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Source: Rafael Medoff, The Daily Beast, January 26, 2016

Just in time for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Iranian government has announced that it will be holding another “Holocaust Cartoons Contest,” in which the cartoonist who most viciously mocks the Nazi genocide will be awarded $50,000. It may be tempting to dismiss such Iranian mischief as harmless foolishness, but Tehran’s hateful contest reminds us that political cartoons increasingly are recognized as powerful instruments of influence.

A cartoon in the New York World played a crucial role in the outcome of the 1884 U.S. presidential race: The Democrats plastered Walt McDougall’s send-up of Republican candidate James Blaine on thousands of billboards across the state, helping to deliver hotly contested New York to Democrat Grover Cleveland (he won the state by just 1,100 votes). In the early 1900s, politicians in several states were so stung by cartoonists’ barbs that they introduced legislation to limit what cartoonists were allowed to draw; in Pennsylvania, for example, the governor initiated a bill to stop cartoonists from portraying elected officials as birds or other animals.

In the 1930s, the Hitler regime used cartoons to incite hatred of Germany’s Jews. The leading Nazi propaganda organ, the weekly newspaper Der Sturmer, was filled with vicious caricatures of Jews as vampires, insects, and especially as sexual defilers of German women. A typical cartoon would feature a huge, leering spider with a Jewish face attempting to ensnare an innocent German maiden, or a swarthy Jewish doctor hovering over a sedated, half-dressed female German patient.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry recently released a brief YouTube video comparing the anti-Jewish stereotypes in some contemporary Palestinian cartoons to the images used by Hitler. While one should always be cautious about making comparisons to the Nazis, it certainly was disturbing to see a recent cartoon on a Palestinian Authority website showing a leering, hook-nosed Israeli soldier, beginning to disrobe while pinning down a weeping Muslim woman wearing a headdress representing Jerusalem’s most famous mosque. The caption read: “Al Aqsa is Being Raped.”

Israeli officials contend that the recent wave of Palestinian stabbings and car-ramming attacks has been inspired in part by Palestinian political cartoons portraying such violence as heroic and encouraging young Palestinians to use knives and automobiles as weapons.

The best-known examples of the link between cartoons and violence are not the cartoons urging readers to take up arms, but rather the cartoons that were met by violent Muslim protests. These include the riots following the 2006 publication by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten of cartoons depicting Muhammad; the 2015 massacre of the staff of the French weekly Charlie Hebdo, which had published Muhammad cartoons; and last year’s terrorist attack on a Texas event that was showcasing caricatures of Muhammad.

Such violence has had a chilling effect in some quarters. The editors at Yale University Press in 2009 removed all the Muhammad cartoon images from a book they published about the cartoon controversy. Several prominent cartoonists, including Garry Trudeau (“Doonesbury”) have asserted that Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons about Muhammad were the equivalent of “hate speech.”

But even if that characterization were accurate, the fact is that in America, hate speech is legal. The possibility that someone’s words may offend is no reason to muzzle the speaker. The right to offend is part of the right to free speech. And frankly, offending people is practically the raison d’être of political cartoonists.

That does not mean that every political cartoon deserves the Housekeeping Seal of Approval. It means that it is up to editors to decide if a cartoon is so tasteless that it should not be published. And it is up to readers to decide if they dislike a particular cartoonist so much that they do not want to purchase that newspaper.

Of course there are different reasons people may take offense at a cartoon. Many people were troubled recently when a cartoon in The Washington Post depicted the young children of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz as trained monkeys; there is a general consensus in the political world that candidates’ children should be off-limits. The Post apologized and pulled the cartoon.

But sometimes cartoons that at first glance appear to be tasteless, may not actually be. Charlie Hebdo last week published a cartoon that many interpreted as suggesting that the drowned Syrian refugee boy, had he lived, would have grown up to sexually harass women. Some pundits, however, understood that cartoon to be mocking opponents of Muslim refugee immigration—similar in spirit to the famous 2008 New Yorker cover depicting Barack Obama as a Muslim and Michelle Obama as an armed revolutionary. That cartoon was intended as a comment on how some of the Obamas’ opponents perceived them.

