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Source: Ruth Margalit, The New Yorker, June 26, 2014

Four teen-agers huddle together, striking a severe pose like a boy band. In the background, just overhead, a sign looms: “Arbeit Macht Frei.” A girl kneels down next to some austere-looking, moss-ridden stairs. Wearing a black beanie and red lipstick, she makes a duck face and an inverse peace sign as the camera snaps. Two girlfriends draped in Israeli flags stand side by side, smiling, in a snow-topped forest. The caption reads, “#Trablinka #poland #jewish.” Underneath, a single comment: “Oh my god, beauties!!!”

The Instagram era has now brought us the selfie in a concentration camp. Or, as the phenomenon was identified in the title of a new Israeli Facebook page (translated here loosely), With My Besties in Auschwitz. The page, taken down on Wednesday, culled from real-life photos—most of them also taken down recently—that had been posted on social-media sites by Israeli kids on school trips to Poland. From the self-absorbed faux seriousness of some (meditating on the grounds of Auschwitz-Birkenau!) to the jarring jokiness of others (hitching a ride by the train tracks!), the pictures have fed a perception of today’s youth as a bunch of technology-obsessed, self-indulgent narcissists.

They also bring to mind the photos compiled in the popular Selfies at Funerals Tumblr blog. But if the “funeral selfie” kids were somehow hilarious in their inappropriateness, there’s nothing quite like seeing Israeli teens blowing kisses from the death camps of Poland to send you into a confusing and curious rage.

The creator of With My Besties in Auschwitz saw the selfie-taking phenomenon among Israeli kids firsthand when she visited Poland herself. She found the pictures by combing through Instagram, Facebook, and Google and using searches for Holocaust-related terms. The variety was “endless,” she says. She created a Facebook page, posted the pictures while peppering them with some caustic captions of her own—“Babes! I’m saving you a seat on the bus to Trablinka!” next to a picture of two pouting girls in Auschwitz, “Even here I’m drop dead gorgeous!” next to another—and watched the page go viral overnight, garnering tens of thousands of likes and shares. During the next twenty-four hours, articles appeared in many major news outlets, and outrage quickly ensued.

Ironically, instead of lobbing the barbs at the offending teen-agers, people seemed to aim most of their criticisms at the creator of the page. “6 million Jews! Shame on you!” was a common refrain among the comments on the site. Watching this unfold from the outside, the angry commenters felt similar to those who took Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” at face value. By the time I tracked down the creator of With My Besties in Auschwitz and chatted with her online, she refused to give her name, saying that she had been “threatened with bizarre lawsuits.”


“This page started as a total joke meant for my friends,” she told me. “I just thought there was something grotesque in tagging #mountofash next to a mount of ash in Majdanek, or in making a ‘sexy’ or ‘seductive’ face next to a crematorium. What is this supposed to mean exactly—I look hot in Auschwitz?! Turns out many people agreed with me.”

She added that, although the page started in jest, it highlights a disturbing phenomenon in Israel. “The message is the despicable use that is being done of the Holocaust.” She went on, “In a way, it’s not these kids’ faults. Many politicians are cynically using the Holocaust to further their own agenda.” As an example, she cited a recent speech by Israel’s finance minister, who brought up the experience of Jews in the Second World War to lambaste Israelis who choose to leave the country.

“I used sarcasm because when you talk about it seriously it doesn’t really work,” she said. The message was apparently received. Most of the teen-agers, whose names she had redacted, had caught on to the site and were shamed into removing the pictures from their accounts. With her mission accomplished, the creator of With My Besties in Auschwitz shut down the Facebook page. “After rocking the Web here, I feel like this has served its purpose,” she told me, with an air of defiance. “Those who didn’t get the message until now most likely never will.”


Source: Jack Schwartz, The Daily Beast, May 12, 2014

Both Ida and The German Doctor take place long after World War II, but the rancid legacy of the Nazis continues to stain the lives of  survivors good and bad.

Although the horrors of the Holocaust are never depicted in two movies currently showing in New York, their reverberations are all the more chilling for the spectral presence that haunts both works. On the surface Ida and The German Doctor have little in common except that they spring from the aftermath of the destruction of Europe’s Jews and take place in the early ’60s. Ida is a mystery of sorts, tethered to a road journey in a bleak postwar Poland. By contrast, The German Doctor is a thriller that becomes a horror story amid the breathtaking beauty of the Andes foothills.

