nuance and emotion in his accounts.

In the 2-minute excerpt featured in this post Pinchas relays a very specific memory of praying with his father during Yom Kippur of 1942 when his family were confine to the Warsaw ghetto. Detailed and profound, Pinchas shares this intimate memory of how he and has father sought some measure of solace by adhering to Jewish religious tradition. It is an important reminder of the act of spiritual resistance – to maintain one’s humanity and dignity in the face of immeasurable persecution and is an important part of learning about Jewish responses to Nazi persecution. This concise oral history excerpt is ideal for classroom use- introducing the topic of spiritual resistance to students while encouraging them to think deeply and critically about personal experiences in the Holocaust.

Memories in Focus — Second Story Press

To learn more about Pinchas’s experiences, you want to read his memoir Memories in Focus, published by the Azrieli Foundation in 2018.  In his concise, descriptive text, he shares his experiences in the Warsaw ghetto, the Majdanek killing centre and a series of other concentration camps that he experienced. Throughout it all, Pinchas personal memories in a detailed and moving account that will complement any study of the Holocaust. Combined with excerpts of Pinchas’s recorded oral history, students can approach the Holocaust through multiple sources and formats; encouraging a deeper learning experience

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Carson Phillips, Ph.D.

Written byCarson Phillips, Ph.D.

Carson Phillips holds a Ph.D. in Humanities from York University, Toronto, Canada and is Managing Director of the Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre. He served as a Canadian delegate to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and an editorial board member of PRISM- An Interdisciplinary Journal for Holocaust Educators. In addition, he is an adjunct faculty member in Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Gratz College, USA.

He is the recipient of numerous scholarly awards including the BMW Canada Award for Excellence from the Canadian Centre for German and European Studies. His research interests focus on post-Holocaust conceptualisations of gender, Väterliteratur and cultural representations of the Holocaust in screen and visual culture. His most recent publication is the book chapter “Post-Holocaust Conceptualizations of Masculinity in Austria”, in The Holocaust and Masculinities (2020,Bjorn Krondorfer and Ovidiu Creangă, editors)