The vigorous reaction and debate over such cartoons is precisely what one would expect in a free society. In Iran, by contrast, the only kind of political cartoons that can be published without the cartoonist being imprisoned are those which the regime approves—for example, cartoons denying the Holocaust or comparing Israel to Nazi Germany. Here in America, we ensure cartoonists’ freedom to skewer hypocritical politicians or antagonize interest groups by guaranteeing their right to irritate or offend. And if they cross the line into the realm of tastelessness, then the natural forces of reason and taste usually serve as a counter.

This informal system of checks and balances has served cartoonists, editors, and the public well since our country’s earliest days. No doubt totalitarian regimes will continue to use cartoons to advance their aims, because they know that cartoons are powerful instruments of persuasion. But for that same reason, free societies must continue protecting the right of cartoonists to compete, unrestrained, in the marketplace of ideas.


Source: Sara Ivry, Tablet, January 6, 2016

There’s a sort of louche, menacing quality about Jerry Lewis—I’ve always thought so, anyway. Maybe it’s the tan or the bada-bing pinkie ring, or the warmth he seemed unwilling to summon even while hosting a telethon for muscular dystrophy. I found Lewis’ nasal parodic voice irksome and repellent. And his appeal—here in the U.S., or in France—has always perplexed me. I could never stand The Nutty Professor; the only film of his I’ve ever enjoyed is The King of Comedy and that’s partly because he plays a balls-out asshole, or perhaps he’s not “playing at all,” which is part of what makes that film so riveting.

Why speak of Jerry Lewis now, you ask? Because the BBC has just released a short documentary about Lewis’ never-seen 1970 Holocaust film The Day the Clown Cried. Lewis flew to Sweden to shoot the feature, and when he was finished he took the reels with him back to the United States but never released the film. When asked about it, Lewis has asserted he would never screen it because it’s “bad, bad, bad.”

The BBC mini-documentary, The Story of the Day the Clown Cried, features stills from the film and show Lewis with a red nose and painted clown make-up in front of would-be barracks where he is directing would-be Nazis played by Swedish actors. Various Swedes are interviewed about the shoot and production. We learn that Lewis worked on this project for a decade before filming commenced. We find out that some actors never got paid. We’re told that Lewis gave reels of all his films, includingThe Day the Clown Died, to the Library of Congress with the caveat the institution is forbidden to screen the film until 2025 at the earliest.

And we’re treated to a single tidbit of fascinating trivia: While in Sweden, Lewis never laundered his drawers or socks—he simply threw them away after a single wear. One—by which I mean, me—wonders if that is a lifelong habit and where that kind of behavior came from.

Against the improbable background music of Massive Attack, the documentary’s host, British comedian David Schneider (himself the son of a Holocaust survivor) ruminates on the question of whether one can make comedy out of such tragedy, and if that’s what Lewis was trying to do. There’s no way to know, really, if the film was supposed to be comedy, or have comedic elements, so it’s a bit of goose-chase speculation.

Nevertheless, the query reminded me of a gutting joke the British writer Howard Jacobson included in his fantastic novel Kalooki Nights, which I read years ago: What’s the difference between a Jew and a pizza? A pizza doesn’t scream when you stick it in the oven. That’s the kind of joke (you) never forget. Which begs Schneider’s question: Is it appropriate to make entertainment out of this genocide? Beyond appropriate, is it possible? Fans of The Producers might say yes. That Lewis has refused to make the film public suggests a different answer.


Source: Justyna Pawlak, Forward, December 12, 2015

WARSAW — Poland’s new conservative rulers think their country faces an image problem abroad and they want Hollywood to produce a Polish equivalent of “Braveheart” or “Pearl Harbor” to promote their country’s positive place in history.

They also are looking to alter the narrative when it comes to Poland, where most of the Nazi death camps were located.

The right-wingers believe a major movie would make Poland feel proud of its achievements and win it more respect on the world stage at a time when many citizens are falling behind financially.

Critics say the government wants to exploit growing feelings of nationalism in order to boost its popularity and divert public attention from economic problems.