In fact, they are linked by a taut common thread: innocence encountering the face of evil. In Ida, Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is a devout novice about to take her vows as a nun in the Polish convent where she has spent her life. Obliged to visit the aunt who has never been to see her, Anna learns she is a Jew, Ida Lebenstein, and that her parents were probably killed during the German occupation. Together with her aunt, Wanda—a hardened Communist Party apparatchik fallen into a self-lacerating life of men and alcohol—Anna / Ida sets off on a quest to learn her parents’ fate. She will unearth more than their remains in a quest that becomes a journey of baleful discovery and painful self-discovery.

Lilith (Florencia Bado), the protagonist of The German Doctor, is a 12-year-old girl on the cusp of pubescence who appears to live an idyllic existence in an Alpine-style hotel renovated by her parents in Bariloche, Argentina. Although sprightly, Lilith is unusually small for her age, and thereby the butt of ridicule from her classmates. But this is no ordinary school. Rather, it is an academy indoctrinating the children of a local German colony, an outpost of unreconstructed Nazis serving as a haven for escaped war criminals. Enter the title character, who takes an unusual interest in Lilith’s growth with special hormone injections that he dispenses through her vulnerable mother Eva (Natalia  Oreiro) behind the back of her father, Enzo (Diego Peretti), a decent man who catches the whiff of brimstone. Herr Doktor, of course, is the notorious Josef Mengele of Auschwitz, on the run from justice. After he insinuates himself into the lives of Lilith’s family as a house guest, his seeming benevolence devolves into a vortex of menace.

Both movies have a fairy tale quality to them, or rather the nightmare aspects of a children’s story. Mengele (Alex Brendemuhl), who meets Lilith’s family at a desolate gas station in Patagonia on their way to refurbish their inn, appears at first as an almost magical benefactor, dispensing medical advice to Lilith’s pregnant mother, offering a cure for the girl’s diminutive size as well as a lucrative business proposition to her father, transforming his hobby of crafting mechanical dolls into a thriving enterprise.

Ida also uses the conventions of a dark fairy tale: discovering one’s true identity, negotiating a hostile kingdom, overcoming the snares of the wicked. The denouement itself appropriates the theme of the huntsman who spares the child he is obliged to kill. Anna / Ida traverses a realm over which a spell has been cast. The landscape has been bleached of existence. It is a vast, vacant space, emptied of life, of hope and, implicitly, of its Jews. The silence is palpable. The convent that Anna leaves as she embarks for the city and her aunt could just as well be Kafka’s castle. The road leading out and the view from the bus evokes a no-man’s land of nothingness, a vale that’s been cleansed in acid.

Anna’s aunt Wanda, (Agata Kulesza) embittered by her travails during the war, has served the Communist regime as a hanging judge, taking grim solace in meting out justice to her former persecutors. But the pleasures of vengeance and hedonism prove a dead end for Wanda. However, touched by the simple faith and purity of Ida, who bears a spiritual resemblance to her mother, Wanda agrees to take the young woman on a journey to the rural village where the Lebensteins lived.

Thus begins an odyssey though a sterile expanse, with Wanda serving as a caustic Virgil to Ida’s Dante as they descend into a netherworld not only shriven of its Jews, but in denial that they ever existed. The roads are forlorn, the landscape barren, the forests menacing. The family now living in the ramshackle house that Ida’s parents had owned deny that Jews ever lived there. Undeterred, Wanda and Ida press on along a road of hostility and dissimulation that will lead to the harrowing end of their quest.

Each scene in this riveting film is a postcard from hell. In dialogue as sparse as the countryside, the director, Pawel Pawlikowski, reminds us of the paradox that some of the very Poles who saved Jews may also have been their murderers. And what came after—pogroms such as the postwar massacre in Kielce—was prompted as much by fear of returning property to the survivors as inherent Jew hatred. It is this mindless atrocity, driven by both avarice and animosity, that is at play in the film. The irony that Anna must come to terms with is the realization that the message of the loving Jesus she embraces has been distorted by church ideologues to lay the groundwork for the killing fields. Anna’s veil of innocence has been lifted, leading to a crisis of faith. But her decision will now be an informed one.


There is no such complexity about The German Doctor. Lilith and her family are in the hands of radical evil. Mengele has neither doubts about his hideous purpose or scruples about his heinous past. His only regret is that defeat forced him to flee in the midst of his labors. But he is determined that his work should continue. What is so compelling about this film is director Lucia Puenzo’s ability to evoke the horrors of the death camps through suggestion, turning the mundane into the ominous.

