Senior weaves extraordinary family history with investigative look at Germany during Holocaust, and now

Frieda Esther Lopatka, grandmother of Rachel Baumann.

Frieda Esther Lopatka, grandmother of Rachel Baumann.

Bates senior Rachel Baumann discusses her grandparents’ travails during the Holocaust, and offers insights into both wartime history and the importance of humanity and faith, in a talk at 4:15 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15, Room G65, Pettengill Hall, 4 Andrews Road.

Titled Why My Grandmother Converted to Judaism in Nazi Germany During 1936, the talk is sponsored by the Multifaith Chaplaincy. Admission is free and open to the public. For more information, please email hbalcomb@bates.edu.

Baumann, of Fairfield, Conn., traveled to Europe last summer on the strength of a Phillips Fellowship from Bates to retrace her Jewish grandparents’ steps through Berlin, Warsaw and the surrounding suburbs where they sought refuge as Jews during Nazi rule.

Her grandmother had converted to Judaism — perhaps for the sake of being in love, perhaps because she was simply moved by the faith — at the same time that Nazis began their persecution of the Jews.

Baumann also studied today’s Jewish community in Berlin and spent time at the Jewish Museum Berlin to get an understanding of the contemporary identity and climate for Jews in Germany.

Through studying how Berlin actively remembers the atrocities of World War Two, from large memorials to individual stones in the street, Baumann was able to piece together both her family’s missing narrative and a greater story of how a country broken by war and hatred can self-consciously rebuild a narrative of peace and remembrance.

Baumann is the same age that her grandparents were when the Nazis rose to power in Germany. Though they were able to survive their trials in Europe and emigrate to America, until this summer their young adulthood was a mystery to Baumann and her family.

Bates College’s other 2013 Phillips Fellow, Asha Mohamud ’15 of Lewiston, spent her summer in Tanzania working for an HIV/AIDS clinic and learning about community-driven public health initiatives.

The Phillips Student Fellowship is a summer research grant given to two Bates students every year, allowing them to explore another culture, conduct immersive research, and grow personally and intellectually through their unique experiences.

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