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Monthly Archives: January 2014


Source: Chicago Tribune, January 23, 2014

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Aisha Harris, The Last Behind-the-Scenes Footage From Jerry Lewis’ Notorious Holocaust Comedy, Slate, January 2, 2014

This past August, footage from Jerry Lewis’ notorious, little-seen, Holocaust-themed film, The Day the Clown Cried, surfaced on YouTube. The video, uploaded by YouTuber Uncle Sporkums, was taken from a 1972 Danish TV documentary and featured more than seven minutes of behind-the-scenes takes from the production. It was a film buff’s dream: The Day the Clown Cried is little-seen because Lewis, who co-wrote, directed, and starred in the movie, has insisted that it will never get a proper release. (He says that only one copy remains, locked in a safe.)

Most of us will probably never get to see the full movie, which features Lewis as a German circus clown imprisoned at a concentration camp during World War II. But there is at least a bit more behind-the-scenes footage to peruse, provided again by Uncle Sporkums. According to him, the two videos uploaded yesterday are the last of the footage from the documentary; one features more from the circus ring scene, while the other is an interview with Lewis, who talks about pre-production material from the film.

The reasons for Lewis’ refusal to release the film are still, to some extent, unclear—his own opinion of its quality has vacillated over the years—but the latter video may offer a small clue. When asked by the interviewer how he came across the original script by Joan O’Brien and Charles Denton, Lewis explains:

“Ten years ago, I fell in love with this idea, and 10 years ago, I was not ready to make such a thing … I don’t think I could have handled it 10 years ago. It was the wrong time. I only do what I do when I believe it is time.”


Source: Monika Scislowska, Associated Press, January 8, 2014

WARSAW, POLAND — A stirring movie by German Oscar-winning director Pepe Danquart about a Jewish boy struggling to survive the Holocaust is having its world premiere in Warsaw on Wednesday.

A German-French coproduction with mostly Polish actors, “Run, Boy, Run” is the true story of 10-year-old Yoram Friedman who escaped the Warsaw ghetto in 1943 and — hunted by the Nazis — hid in the woods near the city. The child fed on snails and mushrooms, braved winter snow storms and hid in water to avoid Nazi sniffer dogs.

He occasionally got help from farmers, but also faced indifference, hatred and betrayal. Posing as a Catholic Pole, assuming the name Jurek Staniak, helped him find lodgings in exchange for work on farms.

His right hand was badly injured in an accident, but a surgeon refused to operate after discovering that the boy was Jewish. Another surgeon treated him, but too late to save the arm from amputation.

Talking to The Associated Press on the eve of the premiere, Friedman said he does not live in the past.

“I don’t go back to that. What happened, happened,” he said. He admitted, however, that dreams about his ordeal were still haunting him a decade ago.

He remembers the words of his father — quoted in the film — before he sacrificed his life for the boy: “Conceal that you are Jewish but never forget that you are Jewish.”

Friedman believes the movie will reach many people around the globe with the message that “we must never forget that this really took place.” He is now about 80 years old, not sure if he was born in 1933 or 1934.

Danquart, whose “Black Rider” won the 1993 short movie Oscar, told the AP the fact that a German director has made a story about a Jewish boy in the Holocaust that opens in Poland is a “sign of the new time, of a Europe that has come together … and that as people, as humans we can talk about it.”

Despite its dramatic story, the movie is attractive to watch, thanks to the beauty of nature in it and the inner innocence that the boy keeps, despite his ordeal.

“It’s not really a Holocaust movie. It’s more the adventure of a kid in the middle of the Holocaust,” Danquart said. His goal was to interest young viewers with a point of view that is more about life than death.

Friedman’s family, except for one sister, died during the Holocaust, and after the war he was taken to a Jewish orphanage in Poland. He studied mathematics and moved to Israel in 1962, and worked as a teacher there for 40 years.

This week he is back to Warsaw for the premiere with his wife, Sonia; his daughter, Michal; his son, Zwi; and some of his six grandchildren.

Jews represented about 10 percent of Poland’s population of some 35 million before the war, but they were half of Poland’s more than 6 million war victims.

The premiere at Warsaw’s Jewish History Museum also will be attended by Danquart and Israeli writer Uri Orlev, who told Friedman’s story in a 2001 book. The movie is to be released in Germany, the U.S., Israel and Japan, among others.


Source: Geoffrey Macnab, The Independent, January 8, 2014

The British Army Film Unit cameramen who shot the liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945 used to joke about the reaction of Alfred Hitchcock to the horrific footage they filmed. When Hitchcock first saw the footage, the legendary British director was reportedly so traumatised that he stayed away from Pinewood Studios for a week. Hitchcock may have been the king of horror movies but he was utterly appalled by “the real thing”.

In 1945, Hitchcock had been enlisted by his friend and patron Sidney Bernstein to help with a documentary on German wartime atrocities, based on the footage of the camps shot by British and Soviet film units. In the event, that documentary was never seen.

“It was suppressed because of the changing political situation, particularly for the British,” suggests Dr Toby Haggith, Senior Curator at the Department of Research, Imperial War Museum. “Once they discovered the camps, the Americans and British were keen to release a film very quickly that would show the camps and get the German people to accept their responsibility for the atrocities that were there.”

The film took far longer to make than had originally been envisaged. By late 1945, the need for it began to wane. The Allied military government decided that rubbing the Germans’ noses in their own guilt wouldn’t help with postwar reconstruction.