In measuring Lilith, ostensibly for the purposes of growth, Mengele utilizes the cranial devices used by the Nazis in their pseudoscience of phrenology to distinguish undermenschen from Aryans. The anatomical sketches in his notebooks evoke the human beings upon whom he performed his grisly experiments, and indeed, Lilith’s family serves as nothing more than specimens for his own lab work. Most frightening are the mechanical dolls whose production Mengele fosters. With their torn limbs, disembodied parts and vacant faces they evoke the dead of the Nazi genocide and the special horrors that Mengele inflicted on his victims. The ovens in which the porcelain figures are baked invoke their own meaning, as do the hair added to the dolls, applied by women eerily reminiscent of the Jewish slave laborers in SS factories. But even this is surpassed when Eva delivers two infants, affording Mengele the opportunity to resume his horrendous research on twins at Auschwitz.

Yet the real moral horror is that Mengele is not alone, but rather venerated by the German colony at Bariloche, who go to great lengths to protect him from his Israeli pursuers. Their vista of the snow-capped Andes suggests the Bavarian alps and the view from Berchtesgaden. The Fuhrer may have fallen but his ideology persists in this redoubt of Nazism, untroubled by a sympathetic Argentine regime. Probably the most troubling thing about these two movies is that the animosity and denial that become characters themselves are still with us after 50 years. -Jack Schwartz


Source: David Lewis and Emad Naseraldin, BBC News, April 29, 2014

Who is too young to learn about the horrors of the Holocaust? A new law in Israel means kindergarten children will be taught about the Nazi genocide for the first time, triggering an acerbic response on social media.

On Monday at 10am sirens blared out across Israel, as they do every year, marking the start of remembrance for those who perished in the holocaust. Each Holocaust Memorial Day, for two solemn minutes, businesses grind to a halt and motorists stop their cars on normally busy streets to silently stand by their vehicles and remember the dead. The day is undoubtedly sacrosanct but the way the holocaust is explained to Israeli children is changing. And the change is controversial. On Thursday the Ministry of Education announced that the holocaust, for the first time, would now be taught to five year olds at kindergarten.

In response, the hashtag “teaching Holocaust in kindergarten” began trending on Twitter. Most of the tweets opposed the new policy, often with pointed and black humour. One shocking tweet features a picture of a lego model from Polish artist Zbigniew Libera of what looks like skeletal figures marching towards some grey barracks. The caption reads: “Who likes Lego? Today we will be building a concentration camp”. Another speaks of a bleak imagined dialogue in the classroom. “Teacher: Danny, what did you build using the cubes? Danny: It’s a neighbourhood. Teacher: From now on it’s a ghetto”.

Beyond Twitter, Israeli parents are divided about the best way to teach children about the horrors of the past. Rona Avissar, a mother of two young children from Jerusalem, told BBC Trending that by the time they start school, children already have an idea of the horrors of World War Two. “Kids hear the memorial sirens like everyone else so it is no problem to explain,” she says. “I told my son about it before he started school. It is not such a huge problem.” But Rona’s husband Rafi disagrees: “I think it will be better if it is taught at an older age,” he says. “We can talk generally about the war but they are too young to hear about gas chambers!”

It is undoubtedly a sensitive subject but Dr Gila Matzliah Liberman at the Israeli Ministry of Education told BBC Trending that the policy was enacted in part because many children question their teachers about it. Israelis have nothing to fear, she says. “We are going to teach children the broad concepts of the holocaust, not, what we in Israel call the Nazi ‘Industry of Death’. Mothers and father have no reason to be anxious about this new ruling.”



Source: Alex Bozikovic, National Holocaust Monument design unveiled, The Globe and Mail, May 12, 2014

The design of Canada’s National Holocaust Monument will be led by the architect associated with New York’s Ground Zero and Berlin’s Jewish Museum.

Daniel Libeskind has won a design competition for the Ottawa project, in combination with photographer Edward Burtynsky, landscape architect Claude Cormier and museum planners Lord Cultural Resources.

The decision was announced Monday in Ottawa by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages Shelly Glover at the site of the monument – a field across from the Canadian War Museum, on the LeBreton Flats about a kilometre from Parliament Hill.

The federal government announced the monument in April, 2013, as a permanent place to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust and honour Canadian survivors; Canada currently has no such site. It will be overseen by the National Capital Commission. A fundraising council is aiming to raise $4.5-million for the construction of the project, with matching funds from the government of up to $4-million.