But, by putting an emphasis on patriotism, the government also risks stirring up more xenophobia at a time when Europe is grappling with a massive influx of refugees from the Middle East.

“There is no internationally recognized film about Polish history. I regret this,” Culture Minister Piotr Glinski told Reuters in an interview.

“Why is this important? Every community needs something that brings it together … in order to build its strength and to win, or rather, not to lose, on the world stage. Economically and politically,” he said.

Glinski’s eurosceptic Law and Justice party (PiS) won an election in October promising greater economic equality and a nationalist response to growing influence from Brussels.

PiS has since announced plans for a major public relations campaign at home and abroad, including the possible film venture, as well as a drive to make schools, theaters and public television promote more patriotic themes.

Glinski, who is the most senior member of the cabinet after the prime minister, said the film could for example tell the story of the 1683 battle of Vienna or the 1944 battle of Monte Cassino, the latter one of the toughest in World War Two.

In Vienna, Poles helped defeat the Turks in what marked the end of the Ottoman Empire’s expansion into Europe.

“Almost every wartime story of a Polish soldier is a ready-made script,” Glinski said. The film would “tell the world who has protected our civilisation.”

Asked if there were any movies that could serve as a model for the government’s plans, he said: “Yes, there are many, particularly American ones: Saving Private Ryan or Pearl Harbor. The well-known patriotic production about the heroic history of the Scots – Braveheart – can also be used as an example.”

Glinski said the goal was a “Hollywood-level” film and the government had been in touch with potential producers, although he did not say who they were.


Another subject Glinski said should be addressed was Poland’s relations with its Jewish community during the Nazi Holocaust, potentially reopening a painful debate that has dominated the Polish media in recent years.

A series of books and films have revealed that Poles were not only the victims of the Nazis but, sometimes, also the perpetrators of crimes against the Jews.

This has raised questions of collective guilt and reconciliation in a nation taught to believe under communism that, with a few exceptions, it had conducted itself honorably during a war that killed a fifth of the population.

It has also contradicted the view of many Poles that their centuries-old cohabitation with Jews was one of the most harmonious in Europe. Of the six million Jews who died during the Holocaust, about half had been living in Poland.

“Poland’s image abroad suffers because, sometimes, Poland is said to be co-responsible for the Holocaust,” Glinski said. “It is disturbing that Poland is ascribed fault here.”

Last year, the Polish drama “Ida,” a story of a Polish-Jewish orphan searching for her identity and family history, won the Oscar for best foreign language film but attracted heavy criticism from Polish nationalist groups.

Its director says the film – in which the protagonist is told by her parents’ Polish neighbor that he killed them during the war – is a tale of human experience not history.

But some in Poland said it misrepresented reality.

Glinski said Poland could make a film about a Polish family that had hidden Jews from the Nazis during the war, in an effort to contradict revelations that some Poles had actively helped the Nazis in their genocidal campaign.

Critics say reopening the issue would damage Poland’s efforts to come to terms with its complicated past.

“Every nation is guilty of something,” said Konstanty Gebert, an expert with the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think-tank, in Warsaw.

“But that image improves when you discuss it and admit to it. This can earn you respect.”—Reuters

Read more:


Source: Haaretz, November 25, 2015

Thirteen women who survived the Nazi effort to exterminate European Jews took part in the third annual “Miss Holocaust Survivor” beauty pageant in Haifa on Tuesday evening.

After facing some tough competition, including former “Miss Holocaust Survivor” beauty queen Hava Hershkovitz, 82, Rita Berkowitz, 83, took the crown.

Berkowitz is the mother of one, grandmother of six and great-grandmother of five, according to Reuters.

In a message for “the entire people of Israel,” she said: “That all Jews from all across the world will come (to Israel), all of them. And we shall be stronger. We are not afraid of anyone. The Jew will never disappear from the world.”

The pageant was organized by the Helping Hand organization, which aids thousands of the some 200,000 Holocaust survivors living in Israel.


