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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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Source: The Jerusalem Post, February 10, 2015

The US civil rights group the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) urged the Urban Outfitters retail chain on Monday to remove a garment it was selling in its stores for being “eerily reminiscent of the prisoner gray and white stripes and pink triangles that gay male prisoners were forced to wear in Nazi concentration camps.”

“Whether intentional or not, this gray and white stripped pattern and pink triangle combination is deeply offensive and should not be mainstreamed into popular culture,”  Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director said Monday.

“We urge Urban Outfitters to immediately remove the product eerily reminiscent of clothing forced upon the victims of the Holocaust from their stores and online,” Foxman added.

This past summer, retail clothing chain Zara issued a public apology following an outcry over one of its T-shirts that some claim bears a resemblance to a concentration camp uniform.

The blue and white striped boy’s shirt with a yellow six-pointed star was intended to convey a wild west aesthetic, according to parent corporation Inditex, and will no longer be sold.

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Source: Matt Schiavenza, The Atlantic, January 31, 2015

Charlie Hebdo‘s decision to put a drawing of a weeping Muhammad on the cover of its latest issue, the edition published after gunmen massacred 12 at its Paris office, has sparked widespread protests throughout Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. But two cultural institutions within Iran have expressed their displeasure in a different way: The House of Cartoon and the Sarcheshmeh Cultural Complex announced last Saturday that they will hold an international cartoon contest centered on the theme of Holocaust denial. The winner of the contest will receive a cash prize and will have his work displayed in the Palestine Museum of Contemporary Art in Tehran.

This isn’t the first time Iran has held this contest. After the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Postenspublished cartoons depicting Muhammad in 2005, the two organizers held the first International Holocaust Cartoon contest, attracting over 1,200 submissions from around the world. The entries selected for recognition took two basic editorial positions. The first was that the Holocaust didn’t happen at all. And the second was that even if it did, Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is hardly better. The first prize went to a Moroccan cartoonist named Abdellah Derkaoui, whose drawing featured an Israeli crane constructing a wall around Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock. A concentration camp is painted on the wall.

The purpose of the contest, according to the organizers, is to highlight Western hypocrisy over the value of free speech. Following the attack on Charlie Hebdo, people around the world expressed solidarity through the ubiquitous “Je Suis Charlie” slogan, indicating a defense of the newspaper’s right to satirize religious piety. Critics of the newspaper, though, pointed out that Muslims weren’t offended by Charlie Hebdo‘s irreverent speech. They were instead insulted that white Parisians mocked religious values held by France’s immigrant population, a group that has long been marginalized within French society. And according to Massoud Shojai Tabatabai, one of the organizers of the 2006 conference, the Western commitment to free speech doesn’t always include denying the Holocaust, which remains a criminal offense in countries like Austria.

“Why is it acceptable in Western countries to draw any caricature of the Prophet Mohammed, yet as soon as there are any questions or doubts raised about the Holocaust, fines and jail sentences are handed down?” Tabatabai told The Observer that year.

But there’s a difference between drawing an offensive caricature and participating in the negation of an established historical fact. And while Holocaust denial didn’t begin with Iran, Tehran’s contribution to the practice has been especially shameful. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s president from 2005 to 2013, claimed that the Holocaust was a “myth” designed to protect the existence of Israel. In 2006, the year of the first cartoon contest, Tehran sponsored an international conference to “review the global vision of the Holocaust.” Ahmadinejad’s successor Hassan Rouhani acknowledged and condemned the Holocaust upon taking office in 2013, but neither he nor his suave, U.S.-educated Foreign Minister Mohammed Javed Zarif have expressed regret for their country’s role in its denial. Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader and the man who controls the country’s foreign policy, has called the Holocaust a “distorted historical event.”

Iran’s Holocaust cartoon contest arrives amid worsening anti-Semitism across Europe. In France, Jewish people comprise 1 percent of the population—yet they are the victims of almost 40 percent of all hate crimes in the country. Jewish community leaders say that nearly 100,000 French Jews have left the country since 2010, and many more have made plans to follow them. Two days after theCharlie Hebdo attacks triggered international outrage over terror attacks on free speech, Amedy Coulibaly took several hostages inside a Jewish grocery store. Six died, Coulibaly included, when police raided the store.