The plans for the project combine architecture, landscape and art. Visitors will take a “journey through a star” – a concrete structure that, viewed from above, resembles a six-pointed star, the symbol of Jewish identity. It consists of several triangular spaces; according to a statement from the design team, these are meant to evoke the triangular badges used to classify prisoners in concentration camps, including Jews, Roma, gay people, and mentally and physically disabled people.


“It’s very much designed as an experience – it’s not a monument that you just look at from afar, but it draws you in as a visitor,” explains Dov Goldstein, a principal consultant at Lord and the project’s coordinator.

Within the monument, original photographs by Burtynsky of Holocaust sites, death camps, killing fields and forests, will be embedded into concrete. And a landscape surrounding the monument, designed by Cormier, will include a forest of coniferous trees growing out of rocky ground, a nod to the forests of eastern Europe and a living symbol of how survivors and their children have changed Canada.

The project will be a significant piece of architecture and urban design in Ottawa, and notable because of the international reputations of all four players – especially Libeskind (who was born in Poland but lives in the U.S.) and the Canadian Burtynsky. They were brought together by Lord Cultural Resources, which organized what Goldstein calls “a multidisciplinary and multicultural team” for an integrated process including historian Doris Bergen.

Goldstein praises Libeskind’s “brilliant architecture and his sensitivity to the subject matter.” (Libeskind’s parents both survived the Holocaust and each lost most of their extended families.) His aesthetic touch is clear. The proposal’s complex structure employs Libeskind’s trademark crystalline forms, which first appeared on his Jewish Museum in Berlin, completed in 1999. That museum building is a zigzagging and jagged form that is notoriously difficult to program. It employed architectural symbolism for the fate of Europe’s Jews and other victims of the Holocaust: It is a series of shards, pierced by voids, and visitors end up in a “Garden of Exile.”

Libeskind is also closely associated with the most significant memorial project of the past 20 years – Ground Zero in Manhattan, where he designed a master plan for the site of the 9/11 attacks that was capped with a 1776-foot-tall “Freedom Tower.” Libeskind saw these ideas embraced by the public in New York, but his role in the redevelopment project was reduced dramatically.

Libeskind’s main project in Canada so far has been the Royal Ontario Museum’s Lee-Chin Crystal in Toronto, which employs similar forms – there, according to Libeskind, meant to evoke the museum’s collection of geological crystals.

The Ottawa monument is largely designed now, and will start construction this summer and with a planned opening in the fall of 2015. “It’s an important monument for all Canadians to understand about tolerance about human rights, racial hatred, bigotry, and anti-Semitism, and I think it’s an important signifier to remind Canadians of all that,” Goldstein says. “But it’s also a monument to the survivors – and it’s important for Jews and for all Canadians for that reason, to commemorate, remember and to recognize human dignity.”

Holocaust Tourist

Glasgow filmmaker Jes Benstock brings a wry, quizzical voice and a surprising mix of animation and live action to consider the contemporary legacy of the Holocaust in Poland.

A whistle-stop tour from Auschwitz hot-dogs to Krakow’s kitsch Judaica that asks: how is dark tourism changing history?


From Amber Wilkinson’s review on Eye for Film, November 23, 2006:

“I didn’t want to make a film about the holocaust,” says Benstock at the outset, “but if you’re a film-maker and Jewish it comes with the job description.”

It is the nature of ‘holocaust tourism’ that interests – or perhaps that should be ‘unsettles’ – Benstock. Is it right that tourist shops have sprung up to cash in on visitors to Auschwitz? The town of Krakow is a bustling hub of tourism. Holidaymakers eat in Jewish-themed bars and restaurants before making a ‘pilgrimage’ to the death camp. But is pilgrimage the right word, or is this just another stop off on the tourist trail “blazed by Hollywood”?

Benstock has assembled an impressive set of interviewees, from a sculptor who laments the commercialisation of his craft, to professor of the faith and member of the Auschwitz committee Jonathan Webber and several people who work and maintain Auschwitz. Each paints a bleak picture of a tragedy, if not forgotten, then diminished somehow.

Benstock cleverly mixes animation and live footage to hold the attention and the use of quick cuts between kitsch ornaments, people smiling for the camera under the infamous Arbeit Machs Frei sign and letting children run about without a thought for those on a true pilgrimage of remembrance shine a startling light on our ignorance.