Source: The Guardian, October 27, 2015

Look Who’s Back, a comedy about the return of Hitler, has become an unlikely hit in Germany, heading to the top of the box office chart in its third week of release.

The Borat-style film, based on the bestselling novel by Timur Vermes, puts Adolf Hitler back into German society and utilises the reactions of real people for humour. Over the weekend, it knocked Pixar’s hit adventure Inside Out off the top spot and became the country’s No 1 release. It has already made around £8.5m.

“Germans should be able to laugh at Hitler, rather than viewing him as a monster, because that relieves him of responsibility for his deeds and diverts attention from his guilt for the Holocaust,” director David Wnendt told the Guardian. “But it should be the type of laugh that catches in your throat and you’re almost ashamed when you realise what you’re doing.”

The plot imagines that Hitler has woken up in modern day Berlin, with no memory of any event post-1945 and ends up getting his own TV show. The book was a huge hit in Germany, selling 14m copies.

The film also highlights the increasing influence of the far right in Europe. “We’re highlighting that the danger of a resurgence is very much alive,” said Wnendt.

Look Who’s Back is the second homegrown hit this year for Germany’s Constantin Film, which also released Suck Me Shakespeer 2, a comedy that has made over £42m.


Source: Jerusalem Post, October 1, 2015

A large Nazi banner unfurled in Nice, France, caused an outcry among locals and tourists.

The red banner with a swastika hung from the Palais de la Prefecture on Monday and Tuesday, during the filming of an adaptation of Joseph Joffo’s Holocaust memoir A Bag of Marbles.

“People started screaming,” tourist Andrew Gentry told BBC News. “They were really agitated.”

According to BBC News, the prefecture insisted it made efforts prior to Monday to alert people and even warned the city’s Jewish community. Nevertheless, many onlookers were puzzled.

“There was nothing to explain what was going on,” Gentry said. “The scene was just surreal.”

Some people started taking selfies in front of the banner.

During the war, German Waffen SS chief Alois Brunner stayed in the Hotel Excelsior in Nice to plan round-ups of Jews. The Palais de la Prefecture, which is being filmed to represent the Hotel Excelsior, said in a statement that it was an “honor” to play a part in remembering history.

A Bag of Marbles describes Joffo’s journey from Nazi-occupied Paris to a safer city in the southeast of France.

A French film adaptation was released in 1975. The remake is being directed by Canadian director Christian Duguay.


Source: Simi Horwitz, When Alvin Ailey Choreographs the Holocaust, Forward, June 15, 2015

With the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater presenting a Holocaust inspired piece, “No Longer Silent,” at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, the iconic African American company has branched into new territory. In fact, it’s unprecedented, explained its artistic director Robert Battle, who choreographed the piece. Its musical score was composed by Erwin Schulhoff, a Czech-born Jew, and one of many musical artists who were killed or otherwise silenced by the Nazis.

“No Longer Silent” was conceived by Battle in 2007 as part of a Juilliard project — and the brainchild of conductor James Conlon — to commemorate three such composers, who include Franz Schreker and Alexander Zemlinsky.

“I was immediately drawn to Schuloff’s music for its urgency, rhythms, grandness, and ritualistic sounds,” said Battle as he sat in his corner office in the company’s West 55th Street complex. “It has tension and friction and reminded me of Stravinsky whom I love. It also reminded me of Martha Graham‘s early modern dance motifs. And then I got cold feet. Everything I loved about the music also terrified me.”

What finally anchored it for Battle was discovering just how much he and Schulhoff had in common. They both studied the piano, shared an interest in the avant-garde and jazz, and explored non-traditional artistic expressions in their own work. But there was also the human connection.

“His music was stifled, not allowed to be played because of who he was ethnically,” said Battle. “I thought, ‘Wow.’ Of course that had resonance for me as an African-American.”

Battle was further troubled and fascinated by Schulhoff because he was a man doomed by a lousy twist of fate. Schulhoff was finally accepted into Russia, but just before his papers arrived in 1941, he was captured and deported to the Wülzburg concentration camp in Bavaria, where he died of tuberculosis one year later.

