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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Identification Card, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington DC.
From the “Education” Section of the USHMM website: “Designed as small booklets to be carried through the exhibition, the cards help visitors to personalize the historical events of the time. (…) The Museum has developed nearly 600 identification cards. Approximately half of them are about Holocaust survivors. These cards describe the experiences of those who hid or were rescued, as well as those who survived internment in ghettos and camps. The other half represent the experiences of people who died. (…) To create the identification cards, a team of five Museum staff members interviewed 130 survivors of the Holocaust. The survivors described their own experiences as well as those of relatives who died during the Holocaust. The identification cards were developed from those interviews and from other oral histories and written memoirs. Each identification card has four sections. The first section provides a biographical sketch of the person. The second describes the individual’s experiences from 1933 to 1939, while the third describes events during the war years. The final section describes the fate of the individual and explains the circumstances – to the extent that they are known – in which the individual either died or survived”.

The “story-telling” conception of the USHMM Identity Card Project parallels the dynamics of spectator’s identification with the characters of a film and equates the Museum visit to a cinematic experience. Below, page from the Chicago Tribune TV Week (16-22 April 1978) introducing to the first airing of NBC’s miniseries Holocaust through the list of the main characters.

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In the adventure “Night of the Reaper” (Batman, No. 237, Dec. 1971), Batman comes to Rutland, Vermont, to bring his help to Dr. Gruener, a German Jew who was deported to a concentration camp run by Colonel Kurt Schloss, known during the war as the Butcher. Schloss has allegedly been sighted in the Rutland area, and Dr. Gruener wants to find him and bring him to justice, but the Colonel is killed by a mysterious Reaper at a Halloween parade.

As it turns out, the Reaper is Dr. Gruener himself, seeking his private vengeance. He dies battling Batman when he falls off the edge of a dam. Batman is conflicted whether to hunt the Reaper or let him go. As is the case of many superheroes, Batman’s powers are rooted in a traumatic experience (he has witnessed the murder of his parents as a child), so he fully understands Gruener’s unstoppable lust for revenge.

Lastly, when a Star of David dangles before his eyes, Gruener questions what he has become. His story resonates with that of Magneto – supervillain of the X-Men whose superpowers firstly appeared in Auschwitz – and finds its place in a long tradition of “Holocaust Avengers” in comics, traced by Kathrin Bower (“Holocaust Avengers: From The Master Race to Magneto”, International Journal of Comic Art 6.2, Fall 2004: 182-19).



Pictures from Kamp, by the Dutch theater group Hotel Modern. The performance, which premiered in 2005, mixes theater, music, video, sculpture and puppetry to portray Auschwitz. Despite some perplexed reactions, mostly revolving around the opportunity of representing the Holocaust through puppets, the performance has met with an overall positive reception in the many countries where it has been shown. The website of Hotel Modern presents “Kamp” with these words:

An enormous scale model of Auschwitz fills the stage. Overcrowded barracks, a railway track, a gateway with the words “Arbeit Macht Frei”. Hotel Modern attempts to imagine the unimaginable: the greatest mass murder in history, committed in a purpose-built city.
The model of the camp is brought to life on stage: thousands of 8 centimeter tall handmade puppets represent the prisoners and their executioners. The actors move through the set like giant war reporters, filming the horrific events with miniature cameras; the audience becomes the witness.

The performance can be seen on the Hotel Modern’s YouTube channel: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

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Puppets of Nazi leaders were largely used in the highly theatrical film Our Hitler (Hitler, ein Film aus Deutschland, 1978) by German filmmaker Hans-Jürgen Syberberg. The seven-hour film can be watched in its complete version on Syberberg’s website (German with English subtitles).

Front cover of the Italian sports magazine “Guerin Sportivo”, after the Heysel Stadium Disaster on 29 May 1985. Just before the start of the European Cup Final between Liverpool and Juventus, a large group of Liverpool supporters breached a fence separating them from a “neutral area” which contained rival Juventus fans. The wall collapsed under the pressure, 39 Juventus fans died and 600 were injured. The tragedy in itself and the media coverage of the “Heysel” changed the perception of football and the relation between sports and violence. This turning point was significantly remarked by the term “Holocaust”, used here to connote an epoch-making Event. In the same year, the release of Claude Lanzmann’s film Shoah contributed to introduce in Europe the Hebrew term “Shoah” as the new word for “Holocaust”.

Still from Tribunal, episode of the science fiction tv-series The Outer Limits (aired on 14 May 1999, during the fifth season). The time-traveller Nicholas Prentice goes back to 1944 at Auschwitz-Birkenau and takes note of the Nazi crimes he witnesses on his palm computer. The episode was written by author and producer Sam Egan, son of a Holocaust survivor.

Self Portrait at Buchenwald: It’s the Real Thing (Digitally manipulated Photograph, 1991–1993)

In this artwork, shown at the exhibition Mirroring Evil: Nazi Imagery/Recent Art (New York, Jewish Museum, 2002), English Jewish artist Alan Schechner inserted himself in a famous photo taken by Margaret Bourke-White after the liberation of Buchenwald (1945), with a Diet-Coke can in his hand. “The Coke can marks a rupture between the moment in 1945 in which Bourke-White took the original photograph and Schechner’s contemporary presence in the image. The differences between the present and the past are divided by this ideological and historical gap. In this sense Schechner’s image works like an allegorical ruin” (Alessandro Imperato). Schechner is interested in a cultural re-appropriation of signs and icons from the Holocaust through the radical rupture marked by historical distance and touristic perception of memory. A gap that is here symbolized by the Diet-Coke can, a single element that functions as a paradoxical punctum of the image (something that “pierces the viewer”, as defined by Roland Barthes). Below, the original picture by Margaret Bourke-White.