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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.


Source: Newsweek, March 30, 2015

Cyber activist group Anonymous has released an internet video which threatens Israel with an “electronic Holocaust” on April 7, in a massive cyber attack planned to fall just over a week before Holocaust Remembrance Day on April 16, known in Israel as Yom HaShoah.

The video shows a masked figure in a suit and tie delivering a prepared statement, warning that the group will eradicate Israel from cyberspace “for… crimes in the Palestinian territories”.

“We will erase you from cyberspace in our electronic Holocaust,” says the video’s masked figure. “As we did many times, we will take down your servers, government websites, Israeli military websites, and Israeli institutions.”

“A message to the youth of Palestine, you are a symbol of freedom, resistance and hope: we are with you and will continue to defend you,” the electronic voiceover adds. “Our message to the foolish Benjamin Netanyahu and all leaders in the Zionist entities, we will continue to electronically attack until the people of Palestine are free.”

Delivered in English and with Arabic subtitles, the video shows Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu sitting with members of his cabinet and military leaders, coupled with images from the Gaza conflict, including ones showing the air strikes on the enclave during the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) Operation Protective Edge last summer and Gazans running with injured children.

Previous targets of the hacker group’s operations have been websites of the Israeli prime minister’s office, the IDF, the Bank of Israel and the Embassy of Israel to the United States.

Benjamin T. Decker, senior intelligence analyst at Tel Aviv-based geopolitical risk consultancy The Levantine Group, says that the hacker collective makes the threat every year and, thus, Israel has acclimatised to the cyber threat, with less damage done with every year.

“For the most part, this is posturing. This is actually the fourth year that Anonymous has carried out this Op Israel attack and called on their supporters to erase Israel from the internet,” he says.

“As the years have progressed we have seen that, despite their increasing sophistication in hacking techniques, we have seen less damage against Israeli cyber infrastructures, largely due to Israel’s pioneering of most cyber warfare tactics, both offensive and defensive.”

Last year, during the Gaza conflict, the ‘hacktivist’ group pledged that the #OpSaveGaza campaign against Israel would “expose their terrorist activity to the world”, referring to Israel as ‘Israhell’.

Isaac Ben-Israel, a technology and security expert at Tel Aviv University told The Times of Israel that cyber attacks against Israel increased nine-fold during the battle between the IDF and Palestinian militant groups. “Instead of the usual 100,000 attacks we get each day, we were now getting a million such attacks from all over the Arab and Muslim world,” he claimed.

In last summer’s 50-day conflict, over 2,100 Palestinians—at least 1,585 civilians of which 530 were children—were killed, according to UN and Palestinian accounts, and 72 Israelis—all but five soldiers—were killed, according to Israeli accounts.


Source: Jewish Telegraphic Agency, March 2, 2015

A new movie depicting Pope Pius XII as a savior of Jews was slammed by an Italian Jewish publication as “fiction.”

“Shades of Truth,” featuring international stars Christopher Lambert and Giancarlo Giannini, had its premiere on Monday in Vatican City.

The movie attempts to prove that Pius XII was not “Hitler’s Pope,” as some have dubbed him, but “the Vatican’s Schindler,” in reference to the German businessman Oskar Schindler, who is credited with saving some 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust.

Critics have long accused Pius of not having done enough to help Jews during the Holocaust, while the Vatican has asserted he worked behind the scenes to save Jews.

According to the film’s director, Liana Marabini, the skillful diplomacy of Pius XII saved some 800,000 Jews from persecution.

But an editorial in the Jewish online publication Pagine Ebraiche featuring the headline “Pius XII, a fiction that rewrites history” was quoted Monday in the national press.

“The Vatican archives are still closed but at least Catholic cinema gives us one more fiction to rewrite history,” the editorial read.

Pope Francis will see “Shades of Truth”‘ in September during the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. In an interview in June, Francis defended Pius XII’s record during World War II, calling the former pope “the great defender of the Jews.”


Source: The Times of Israel, February 20, 2015

FUKUYAMA, Japan (JTA) — In the auditorium of Japan’s main Holocaust education center, a teenage actor explains the dilemma that faced a Japanese diplomat during World War II.

“My conscience tells me I must act a certain way, but doing so means defying my commanders,” says the actor portraying Chiune Sugihara, the Empire of Japan’s wartime vice consul in Lithuania. In 1940, Sugihara rescued 6,000 people by granting them transit visas to Japan in defiance of Tokyo’s orders. Some of them survived the war.

To Western ears, the play’s message of placing independent thought above blind obedience may seem banal. But in an increasingly militaristic Japan, Sugihara’s story is instructive — a tool for sensitizing children to the dangers of nationalism not only in Europe, but also in Japan.

“It’s a bold position to take in a society that has remained ultra-conservative and extremely hierarchical,” said Alain Lewkowicz, a French Jewish journalist who has studied Japanese society’s attitudes toward the Holocaust.