“The tragedy is that he almost made it out and then boom, the door slammed,” Battle said. “It’s a whole other thing if there was never any light at the end of the tunnel. But here he was so close.” Turning on a cassette recorder, Battle held up his hand in a “listen to this” gesture.

A moment later the music — a pounding, percussive sound — poured out, suggesting marching or militaristic maneuvers of some kind. Although “Ogelala” was the name of an Indian chief in the original ballet and Schulhoff was influenced by Native American music, Battle said the music made him think about war, the Nazi regime and, by extension, the Holocaust.

But instead of choreographing a piece literally about the Holocaust, an undertaking which Battle dubbed “presumptuous,” he incorporated its powerful imagery — the scene and costumes metaphorically evoking a concentration camp — to forge an impressionistic narrative as if seen through the eyes of Schulhoff, who is a character in the piece, serving as witness and ghost.

Like every Holocaust victim or survivor, each character has his own story and reveals it through solos, duets and group pieces. The black costumes are deliberately baggy and ill-fitting, and each bears a clearly defined white strip encircling the leg. “It’s a marking,” said Battle. “They’ve all been marked.”

Battle removed photos from a folder, spreading them across his desk. These grainy black and white shots featured naked and emaciated corpses lying alongside each other in mass concentration camp graves. Other shocking photos showed half starved inmates listlessly sitting on a bench.

“There is a long bench at the back of the stage that stretches into the wings, like this one,” Battle pointed at one image. “Look at the people sitting there. It’s death before death. The bench becomes a metaphor. It’s so masculine, staid and Nazi.”

The power of the shots was not lost on the dancers. “Some gasped,” he recalled. “Others just stared silently.”

Before rehearsals began, Battle talked to the dancers about Schulhoff’s biography, the history of the era and the Holocaust, and parallels with the African-American experience.

“Look at this picture,” he said, showing me a photo of Jewish inmates with arms in the air, an image that has inspired one significant segment in the dance and clearly brings to mind recent demonstrations across the country as protestors, arms aloft, shouted, “Hands up, don’t shoot.”

“I choreographed that piece years before the current demonstrations, but unless audiences read the program, they’re not going to realize that,” Battle said. “It’s going to be very interesting to see how audiences interpret the piece. Jews and African-Americans in the audience may see something very different. They may view the piece either though the eyes of survivors or as a reflection of the current climate of anti-Semitism or racism. The unifying theme is injustice and history repeating itself.”

Battle said that throughout his life he has been deeply affected by learning about the Holocaust, first in a high school history class, and later as an audience member at Whoopi Goldberg’s eponymous 1984 one-woman Broadway show. In it, she tackled a range of characters, including a hard-bitten male junkie who visits the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam, reads the diary, and is transformed in some way by Anne’s innocence and optimism.

“There’s no way that character should feel a connection with Anne and yet he does,” Battle recalled. “My own visit to the Anne Frank house brought back the power of Whoopi’s performance. It also confirmed my own personal connection.”

While “No Longer Silent” is an abstract piece, it’s far less so than Battle’s other works. Similarly, though he’s employed orchestral music in the past, it’s rarely been as eclectic and complex as the Schulhoff piece and, most significantly, historic events have not served as the basis for the company’s choreography, with one notable exception, “Odetta,” a piece Battle recently commissioned about civil rights activist, singer and songwriter Odetta Holmes.

Both “Odetta” and now “No Longer Silent” represent the company’s new and intensified interest in outreach and education. “In an era of social unrest these pieces are especially timely,” Battle said. “Also, they go back to the roots of modern dance, which has always been very concerned with social justice issues.”

Asked what he’d like audiences to think or feel after viewing “No Longer Silent,” Battle says, “When someone comes up to me after a performance and says it made him feel or see something totally unexpected, something I never even thought about, that’s a great response. That’s what I like to hear.”


Source: Nicolas Rapold, The New York Times, May 12, 2015

The Hungarian film “Saul Fia” (Son of Saul) takes place in a hell within hell: the world of the Sonderkommandos, the Jews in Auschwitz who were forced to dispose of the dead. Separated from the general population of prisoners, they manned the crematories, and were themselves purged every few months. The routine epitomizes a death camp where, as Primo Levi wrote in “Survival in Auschwitz,” “many social habits and instincts are reduced to silence.”

