Lea Ganor

In 2020, she was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Order of the Merit of the Republic of Poland by the President of Poland. The order is granted to foreigners or Poles residing abroad who have made outstanding contributions to fostering relationships between Poland and other countries.

Lea Ganor is a social historian and the founder and director of MASHMAUT Centre in Kiryat Motzkin. Its name is an acronym in Hebrew and stands for the words: Heritage, Holocaust, Tradition, Values and Rebirth of the state of Israel. The centre organises various events and educational programs: study visits, student exchanges or partnerships between cities. Its aim is to preserve the memory of the Holocaust by engaging survivors, younger generations of Israelis and foreign partners, in particular from Poland. Lea is continuously developing Polish-Israeli projects, inspiring dialog and cooperation between these two nations. She is also a senior scholar and coordinator of Poland Forum at the Finkler Institute of Holocaust Research at Bar-Ilan University. Her main areas of expertise are the Holocaust, Israeli society, Israel Defence Forces, Polish-Jewish relations, and the history of Israel. She is the author of numerous articles and publications.

She graduated from Haifa University. Later she completed a Ph.D. program in Contemporary Jewry at Bar-Ilan University, and defended a doctoral dissertation on “Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and the Holocaust: IDF Education Corps’ approach to the conceptualisation of Holocaust memory among its soldiers (1987-2004)”. Her habilitation, written at Herzl Institute at the University of Haifa and entitled “From Rebirth to the Skies: Memories and Meanings in the Life Stories of Holocaust-Survivor Aircrew Members”, was also devoted to pilots – many of them of Polish origin – who survived the Holocaust, and it determined their choice of careers.

My dad used to sing in the synagogue as a child. It was a beautiful place, he recalled. Polish neighbours were often joining to listen to his performances. What is interesting, the synagogue was designed by the same architect who designed the local church. I think it is an important symbol of the closeness of these two communities.

In 2020, she was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Order of the Merit of the Republic of Poland by the President of Poland. The order is granted to foreigners or Poles residing abroad who have made outstanding contributions to fostering relationships between Poland and other countries. In 2002, she was awarded the Certificate of Appreciation for Women Blaze New Paths in the Community, bestowed by the Municipality of Kiryat Motzkin. In 2000, she received the National Yad Vashem Prize in the Category: Excellent Educator of the year. In 1995, she was distinguished by the Knesset and awarded the Prize for Excellence by the Gideon Hausner Memorial Fund for establishing the unique centre devoted to raising awareness about the Holocaust. Born in Israel, her family comes from Poland. As she claims, the country was forever in the hearts of her parents.

I always say that the common Polish-Jewish history is beautiful and we need to talk about it more often. Our nations have shared the same land for hundreds of years. After all, this is not a coincidence. Every time I come to Poland, I feel like being home. I think I got it from my home – Poland never disappeared from my parents’ hearts.

I was born in Israel, my mother came from Ostrołęka, and my great-grandfather, grandfather, and father are from Włodawa. Sadly, they didn’t tell me much about the time they lived in Poland. I know that the whole family was very involved in local life. My dad used to sing in the synagogue as a child. It was a beautiful place, he recalled. Polish neighbours were often joining to listen to his performances. What is interesting, the synagogue was designed by the same architect who designed the local church. I think it is an important symbol of the closeness of these two communities. I have always wanted to know more about where my family comes from, and to get to know and understand my roots better. That is why I dedicated my life and academic career to exploring Polish-Jewish relations, the history of Israel, and researching Israeli society. I am also doing research on Poles saving Jews, and discovering the stories of survivors from Włodawa County. I always say that the common Polish-Jewish history is beautiful and we need to talk about it more often. Our nations have shared the same land for hundreds of years. After all, this is not a coincidence. Every time I come to Poland, I feel like being home. I think I got it from my home – Poland never disappeared from my parents’ hearts.

I have a feeling that sometimes the way we learn history is not adequate, that dry facts do not help us understand well what happened. We should learn about the past from a broader perspective. This is one of the reasons why I initiated the establishment of the Mashmaut Centre in 1994. The word “mashmaut” is an acronym where individual letters in Hebrew mean heritage, the Holocaust, tradition, values, and the rebirth of the state of Israel. The Centre is a platform for the entire community – especially teachers, students, and soldiers. Thanks to its work, numerous meetings, seminars, and workshops are being held. It is a real platform for dialogue. The Holocaust survivors can tell their stories, and it is often the first time for the young generations to listen to them in this way. We talk not only about history before and after the war, but also about humanism, the state of Israel, and our future. About ten thousand students visit us every year.

It is important for me to build relations between Israel and Poland. As a result of our work, a partnership was established between Kiryat Motzkin where the Centre operates, and two Polish cities – Radzyń Podlaski and Włodawa, and in November 2020 – also Bystrzyca Kłodzka is in a process for partneship. Thanks to this, young people take part in a special exchange. Every year, a group of Polish students comes to Kiryat Motzkin for a study visit. During the workshops we organise, their perception of Israelis and Jews changes, and numerous stereotypes are debunked. At the beginning, young Poles and Israelis write down what they think about each other. At the end of the project, they read their first notes and see how much their feelings have changed over the course of a few days. It is a great experience for me to see how easily they integrate and how much they connect. They form lasting bonds and maintain contacts with each other after they leave. Similarly, young people from Israel also visit Poland. This is how the future is built. I believe that changes take place thanks to ordinary people and their people-to-people contacts.

It is important for me to build relations between Israel and Poland. I believe that changes take place thanks to ordinary people and their people-to-people contacts.

However, one cannot think about the future without knowing what happened in the past. There was a time when the Holocaust was not mentioned too often in Israel. Several decades were needed for people to become ready to recall it again. I discovered that the memory about these events was implemented in the army. There were Israeli pilots, still children during the Holocaust, who had never told anyone about their past before. I devoted my Postdoctoral dissertation to that subject. I observed that thirty percent of Israeli pilots were Holocaust survivors, which no one knew about. They started talking about their past at the end of the 1970s and in the 1980s. My father told me about what he experienced during the war only in 1997. I am glad that I was able to take him to Poland four years before his death. This is the first time he visited this country after the war.
I believe we must preserve the remembrance because it has a big impact on who we are. The memory of what happened should be kept alive.

We must act to overcome difficulties in our relations and build bridges between Jews and Poles. We should meet, talk, learn about the past so that it is easier for us to understand each other and create a good, common future.