The Holocaust Visual Archive is proud to present a short clip from the film, published with permission of the author Jes Benstock and of The National Center for Jewish Film – Brandeis University, that we warmly thank.

To buy the DVD or arrange a screening, visit this page.


Source: Justin Peters, Oh No, Russia’s New Olympic Darling Skates to the Theme From Schindler’s List, Slate, February 8, 2014.

The star of Saturday’s team figure skating session was undoubtedly Julia Lipnitskaia, a young Russian who thrilled the crowd with her short program. “The diminutive 15-year-old Russian figure skater positioned herself to become the darling of the Sochi Games,”wrote Kevin Kaduk at Yahoo’s Olympics blog. “This Russian Teen Prodigy’s Figure Skating Performance Was Freakin’ Incredible,” blared the headline of a BuzzFeed article praising Lipnitskaia for a “beautiful and nearly perfect routine that left us speechless.” NBC commentator Johnny Weir called Lipnitskaia “a wild hybrid of Sasha Cohen and Tara Lipinski,” whatever that means. And Lipinski herself—also an NBC commentator—said that Lipnitskaia had a great shot at the gold medal.

Well, I can’t wait to see what Weir and Lipinski say about Lipnitskaia once the women’s individual competition starts. According to the New York Times, the Russian teenager’s “signature piece”—one she’ll likely perform in the Olympic long program—is set to John Williams’ theme from Steven Spielberg’s 1993 Holocaust drama Schindler’s List. But that’s not all: The routine features Lipnitskaia skating as the film’s iconic “girl in the red coat,” a young Polish Jew who is killed by Nazi soldiers.

I think I speak for all of us when I say, “Finally, someone has adapted the saddest scene from a Holocaust movie into an acrobatic figure-skating routine.” No? Just me? No one else?

In case you haven’t seen Schindler’s List for a while, it tells the story of a German industrialist who, by employing Jews in his factories, saved them from near-certain death at the hands of the Nazis. In the movie, the “girl in the red coat”—a rare splash of color in the black-and-white movie—is first seen during the violent liquidation of the Jewish ghetto in Krakow. Later, Oskar Schindler finds the girl’s dead body, and, stricken by guilt and remorse, decides to take action.

Here’s a clip of the girl’s first appearance in the movie:

And here’s Lipnitskaia’s “red coat” routine, from the 2014 European Figure Skating Championships:

Surprisingly, there’s a long history of high-level figure skaters incorporating Schindler’s List motifs into their routines. From Katarina Witt to Irina Slutskaya to Johnny Weir himself, lots of great skaters have performed routines set to the Schindler’s Listtheme. These programs aren’t always well-received. As a recent post on the figure-skating blog Morozombie put it, it’s perhaps best to be “wary of attempts to portray the evils of the Holocaust and the suffering of the Jewish people on ice.”

And yet, skaters keep on skating to Schindler’s List. Why does something that seems so vulgar strike the figure-skating community as the best idea ever? Where’s the disconnect?

Figure skating does not prize subtlety. Young women slather on makeup, load up on sequins, and plaster on huge smiles to win high marks from the judges. Their musical selections, too, do not emphasize restraint. As that post on the Morozombie blog notes, a Schindler’s List theme represents “a convenient opportunity to use dress up in sombre colors, use various overwrought dramatic contrivances and make overly melodramatic and agonized faces.” When skaters play sad, they play really sad.

Of course, Spielberg’s use of the girl in the red coat has itself been criticized as mawkish—one of the Spielberg film’s “overly sentimental tropes,” in the words ofEntertainment WeeklySchindler’s List on Ice makes sense, then, in a perverse way: It’s the marriage of a sport that demands hyper-emotionalism and a film that delivers it more than any other in modern times.

In the end, it comes down to execution. Lipnitskaia’s Schindler’s List program— choreographed by Ilia Averbukh, a former Olympic ice dancing medalist who is himself a Russian Jew—is better than most. The Morozombie blog noted that “when she skates as the little girl in the red coat in Schindler’s List, Miss Lipnitskaia’s flaws become virtues that just work,” while USA Today called Lipnitskaia’s routine “spectacular but respectful.” The 15-year-old Russian skater is so beautiful and graceful on the ice, she ends up transcending material that she probably has no right using in the first place. - Justin Peters


Source: Chicago Tribune, January 23, 2014

There is a growing catalog of music written in the aftermath of the Holocaust that attempts to grapple head-on with the ineffable horrors of the Nazi era. None has managed to secure a toehold in the regular repertory.