Auschwitz would be a grim challenge for any filmmaker to portray, but “Son of Saul” is in fact a debut feature, by the Hungarian director Laszlo Nemes. His unusual Holocaust drama is a rare first film selected for the competition at the Cannes International Film Festival.

“Laszlo Nemes shows what we thought would be impossible to show in a fiction film, an extermination camp at work, as a factory of death,” said the film historian and critic Antoine de Baecque. “By following the specific gaze of a cog inside this machinery,” he added, “the movie successfully adopts, with discipline and fairness, the only possible representation of a tragedy morally unfilmable.”

In writing and directing the story, Mr. Nemes, 38, sought a clear-eyed realism about horrors that remain painful to imagine. Set over a 36-hour period in October 1944, “Son of Saul” hews to the perspective of Saul Auslander, a fictional member of a Sonderkommando unit. One day, Saul thinks he recognizes his lost son among the dead to be cremated, and his obsessive efforts to bury the boy puts him in conflict with prisoners who are plotting a rebellion.

“Our approach was to follow a main character through a very limited space and time, and have a very simple and almost archaic story as the skeleton of the film,” Mr. Nemes said in a Skype conversation from Budapest, where he lives. “We felt that we couldn’t shoot the whole Holocaust. We didn’t want to tell too much and shoot too much.”

For verisimilitude, Mr. Nemes and his co-writer Clara Royer drew on survivor accounts as well as writings that prisoners buried in the earth and that were discovered years later. Rather than offer a broad view of the camp, as many past movies of the Holocaust have, “Son of Saul” sticks close to its protagonist with very dynamic, very mobile camerawork and limits our focus to what he is looking at.

“The overall idea is you’re like a sea snake, going all over the place,” Mr. Nemes said of his 107-minute feature. “We remain inside the limitations of a human being.” His 2007 short film “With a Little Patience” maintains a similar focus on a blinkered German clerk during the Nazi era.

Mr. Nemes’s formative experience includes a two-year stint as assistant to the Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr on “The Man From London” (2007) (Mr. Nemes’s father, Andras Jeles, is also a director.) With Mr. Tarr, he said, he learned about not only a sense of organic realism and the artistic importance of choosing your battles, but also the centrality of the actor.

For “Son of Saul,” Mr. Nemes found a deeply committed performer in Geza Rohrig, a Hungarian poet who wrote his first collection about the Holocaust and plays Auslander in the film.

“We did not want to talk about the message of Auschwitz,” Mr. Rohrig said of the film’s aims, speaking by telephone from New York, where he has lived for 15 years. “We wanted to create an experience that works on you on a different level, with your bowels, your intestines. We want you to get the intensity and tempo of the life of a Sonderkommando worker.”

Mr. Rohrig had acted a little in Polish and Hungarian films. He said a major religious change in his life came in the 1980s with a visit to Auschwitz, where he recalls seeing among the prisoner artifacts the same brand of toothbrush as his own.

For the actor, “Son of Saul” transcends the tendencies of many Holocaust films, such as “Schindler’s List,” to seek refuge in survival narratives and good-and-evil clichés. Through the death of a son, his character gets an unexpected emotional release. “Everybody is a zombie already in the camp,” Mr. Rohrig said. “People are already destroyed. They only care about their next meal. But witnessing his son’s death, Saul all of a sudden becomes normal.”

Mr. Nemes first met Mr. Rohrig during a short stint at New York University as a film student, and describes him as “very intellectual but at the same time extremely instinctive and physical.” The rest of the film’s cast is mostly international, part of an effort to suggest what he calls the “Babel of languages” in the chaotic camps.

The director’s close-knit creative team included the cinematographer Matyas Erdely, who also shot Mr. Nemes’s short films and features by the Cannes veteran Kornel Mundruczo, also of Hungary. One of the rare features to use 35-millimeter film, “Son of Saul” was shot in 30 days. “What a first feature can afford,” Mr. Nemes said. The budget of about 1.5 million euros, or $1.65 million, came mostly from the Hungarian National Film Fund and the New York-based Claims Conference.