Five of the film’s six reels were eventually deposited in the Imperial War Museum and the project was quietly forgotten.

In the 1980s, the footage was discovered in a rusty can in the museum by an American researcher. It was eventually shown in an incomplete version at the Berlin Film Festival in 1984 and then broadcast on American PBS in 1985 under the title Memory of the Camps but in poor quality and without the missing sixth reel. The original narration, thought to have been written by future Labour Cabinet Minister Richard Crossman in collaboration with Australian journalist Colin Wills, was read by actor Trevor Howard.

Now, finally, the film is set to be seen in a version that Hitchcock, Bernstein and the other collaborators intended. The Imperial War Museum has painstakingly restored it using digital technology and has pieced together the extra material from the missing sixth reel. A new documentary, Night Will Fall, is also being made with André Singer, executive producer of The Act of Killing, as director and Stephen Frears as directorial advisor. Both the original film about the camps and the new documentary will be shown on British TV in early 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of the “liberation” of Europe. Before that, next year, they are due to be shown together at festivals and in cinemas.

The decision to revive the film is bound to provoke anguished debate. It includes truly shocking footage of the camps (Belsen-Bergen in particular.) The film’s own commentary, which has been re-recorded with a new actor, has a phrase about “sightseers” at a “chamber of horrors”.

Billy Wilder, who directed Death Mills (1945), an American film about the German atrocities, was forthright about why he did not want atrocity footage to be seen in later years. Wilder questioned whether it had worked in “re-educating” the German civilian population about what their leaders had been doing in their name.

“They [the Germans] couldn’t cope with it. He [Wilder] told me people just left the screening or closed their eyes. They didn’t want to see,” Wilder’s friend Volker Schlöndorff recalled in a 2011 interview. “They found out it was almost unbearable to see these documents and almost indecent for the victims or the people related to the victims.”

In Memory of the Camps, there is imagery of heaps of naked bodies being piled up in mass graves. The footage seems as surreal as anything you might see in a Hieronymus Bosch painting but then you remember that these corpses haven’t been conjured up by some artist’s twisted imagination. These are real victims whose relatives are alive today.

In the documentary, we see the Germans themselves confronted with the enormity of the crimes committed in their name and forced to help bury the dead themselves.

As Toby Haggith acknowledges, the film is “much more candid” than any of the other documentaries about the camps. Haggith also describes it as “brilliant” and “sophisticated”. The editors Stewart McAllister (famous for his work with Humphrey Jennings) and Peter Tanner, working under advice from Hitchcock, fashioned an immensely powerful and moving film from the hours and hours of grim material at their disposal. The documentary isn’t all about death. We also see imagery of reconstruction and reconciliation. There is footage of camp inmates having their first showers and cleaning their clothes. The film-makers show the painstaking way that typhus was eradicated from the camps.

Haggith speak of the “brilliance” of the original cameramen at the camps, who were working without direction but still had an uncanny knack for homing in on the most poignant and telling images.

“It’s both an alienating film in terms of its subject matter but also one that has a deep humanity and empathy about it,” Haggith suggests. “Rather than coming away feeling totally depressed and beaten, there are elements of hope.”

The Trevor Howard voiceover narration in Memory of the Camps is strangely reminiscent of the one that director Carol Reed himself read over the opening of The Third Man (in which Howard co-starred.) It has the same sardonic understatement as it describes the devastation wreaked by the war. In the new version, the words will remain (but have now been recorded by a contemporary actor.)

Memory of the Camps was a title given to the documentary years after it was made. It will now be renamed. Haggith won’t reveal the new title.

For Hitchcock fans, the Holocaust film is a cause for both excitement and wariness. On the one hand, it seems obvious that his work on the documentary must have had a profound influence on him. He may have been a “treatment advisor” on the project rather than its actual director but his exposure to imagery as extreme as this must have coloured his approach to depicting horror and violence on screen.

The wariness comes from the sense that it is both distasteful and absurdly reductive to see a Nazi atrocity documentary as a ” Hitchcock movie”. We will never know exactly how much he contributed to the film, even if it seems certain that his ideas about how it should be structured were taken on board.

“Our experience with it has been similar to the experience of the cameramen really, in that the technical work has to some degree protected us from the meaning of the film,” Haggith suggests of the experience of spending many months poring over such gruesome and disturbing imagery. He adds that “the fact that we have been habituated to these images over the last 70 years” has meant that the restorers have been able to treat the film as “historical source material”.

The restoration is now almost complete. How will contemporary audiences react to a film which, when it was first being put together, traumatised Hitchcock himself and so deeply upset its original editors, who weren’t aware of what had actually gone on in the camps?

“Judging by the two test screenings we have had for colleagues, experts and film historians, what struck me was that they found it extremely disturbing,” Haggith says. “When you’re sitting in a darkened cinema and you’re focusing on a screen, your attention is very focused, unlike watching it on television… the digital restoration has made this material seem very fresh. One of the common remarks was that it [the film] was both terrible and brilliant at the same time.”

That, Haggith, believes is testament to the craftsmanship of the film-makers, who took some of “the most atrocious and disturbing footage that had yet been recorded in cinema at that stage” and turned into a film that was lucid, moving and instructive as well as appalling. The job now for those showing the film is to provide context and explanation. As Haggith puts it: “We can’t stop the film being incredibly upsetting and disturbing but we can help people understand why it is being presented in that way.”