Since it opened in 1995, the Fukuyama Holocaust Education Center — situated just outside Fukuyama and about 60 miles from Hiroshima, the site of an atomic bomb in 1945 — has welcomed tens of thousands of Japanese schoolchildren. Founded by Beit Shalom, a Kyoto-based Christian pro-Israel organization, the center relocated in 2007 to a larger, donor-funded 20,000-square-foot facility.

Beit Shalom’s theater troupe’s is now preparing for its first international tour in nine years. The group, which will perform in the United States this spring, is composed of 20 Japanese girls who sing in Yiddish and Hebrew about such themes as life in wartime Jewish ghettos.

At the heart of the building is a Holocaust museum with a display about the buildup of hate against Jews in Germany and replicas of the infamous Arbeit Macht Frei sign at the Auschwitz gate. The center also features a replica of the Amsterdam room inside the annex where Anne Frank hid from the Nazis, as well as objects that belonged to her family. The garden is home to a statue of the teenage diarist and a sapling that is actually a cutting from the tree that once grew outside the building where the Frank family hid.

While Anne Frank is well known in Japan, the strong alliance and similarities that connected the island nation to Nazi Germany — during World War II, Japan, Germany and Italy made up the Axis alliance — are rarely taught in schools here. Similarly, speaking about Japanese war crimes of the 1930s and ’40s — including mass murder in Nanking, China, and the forced sexual slavery of tens of thousands of Korean women — is largely taboo in a country whose right-wing prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has repeatedly visited a shrine that was built for some of the perpetrators.

Abe’s visits to the Yasukuni shrine remains a major point of contention between Tokyo and the capital cities of Beijing and Seoul. China and Korea have warned Abe not to backtrack on his partial admission to Japan’s wartime atrocities when he delivers a speech later this year on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the war’s end.

Abe has promised “a departure from the postwar regime” and said he regretted that he had not visited Yasukuni sooner. Meanwhile, he has been expanding Japan’s military capabilities to unprecedented levels after ending in July a ban on operations abroad that had been established soon after World War II ended. His government is also encouraging military recruitment and exploring for the first time in decades the possibility of acquiring offensive weapons.

Against this backdrop, independent NGOs like the Holocaust Education Center are “taking up the educational task that the government is neglecting on purpose because it wants to promote a more nationalistic agenda,” said Naoki Maruyama, a professor of history at Japan’s Meiji Gakuin University.

The passage in 2003 of controversial education reforms that reintroduced such nationalistic elements as obligatory anthem singing, patriotism lessons and the flying of the national flag in schools, he added, suggests that it might be a while before schools tackle any of these divisive issues in a manner comparable to what has been done in postwar Germany.

“We have not given much attention to educating children to think about why the war happened and how to prevent a reoccurrence,” said Makoto Otsuka, a reverend at Beit Shalom and the center’s director. “More than anything else, this is what the Holocaust Education Center tries to do.”

Japanese educators, he added, typically teach about the use by the United States of atomic weapons in Japan to “show how much Japan suffered as the victim,” but have failed to follow the example of Germany, where “it is now required to look back objectively at the facts of history.”

Neither the Holocaust nor Japan’s wartime occupation of Asian countries and human rights abuses against prisoners of war are mandatory subjects in the national history curriculum of schools.

And the Holocaust Education Center here does not deal directly with Japan’s war crimes either, said Akio Yoshida, the museum’s deputy director, citing the “need to focus on that uniqueness of the Holocaust to prevent it from blurring with other events that were war-related, including the actions of Japanese troops in Korea and China, or the atomic bomb.”

Instead, Yoshida said he hopes that teaching the Holocaust in Japan “will expose children to the process of indoctrination that preceded the murders, and leave it to them to make the final conclusion about which path they want their society to take.”

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Source: The Times of Israel, February 10, 2015

Prominent Jewish rights group the Simon Wiesenthal Center on Monday condemned an Estonian modern art exhibition for making light of the Holocaust, claims the curator denied.

The “My Poland: On Recalling and Forgetting” exhibition in eastern Estonia features eight works of contemporary art — ranging from photography to video to installation — that address the aftermath of World War II in Poland, 70 years on.

One staged video [by Artur Żmijewski] shows a group of naked adults playing tag in the gas chamber of a concentration camp. Another artist restages a photograph from the camp’s 1945 liberation by replacing the survivors with random smiling people.

“While the exhibition attempts to deal with trauma through humor, the result is a sickening mockery of the mass murder of European Jewry and the important ongoing efforts to commemorate the victims’ memory and impart the lessons of the Holocaust,” Efraim Zuroff, director of the Center’s Jerusalem office, said in a statement.

Exhibition curator Rael Artel told AFP that it was not the artists’ intention to make jokes: “These are not humorous works.”

“They (the Wiesenthal Center) have totally missed the point. I think these statements are emotional …

“I was hoping that, maybe through these works, we could have a kind of starting point to approach this very unpleasant and uncomfortable historical event,” she added.

The exhibition runs until March 29 at the Tartu Art Museum in the eastern city of Tartu.


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