An old military base on the outskirts of Budapest served as the movie’s location. The burden of history was always present for Mr. Nemes, he said — he and some members of his team had relatives who died in the camps. “Why I don’t have a family right now — it’s a very small family — is because of that,” he said. “You can feel the society being haunted by these traumatic experiences and by never having to face what happened.”

Mr. Nemes, , who grew up partly in Paris, felt an “edge of suspicion” from interviewers when talking about the film on television shows in his home country.

“You can feel that they cannot really connect with the material,” he said. “It’s like: Oh, another Holocaust movie. That’s the best you can get. Then: Why do you have to talk about the Holocaust? Why is it important to you?”

For Mr. Rohrig, he is wary of critics who might object to the very attempt to portray the Holocaust with such fidelity.

“I don’t think any subject matter is off the table when it comes to art,” he said. “I think it can be done. I hope it was done by us.”

For Mr. Nemes, however, the film’s importance will not necessarily lie in such external reactions, but in whether it provokes an emotional response in viewers. The film aims to show “the importance of the inner voice when there’s no more hope,” he said, adding, “We still reaffirm some kind of faith in something — some would say God, some would say this belief in humanity, in something universal.”


Source: Steve Friess, New Republic, May 17, 2015

In the course of reporting “A Liberator, But Never Free,” about the recent discovery of the late Dr. David Wilsey’s letters home from the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp, one intriguing semantic anomaly transfixed every expert consulted: the Spokane anesthesiologist’s persistent use of the word “holocaust” to describe the horrors all around him.

There has long been a rigorous debate among etymologists and historians as to when the lowercased “holocaust,” generically defined as a large-scale calamity usually involving fire, became the proper noun used specifically to name the period of Nazi genocide against European Jews. Yet there is little debate that that formalization occurred years after the war’s end.

“I immediately wrote it down the first time I saw him using this word,” said historian Patricia Heberer-Rice of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. “There’s a bit of a conundrum about when this word was first used.” Harold Marcuse, a Holocaust historian at University of California San Diego and author of Legacies of Dachau, said, “The fact that he’s using it right then, in that context, makes it a very interesting historical fact that will contribute to scholarship.”

“We were (are) in a nightmarish holocaust,” Wilsey wrote on March 23, 1945, as his U.S. Army unit, the 116thEvacuation Hospital, moved across France into Germany behind the advancing Allied line. “Gosh, darlin, a guy just wonders how many times the world is going to ask for the holocaust-messes to be gone through. Each one seems about the ‘last straw’ and yet more and more come.” Then, two days later: “Holocaust! After holocaust! After holocaust! is just wearing me to a nub.” On April 20, as the 116th approaches Dachau and rumors circulate about what might be found there, he wrote, “We are the only [Evacuation Hospital] within a 100 miles of this horrible holocaust.” Four days after that: “We had a least wee hopes of not stepping right up into another holocaust — but preliminary reports at least indicate it might well be that ‘nightmarish holocaust’ all over again from this site.” The references taper off in his letters from Dachau itself but pick up again later in the year, as in a November 14 passage that referenced “this world holocaust.”

The word itself is of Greek origins: holos is “completely” and kaustos is “sacrificial offering.” It had largely been used to refer to massive destructions by fire, most prominently in the title of a dystopian 1844 short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Earth’s Holocaust,” in which all the world’s literature and artwork is deliberately burned. That was, in fact, the context of the first known use of the term in reference to the Nazis, a 1933 Newsweek story about a book-burning campaign in Germany. According to a 2005 Jewish Forward piece, a top rabbi in what was then Palestine wrote to a colleague in a telegram about the need for a “day of mourning throughout [the] world for holocaust synagogues [in] Germany” after Kristallnacht, a November 1938 night of terror in which Jewish homes were ransacked and windows broken across Germany.