The Iranians who organized the cartoon contest believe that shunning Holocaust denial means Western commitment to free speech is shallow. The real hypocrisy, though, is that by the deliberate offense of the world’s Jewish population, the cartoonists are mocking a group that in many ways is as threatened and marginalized as they are.

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Source: The Times of Israel, January 31, 2015

A documentary film featuring footage from the Auschwitz death camp has been broadcast to Iranian viewers, exposing many of them for the first time to the atrocities and mass-murder committed by the Nazis against the Jews.

The documentary, titled “Germany’s Führer,” was broadcast on Holocaust Memorial Day by Manoto1, a London-based satellite TV station, and was shot by an Iranian film crew which visited the site. The film details the Nazis rise to power in Europe and discusses the stages leading up to the execution of the Final Solution for the extermination of the Jews.

The showing of the film coincided with Holocaust Memorial Day and marked 70 years since the camp was finally liberated by the Soviet army.

Owning a satellite dish in the Islamic Republic is forbidden by the government, but nevertheless, the documentary was estimated to have been viewed by scores of Iranians.

It is unclear to what extent the film actually managed to change the deeply rooted opinions of many Iranians who maintain the Holocaust was fabricated or perpetrated by the Jewish people as a means to garner world sympathy.

“All these crimes were committed by the Jews themselves so they reach their real objectives,” one viewer wrote on Facebook, according to the Times of London.

Yet the screening of the film did succeed in sparking a lively online debate in Iran, leading some to draw parallels between the Nazis and their leader Adolf Hitler, and the heads of the Islamic Republic.

“We are being trampled under the boots of the likes of Hitler today. At least Hitler wanted to improve the lives of his own people but these people ruling Iran today want everything for themselves,” the Times reported one viewer as writing.

Holocaust denial is widespread in Iran and the position has often been reinforced by the country’s leaders, most notably former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who referred to the Holocaust as “pure fiction.”

However, Iran’s current president, Hassan Rouhani, has publicly acknowledged the Holocaust.

“Any crime that happens in history against humanity, including the crime the Nazis committed towards the Jews as well as non-Jews, was reprehensible and to be condemned,” Rouhani told CNN in September 2013.

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Source: News.com.au, January 23, 2015

An Italian artist and activist has ‘Simpsonised’ the Holocaust in a series of unsettling cartoons.

aleXsandro Palombo redrew the beloved Simpson characters as Jews in Auschwitz to mark the 70th anniversary of the concentration camp’s liberation.

He said the project, called ‘Never Again’, is “an invitation to reflection, an artwork to raise awareness, an indictment against intolerance, a punch to inhumanity.”

One image shows Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie emaciated in a gas chamber, while another has the cartoon family looking dejected behind a barbed wire fence.

“We must educate the new generations and tell them what happened. We have to do it without filters, bluntly, over and over again, through the memory of facts and terrifying images that reflect the horror of the Holocaust and the extermination of millions of human beings,” the satirical artist explained.

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Palombo continued: “Only the awareness of the horror of that period can create the anticorps to prevent anti-Semitism to spread again. Auschwitz-Birkenau is the symbol of this inhumane delirium, the industry of death. It is only through memory that we are able to fight racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and all forms of intolerance that threaten the society, our the freedom and the respect for all diversity.”

This is not the first time Palombo has redrawn The Simpsons or other popular cartoons to make a political statement.

In November, the artist redrew famous female animated characters, including Marge Simpson, as domestic violence victims for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Graphic illustrations of characters such as Snow White, Ariel and Cinderella with bloodied, bruised faces being bashed by their partners went viral.

In the aftermath of this month’s Charlie Hebdo massacre, Palombo shared numerous political cartoons supporting the victims as well as freedom of speech.

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Source: Haaretz, January 17, 2015

A 16-year-old teen from Liverpool, in the United Kingdom, has created a history project that tells the story of World War II and the Holocaust using Lego building blocks, according to Pixable website.

“I chose Lego because that is what I’m good at,” said John Denno about his project. “I can’t draw for the life of me so I thought this would be an interesting way to present the project.”

Denno’s project is a series of dioramas (3D models) illustrating key events in the Third Reich between 1933 and 1945.

All the Lego pieces Denno used were from standard sets. The only customization he did was Hitler’s signature mustache, which he drew with a marker.