One Holocaust-inspired opera that deserves to do so is “The Passenger,” Polish composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s and librettist Alexander Medvedev’s 1968 adaptation of a 1959 Polish radio play and, later, a novel, by Zofia Posmycz, an Auschwitz survivor.

The work received its American premiere here by the Houston Grand Opera last week in a tautly effective production by British director David Pountney that originated in 2010 at Austria’s Bregenz Festival, where “The Passenger” was staged for the first time anywhere. Lyric Opera recently announced that this same production, with a different cast, will have its Midwest premiere in Chicago in February-March 2015.

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At the same news conference, Lyric general director Anthony Freud said that Pountney and his production team for “The Passenger” will create a new Wagner “Ring” cycle to be unveiled here in segments, beginning with the 2016-17 season.

Weinberg, a Polish Jew who lost his family to the Holocaust, managed to escape on foot from Warsaw to Russia at the outset of World War II. Once he relocated to the Soviet Union, his troubles continued. Although he composed prolifically, many works were banned because of Stalinist anti-Semitism. He died in 1996, 10 years before “The Passenger” first saw the light of day, at a concert performance in Moscow. Read the full article.


Source: Jodi Rudoren, The New York Times, January 26, 2014

There is no plot to speak of, and the characters are woefully undeveloped. On the upside, it can be a quick read — especially considering its 1,250 pages.

The book, more art than literature, consists of the single word “Jew,” in tiny type, printed six million times to signify the number of Jews killed during the Holocaust. It is meant as a kind of coffee-table monument of memory, a conversation starter and thought provoker.

“When you look at this at a distance, you can’t tell whether it’s upside down or right side up, you can’t tell what’s here; it looks like a pattern,” said Phil Chernofsky, the author, though that term may be something of a stretch. “That’s how the Nazis viewed their victims: These are not individuals, these are not people, these are just a mass we have to exterminate.

“Now get closer, put on your reading glasses, and pick a ‘Jew,’ ” Mr. Chernofsky continued. “That Jew could be you. Next to him is your brother. Oh, look, your uncles and aunts and cousins and your whole extended family. A row, a line, those are your classmates. Now you get lost in a kind of meditative state where you look at one word, ‘Jew,’ you look at one Jew, you focus on it and then your mind starts to go because who is he, where did he live, what did he want to do when he grew up?”

The concept is not entirely original. More than a decade ago, eighth graders in a small Tennessee town set out to collect six million paper clips, as chronicled in a 2004 documentary. The anonymity of victims and the scale of the destruction is also expressed in the seemingly endless piles of shoes and eyeglasses on exhibit at former death camps in Eastern Europe.

Now Gefen Publishing, a Jerusalem company, imagines this book, titled“And Every Single One Was Someone,” making a similar statement in every church and synagogue, school and library.

While many Jewish leaders in the United States have embraced the book, some Holocaust educators consider it a gimmick. It takes the opposite tack of a multimillion-dollar effort over many years by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and museum here, that has so far documented the identities of 4.3 million Jewish victims. These fill the monumental “Book of Names,” 6 1/2 feet tall and 46 feet in circumference, which was unveiled last summer at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

“We have no doubt that this is the right way to deal with the issue,” said Avner Shalev, Yad Vashem’s director. “We understand that human life, human beings, individuals are at the center of our research and education. This is the reason we are investing so much in trying to retrieve every single human being, his name, and details about his life.”

Mr. Shalev declined to address the new book directly, but said dismissively, “Every year we have 6,000 books published about the Shoah,” using the Hebrew term for the Holocaust.

The book’s backers do not deny its gimmickry — Mr. Chernofsky used the Yiddish word “shtick” — but see it as a powerful one.

Ilan Greenfield, Gefen’s chief executive, noted that there is a blank line on the title page where people can dedicate each book, perhaps to a survivor like his mother-in-law.“Almost everyone who looks at the book cannot stop flipping the pages,” he said. “Even after they’ve looked at 10 pages and they know they’re only going to see the same word, they keep flipping.”

The Gefen catalog lists the book for $60, but Mr. Greenfield said individual copies would probably sell for closer to $90 (buy 1,000 copies and it is $36 each). Since the book went on the market a few months ago, he said, 5,000 have been printed. One person bought 100 to distribute to the offices of United States senators, and Jewish leaders in Australia and South Africa, Los Angeles and Denver, have bought batches for their communities.

Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, enlisted three donors to buy 1,000 each and is giving them away: He wants one in the Oval Office and, eventually, on every Passover Seder table. “When he brought me this book I said, ‘Wow, wow, it makes it so real,’ ” said Mr. Foxman, himself a Holocaust survivor. “It’s haunting.”

The idea began in the late 1970s at the Yeshiva of Central Queens in Kew Gardens Hills,  where Mr. Chernofsky taught math, science and Jewish studies and, one year, was put in charge of the bulletin board for Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“I gave them blank paper, and I said, no talking for the next 30 minutes — that was a pleasure,” recalled Mr. Chernofsky, 65, who grew up in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and moved to Israel 32 years ago. “I said, ‘I want you to write the word Jew as many times as you can, no margins, just pack them in, just take another paper and another paper until I say stop.’

“We added up the whole class,” he added. “It was 40,000 — nothing.”

Years later, Mr. Chernofsky printed out pages filled with “Jew” six million times and put them in a loose-leaf notebook, which he showed visitors to his messy office here at the Orthodox Union, where he is the educational director. His uncle took the notebook to a Jerusalem book fair, where a bookbinder saw it, and made a limited edition. Mr. Greenfield eventually came across a copy and approached Mr. Chernofsky about 18 months ago with the idea of mass production.

Each page has 40 columns of 120 lines — 4,800 “Jews.” The font is Minion; the size, 5.5 point. The book weighs 7.3 pounds.

Its titleless cover depicts a Jewish prayer shawl, sometimes used to wrap bodies for burial. Mr. Chernofsky said it was Gefen’s choice; he would have preferred solid black, or a yellow star like those the Nazis made Jews wear.

An Orthodox Jew with nine grandchildren, Mr. Chernofsky is a numbers man, the kind of person who cannot climb stairs without counting them (41 up to his apartment). “Torah Tidbits,” the publication he has edited for two decades, always lists the number of sentences in the week’s Torah portion (118 in last week’s “Statutes”).

He likes to play with calendars, and is tickled that for the next three months, the Hebrew and English dates match: Feb. 1 is the first of Adar, April 30 the 30th of Nissan.

Mr. Greenfield, the publisher, said his goal was eventually to print six million copies of “And Every Single One Was Someone.” With each copy 2.76 inches wide, that would fill 261 miles of bookshelves — just shy of Israel’s 263-mile north-south span. (And net Mr. Chernofsky, at his contracted rate of $1.80 per book, $10.8 million.)

“Harry Potter, in seven volumes, used 1.1 million words,” noted Mr. Chernofsky, a devotee who has a Quidditch broom hanging in his office. “This has six million in it, so I outdid J. K. Rowling.”

Source: Tamara Zieve, New Dudu Fisher Holocaust film shines spotlight on survivors’ silence, The Jerusalem Post, January 26, 2014

“One can be taken out of Auschwitz, but you can never take Auschwitz out of him.” This is the premise of a new film called Opening Night, which aims to ensure that the new generation connects to the story of the Holocaust. The 15-minute movie follows the character of Mark, an Auschwitz survivor, played by legendary Israeli cantor and Broadway star Dudu Fisher. Opening Night is set in 1971, and deals with Mark’s silence regarding the atrocities he went through during the war, particularly the loss of his relatives. One day his son discovers photos of his past family, which was annihilated in the Holocaust, and confronts him.

Film co-director and co-producer Danny Finkelman says that this moment in the movie triggers a chain reaction, which eventually leads Mark –- who after the Holocaust abandoned his former career as performer — to once again take the stage. On the opening night of the show, the survivor finally opens up to his family, particularly to his son, about his personal history.

Fisher’s own father was a Holocaust survivor, but the actor tells The Jerusalem Post that he did not need his father’s help in order to identify with his character. “I know how difficult it is for an entertainer not to be on stage, because if you take myself… I love the stage. I want to die on the stage,” he gushes.

Mark decides to audition for a show that he played in back in Poland – the last performance he gave before the Holocaust – when he sees that it has come to America, where he now lives. For Fisher, this is a particularly touching point in the film: “To take this desire and to hide it under the carpet of life, and decide not to do it anymore, after what happened in Poland, and then to see the moment when he sees that the show is coming from Poland to New York, to take this decision to audition for the role again… this is amazing.” Finkelman says that while most Holocaust films highlight and capture survivors during the war, not many follow them after the war as they try to battle with this own demons.