There were smatterings of usage prior to World War II to refer to mass slaughters, too, including with regard to the Armenian Genocide. And a1943 New York Times piece about talks regarding Palestine references “the hundreds and thousands of European Jews still surviving the Nazi holocaust.”

Yet for decades after the war, the genocide lacked any formal title in English except, perhaps, “The Final Solution,” the term the Nazis used. In Hebrew, the calamity quickly became known as “Shoah,” which means “the catastrophe.” But it wasn’t until the 1960s that scholars and writers began using the term “Holocaust,” and it took the 1978 TV film Holocaust, starring Meryl Streep, to push it into widespread use.

Wilsey’s usage, then, is curious. It wasn’t a particularly common word, but he was a well-educated man of 30 using it to describe his surroundings to his well-educated wife, Emily. More than likely, says William Donahue, a linguistics professor who focuses on Holocaust literature at the Center for Judaic Studies at Duke University, Wilsey used the term generically and almost certainly not specifically to refer to the slaughter of Jews. Even when Dachau was liberated on April 29, 1945, and the Germans surrendered on May 8, 1945, it wouldn’t have been clear to a man like Wilsey the extreme extent of the genocide and the Jews’ brunt of it, he said.

Allied governments, Donahue said, downplayed the extent of the peril to Jews in their rally-the-homefront propaganda materials, for fear that many non-Jews wouldn’t be willing to fight and die for what was still a marginalized religious minority regarded suspiciously even in the U.S. Wilsey himself reflected those attitudes in a letter on April 4, 1945, in which he complains about a Jewish anesthesiologist he was forced to bunk with. “ Dear, medicine is so full of them, so usurped by them, so progressively becoming ruled by them — that we white men just must not do all we can to help them.” A paragraph later, in fact, he blames his Jewish colleague’s “Prussianism”—his Eastern European background—for “exactly what has caused 3 holocaustic wars.”

It’s impossible to know from Wilsey’s letters alone why he used the term, who influenced him to use it, or who, perhaps, he influenced. At Dachau, as documented in his letters, he was present for visits by a parade of world dignitaries, from Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower to members of Congress and the British Parliament. Might he have used it in a conversation and inspired others to do so? Or do his letters reflect a more common usage among the intelligentsia in the European Theater of the war than was previously understood?

“It’s another data point for those interested in this particular historical mystery,” Marcuse said.

Source: Joshua Z. Weinstein, The New York Times, March 3, 2015

Like many survivors of the Holocaust, after World War II, Saul Dreier and Reuwen (“Ruby”) Sosnowicz moved to America, started families and careers, grew old, and retired to Florida. For these octogenarians, settling near Boca Raton could have been the last chapter in their story.

But then, last summer, Mr. Dreier, 89, decided to start a klezmer band, drawing upon the music he grew up with in Poland. Playing the drums, he teamed up with Mr. Sosnowicz, an 85-year-old Polish accordionist. This Op-Doc video profiles the two men and their group, which they’ve named the Holocaust Survivor Band. In recent months they have performed for audiences at venues ranging from local nursing homes and temples to The Venetian in Las Vegas.

Music has always been a tool of survival for these men. Mr. Dreier, the drummer, was born in Krakow and in his youth survived three concentration camps. In one, there was a cantor in his barracks. To pass the time, the boys formed a choir, singing soprano, tenor and baritone parts, switching as they grew up and their voices changed. Mr. Dreier learned to play drums by banging two spoons together as he accompanied the choir. Later, he worked as a construction contractor in New Jersey.

For Mr. Sosnowicz, music was recovery. He spent the war hidden by a Polish farmer, sleeping next to cows and digging through trash at night to collect bits of potatoes. After the war, he landed in a displaced persons camp in Germany, where he acquired his first accordion. Mr. Sosnowicz went on to become a hairdresser and professional musician. He played at parties throughout the borscht belt in upstate New York, and even had a gig at Studio 54.

As they reinvent themselves, Mr. Dreier and Mr. Sosnowicz never forget their past. It is life before Hitler, their youth, that they most want to remember. For them, music is catharsis. The Holocaust Survivor Band summons the bittersweet memories of childhood, but more than that, it is a celebration of life.


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