Other characters were made by mixing and matching Lego pieces. Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, for example, was created using pieces from Harry Potter’s Uncle Vernon, Star Wars’ Chancellor Palpatine and Luke Skywalker. “The biggest thing I realized… is just how long the persecution went on,” Denno said. “From 1933, Jews slowly lost all their rights until they were being murdered in the thousands.”

The Holocaust may have been new to Denno, but he has been building elaborate Lego models all his life. Some of his creations, including scenes from Star Wars and the last days of Jesus, can be viewed on his flickr account.

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Source: Annette Insdorf, New Documentaries Touch the Holocaust, Huffington Post, January 12, 2015

Seventy years after the end of World War II, the Holocaust remains a vital source of drama for motion pictures. Two very different documentaries opening at Manhattan’s Quad Cinema this month demonstrate how the act of filmmaking can be commemorative, investigative, and even revelatory.

Farewell Herr Schwarz (currently playing) represents the compelling personal quest of Yael Reuveny, an Israeli member of “the third generation” (grandchildren of Holocaust survivors). She explores family history in an accessible and illuminating way, tracing ancestral burdens from Israel to Germany, where she now lives.

The Touch of an Angel (opening January 16 at the Quad, as well as the Laemmle Town Center 5 in LA) is rooted in the testimony of “first generation” survivor Henryk Schönker, a Polish Jew from the town of Oświęcim (renamed Auschwitz by the Nazis). After the war, he moved back to Oświęcim, but was forced to leave in 1955 and emigrated to Israel.

Farewell Herr Schwarz , a co-production of Germany and Israel, traces Yael Reuveny’s fascination with her grandmother Michla’s tale of separation from her brother Feiv’ke: originally from Vilna, both survived the Holocaust, but never found each other in 1945 at the Lodz train station where they were supposed to meet. She traveled to Palestine, assuming he died.

But he was alive. He chose to stay in the very area of Schlieben where he had been a Buchenwald prisoner. Renamed Peter Schwartz, and married to a Gentile woman, he remained secretive about his past. His son Uwe learned only in 1995 that his father was Jewish–a heritage he embraces during the film’s second section. The third part focuses on Stephan—the grandson of Peter Schwartz–who studies Jewish history in Berlin and then moves to Jerusalem.

Photographs are suggestive in Farewell Herr Schwarz , which returns to a cracked pre-war photo in which the two siblings are beside each other–the crease representing all that ultimately separated them. Later, Stephan shows Yael a framed photo of her great-uncle Peter, taken three months after his Liberation from Buchenwald: while still wearing a concentration camp uniform, he is smiling–along with other inmates, now holding rifles.

Given the importance of photos in Farewell Herr Schwarz , the film’s inclusion of Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel–with everyone frozen in place–suggests a static memorializing. This is a contrast to the very mobile act of commemoration practiced by Reuveny’s filmmaking.

Tel Aviv is also the current home of Henryk Schönker, but The Touch of an Angelbegins with him entering an abandoned, ruined space and painting a canvas there. What a surprise to learn that this was his family home in Oświęcim, which the Nazis turned into their headquarters. He is a riveting subject and–although deaf–speaks an elegant pre-war Polish.

In 1939, Schönker’s father was the chairman of the Jewish community, whose task–ordered by German military authorites–was to organize the Bureau of Emigration of Jews to Palestine. But The Touch of an Angel is less didactic or historical than poetic, including imaginary glimpses of the miracles Schönker recalls.

Director Marek Tomasz Pawlowski superimposes actors’ faces on old photos, an effect that prepares for the insertion of actors into archival footage. (The extras include Oświęcim’s own inhabitants.) While some critics bristle at reenactments in a documentary, art was so important to Henryk and his family (music as well as painting) that the aesthetic experimentation seems valid.

For example, he remembers hearing in Cracow a neighbor’s “violin weeping” and says, “I inhaled this music.” Like Dariusz Jablonski’s magnificent film Photographer, The Touch of an Angel interweaves the score of Michal Lorenc contrapuntally, as gentle music accompanies Schönker’s wrenching memories.

Pawlowski calls his technique “archicollage.” Interviewed via e-mail, he said it enabled a “journey into the past, creating short, silent impressions through the stylization of archival material.” He already used this type of experimentation in his documentary of 2007, The Runaway (winner of thirteen international awards).

The film’s producer Małgorzata Walczak explained that it took many years of research by historians before their company Zoyda Art Production found evidence supporting Henryk’s recollections. “Leo Schönker, Henryk’s father, was the last chairman of the Jewish Community in Auschwitz,” she wrote in an e-mail.

