A University of Pittsburgh senior who led a student response to the 2018 antisemitic attack at the Tree of Life building has received a special scholarship to study abroad and learn how tragedies are remembered and commemorated globally.
Maja Lynn, 23, of Shadyside, recently was named one of the roughly three dozen recipients of the Marshall Scholarship. She plans to relocate to the U.K. in autumn 2022 to study at Queen’s University of Belfast.
“As future leaders, with a lasting understanding of British society, Marshall Scholars strengthen the enduring relationship between the British and American peoples, their governments and their institutions,” a statement from the scholarship committee read.
Lynn, who majors in anthropology and museum studies, is originally from Philadelphia. Though she is not Jewish, she played an important role in Pittsburgh’s Jewish community when she steered the creation of “To Those Who Grasp It: Responding to October 27″ in the summer of 2019. The exhibit debuted at Pitt, and also was staged at the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh.
“[Students working with Lynn] were among the first to contemplate responses to 10/27 and were the first to look at the event and its aftermath from the perspective of students,” said Lauren Bairnsfather, executive director of the Holocaust Center. “The exhibit was a notable accomplishment. Maja showed herself to be a brave leader in the group and continued to work with the Holocaust Center after the exhibit was completed. We are not a bit surprised to learn that she won a scholarship to continue her studies in the UK.”
Lynn said the goal of her work in response to the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting was simple: “To capture as many voices as possible.”
“A lot of students felt the university community didn’t receive their responses,” she added. “We were trying to be as trauma-informed as possible.”
Lynn also worked with professor Rachel Kranson, who heads Pitt’s Jewish Studies program, and Eric Lidji at the Heinz History Center’s Rauh Jewish Archives on the project. She later did an internship with the Holocaust Center.
“The scholars were given resources and support but almost no mandate” for the exhibit, Lidji told the Chronicle. “They had a lot of freedom to make the project their own. That can be scary for anyone, let alone for a group of students creating their first exhibit — and on a topic of such sensitivity and importance. It was a pleasure watching Maja and the others navigate the struggle, gain confidence in their ideas and come together as a team.”
Lynn, who has German citizenship through her mother, had worked previously in a memorial capacity at the Dachau concentration camp. She said she had been “thinking a lot about antisemitism in that context, and I was really shocked when I came back and two months later [the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting] happened.
“I try to be very aware of my role as a German, and in terms of colonialism,” Lynn said. “I try to be very aware of history and my identity, and that’s one of the driving forces for me, for sure.
“I learned so much from this exhibit, and from people from the community,” she added.
At Pitt, Lynn studied the Herero genocide, a campaign of ethnic extermination and collective punishment waged by the German empire in Namibia, then German South West Africa, between 1904 and 1908. It was the first genocide of the 20th century.
“Their experience has actually been recognized in Namibia … but the [Herero people] have been oppressed,” Lynn explained. “It’s been a recent attempt to have this genocide commemorated and I found that very fascinating.”
Lynn hopes to continue studying the commemoration of genocides in the U.K. for a master’s degree next year.
“I’ve learned from my research and the Pittsburgh community how important commemoration is,” Lynn told the Chronicle. “I hope to go to Belfast [to see] how they work in telling their national story.”
Kranson said Lynn’s star shined brightly in Pittsburgh and she expects to hear more from and about her.
“Maja tackled the exhibit with extraordinary focus, maturity and sensitivity,” Kranson told the Chronicle. “In my experience, she brings that sensitivity, focus and maturity to all of her work. She has ambitious plans to study the commemoration of genocide, and I cannot think of a student better poised to take on this important work.” PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.