Cecelia Margulies, who collaborated with Finkelman in the production and direction of the film, is also the daughter of Holocaust survivors and the storyline, though fictional, is to a great extent based on her own personal story. Margulies tells The Jerusalem Post that whereas her mother spoke about her experiences of the Holocaust all the time, and even wrote books about it, her father didn’t say a word about his past. Like the character Mark, Margulies eventually found out that her father had had a wife and a family prior to the war, and they finally started communicating about his past.

As what is called a second generation survivor, Margulies has dedicated much of her life to Holocaust education: “it’s in my genetics,” she explains. “I was very affected by my parents’ experiences.” Margulies, who is also a composer, conveys the message of Holocaust remembrance through her music, and that is how she and Finkelman met; the worked together in Krakow on a Holocaust survivor film called Rainbow in the Night, inspired by a song Margulies had written under that title.

The artist sees film and music as a learning tool. “I see a world today that has growing anti-Semitism, I saw a lot of Holocaust denial going on and this is at a time when survivors are dwindling,” she says, in remarks that are particularly poignant ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Monday. “Once the survivors are gone, I’m worried – where will the proof come from?” “Each survivor is a reminder and a message of the truth, each story is a gateway to the future for the Jewish people and the world at large and we need to ensure that the story is told for prosperity,” she adds.

“Knowledge and education is a source of prevention.” Even during the making of the film the directors noticed the educational impact the story was having on the multicultural and multi-faith cast and crew. Indeed, Finkelman says that most of the actors had no idea about the Holocaust. One of the crew members was Palestinian and he says she hadn’t previously known about the scale of the Holocaust; being involved in the film motivated her to do some research into the history of it, and she was shocked by her findings. It was a similar story with Chilean cinematographer Maurizio Arenas, Finkelman relates, who couldn’t sleep for nights after being exposed to the history of the Holocaust: “it opened up a whole new world to him about our nation and out history.” “It was a microcosm of the world,” Margulies adds. “You could see the learning experience within the crew itself – if that’s any indication in terms of what a film can do in terms of education.” The film is currently being pitched to various festivals, before being shown at theaters.


In his book Mourning Becomes the Law, the philosopher Gillian Rose used the term ‘Holocaust piety’ to describe the quasi-religious rhetorics of Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993) as well as the sentimental and sanctimonious tones of its reception. Matthew Boswell, researcher in Memory Studies at the University of Salford (UK), addresses in his study the less explored field of ‘Holocaust impiety’, term by which he characterises the “works that reject redemptory interpretations of genocide and the claims of historical ineffability”:

These representations are often irreverent and profane, characterised by the use of the swastika, Nazi kitsch and elements that Sue Vice links to Holocaust fiction: ‘crude narration, irony, black humor, appropriation, sensationalism, even characters who mouth anti-semitic slogans’.

The book is divided into three sections. The first one, ‘Poetry’, is dedicated to the Holocaust theme in the work of Sylvia Plath and W.D. Snodgrass. The second part, ‘Popular Music’, is by far the most stimulating and original, provided that the topic has been seldom addressed in Holocaust Studies (see, for example, Jon Stratton’s article on The Velvet Underground and the Ramones). Boswell explores the Holocaust theme and symbolism through the songs of bands such as Ramones, Sex Pistols, Joy Division and Manic Street Preachers. As the author observes,

Punk was an historical phenomenon, and the impact of the Holocaust on punk was total: it influenced punk clothes, punk lyrics and punk band names. It was central to the formation of the abrasive, disenchanted punk world-view (…).

The third and final section is dedicated to film. Four Holocaust films are here addressed: two of them are classics (Alain Resnais’ Night and Fog and Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah) and have generated, during the decades, a huge amount of critical literature; the same cannot be said of the other two, Tim Blake Nelson’s The Gray Zone and Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, which fit more properly in the category of ‘impiety’.

I suggest that the piety/impiety divide would benefit from a comparison with the distinction introduced by Roger Caillois between a ‘sacred of respect’ and a ‘sacred of transgression’ (see Man and the Sacred). Sometimes the impiety is not mere desecration, but rather an acknowledgement ex negativo of sacredness.

Overall, Matthew Boswell’s Holocaust Impiety is a great contribution to Holocaust Studies and especially to the neglected field of pop culture and the Holocaust. (G.V.)

The book is published by Palgrave Macmillan and can be purchased here.


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