“He established the Bureau of Emigration of Jews to Palestine. This chance for legal immigration is hardly known, and raises the question of how many Jewish refugees might have been saved if other countries had accepted them. Summoned by Eichmann to Berlin, he reported on his Bureau’s activities in the hope of saving thousands of Jews willing to emigrate.”

In Berlin, Leo Schönker also met with Professor Leo Baeck, “who said about the tragic situation of Europe’s Jews, “‘They are going to be squeezed like a lemon and the peel is going to be thrown into the furnace.'”

This fearful prediction was indeed realized, but a fraction of European Jewry managed to survive. Films like Farewell Herr Schwarz and The Touch of an Angelprovide a bridge from their experiences to our own time. As Yael Reuveny put it, “Farewell Herr Schwarz is not a film about the Holocaust – or about Peter or Feiv’ke or my grandmother – but about us, their children and grandchildren.” She called storytelling a “survival method … to put order into the catastrophe.”

Columbia University Film Professor Annette Insdorf is the author of Indelible Shadows: Film and the Holocaust.

Polish police have launched an investigation after pairs of shoes belonging to Holocaust victims were stolen from the Majdanek death camp.

Museum authorities at the camp reported a thief, or thieves, had removed eight pairs of shoes from a display at the former Nazi facility, which claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people during its years of operation in German-occupied Poland.

Museums on the sites of Nazi camps now issue frequent complaints of numerous acts of vandalism and theft.

In July, a German teacher was arrested in Poland for stealing items from Auschwitz, but the most notable incident occurred in 2009 when three thieves stole the notorious “Arbeit Mact Frei” sign from the gates of the same camp.

The Majdanek museum said somebody, most probably a visitor as there was no sign of forced entry into the barrack housing the permanent exhibition, had cut through a metal mesh protecting the exhibits and removed six pairs of adult shoes and two children’s pairs.

Its gas chambers consumed the lives of at least some 78,000 people, the vast majority of them Jewish, but some historians argue this figure is far too conservative.

“The shoe exhibit has a strong emotional impact, and it is in this barrack, Number 52a, that visitors realise just how many people died during Reinhard,” said Agnieszka Kowalczyk-Nowak, a Majdanek museum spokeswoman.

“In this barrack we only have the shoes of the victims, and that shows the massive nature of the crime.

“It is difficult to place a material value on the stolen items, but their real worth is their historical value,” she added.

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Source: The Guardian, November 12, 2014

Nicki Minaj has apologised for the offence caused by her new video, which was inspired in part by images “representative of Nazis”. The rapper explained that although the clip for Only includes animated images evocative of a Leni Riefenstahl film, she would “never condone Nazism in [her] art”.

Minaj’s comments followed a statement from video director Jeffrey Osborne, who insisted he would not “apologise” for his work “or dodge the immediate question”. Yes, the film’s “flags, armbands, and gas mask (and perhaps my use of symmetry?) are all representative of Nazis”, he told MySpace, but he reminded viewers that the clip also draws from American, Russian, and Italian iconography. “As far as an explanation, I think it’s actually important to remind younger generations of atrocities that occurred in the past as a way to prevent them from happening in the future,” he went on. “If my work is misinterpreted because it’s not a sappy tearjerker, sorry I’m not sorry. What else is trending?”

In her own statements, Minaj claimed Osborne was “influenced” by the Sin City franchise and the Cartoon Network series Metalocalypse. And to burnish her anti-Nazi bona fides, she stated that A Loucas, the producer of the video, is Jewish. “I didn’t come up w/the concept, but I’m very sorry & take full responsibility if it has offended anyone,” she wrote.

Only is definitely a victim of bad timing: it was released on the 76th anniversary of Kristallnacht. But the Anti-Defamation League also highlighted the way Minaj herself assumes the role of Führer in the video. “This video is insensitive to Holocaust survivors and a trivialisation of the history of that era,” wrote the League’s US national director, Abraham H Foxman. “The abuse of Nazi imagery is deeply disturbing and offensive to Jews and all those who can recall the sacrifices Americans and many others had to make as a result of Hitler’s Nazi juggernaut.”

Only is the third single from Minaj’s forthcoming album The Pinkprint. It debuted at No 35 on the UK singles chart.

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