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Category Archives: Memorials

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Source: The Washington Post, June 12, 2016

Almost everywhere you turn, it seems, people have their eyes glued to smartphone screens playing Pokémon Go. Since its launch last week, the app has quickly become a cultural phenomenon that has fans of all ages hunting around their neighborhoods for collectible digital creatures that appear on players’ screens as they explore real-world locations.

But there’s at least one place that would really like to keep Pokémon out: the Holocaust Museum.

The museum, along with many other landmarks, is a “PokéStop” within the game — a place where players can get free in-game items. There are three PokéStops associated with various parts of the museum.

“Playing the game is not appropriate in the museum, which is a memorial to the victims of Nazism,” Andrew Hollinger, the museum’s communications director, told The Post. “We are trying to find out if we can get the museum excluded from the game.”

The Holocaust Museum’s plight highlights how apps that layer a digital world on top of the real one can create awkward situations, especially since the owners of the physical locations often cannot weigh in on how their spaces are being used.

One image circulating online appears to show a player encountering an unsettling digital critter inside the museum: a Pokémon called Koffing that emits poisonous gas floating by a sign for the museum’s Helena Rubinstein Auditorium. The auditorium shows the testimonials of Jews who survived the gas chambers.

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The image, which appears to have originated from a now deleted post on the photo-sharing site imgur, might be a hoax: That particular Pokémon didn’t appear nearby when this Post reporter visited the museum Monday afternoon, although the specific Pokémon that appears in each location does vary from time to time. Hollinger said that the museum is concerned about the potential Koffing appearance.

Niantic did not immediately respond to inquiries about the alleged Koffing sighting or if there was any way to honor the Holocaust Museum’s request to stop Pokémon from popping up inside its building.

Hollinger stressed that the museum is generally pro-technology and encourages visitors to use social media to share how their experiences with the exhibits moved them. “But this game falls very much outside that,” he said.

On Monday afternoon, there were plenty of people inside the museum who seemed to be distracted from its haunting exhibits as they tried to “catch ’em all,” as the Pokémon slogan goes. A player even used a lure module, a beacon that attracts Pokémon to a specific PokéStop, on the museum’s marker — making double-headed bird-like creatures dubbed Doduos and rodent-like Rattatas practically swarm on users’ screens.

The player behind the lure, a 30-year-old visiting from North Carolina named Dustin who declined to share his last name with The Post for privacy reasons, was excited to catch a crustacean-like Krabby while waiting in the museum’s lobby with a group of friends to pick up tickets for a scheduled tour.

Although the museum is uncomfortable with its Pokémon infestation, most of the players building up their digital critter collection inside the building at least didn’t seem to mean any disrespect.-Andrew Peterson

“It’s not like we came here to play,” said Angie, a 37-year-old member of Dustin’s group who also declined to share her last name for privacy reasons, “But gotta catch ’em all.”

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: ABC News, October 15, 2014

Images of emaciated and mangled bodies from recent history in Syria were publicly displayed for the first time Wednesday at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, documenting the work of a former Syrian military photographer who defected and has testified in Congress about witnessing mass killings.

A small exhibit, entitled “Genocide: The Threat Continues,” features a dozen images from an archive of 55,000 pictures smuggled out of Syria. The photographer, codenamed “Caesar,” testified in July that he witnessed a “genocidal massacre” and photographed more than 10,000 bodies as part of his job. He warned a similar fate could befall 150,000 more people who remain incarcerated by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.

Some images at the museum show dozens of bodies lined up or piled atop one another with their faces obscured. Others show the effects of depravation and torture, including electrocution, gouged out eyes and removed genitals, said Cameron Hudson, the director of the museum’s Center for the Prevention of Genocide. They’re powerful images, and viewers are immediately reminded of the Holocaust, he said.

“They show a side of the Syrian regime that hasn’t really been really seen. You might have heard about it, read about it, but when you’re confronted with these images, they’re impossible to ignore,” Hudson said.

The museum relied on forensic examinations of the photographs conducted by the FBI and by former prosecutors and forensic experts of the International Criminal Court to verify the authenticity of the images. The U.S. State Department has cited the FBI’s examination as well, though the results have not been publicly released.

Syrian opposition groups hope to use the images to prosecute Assad’s regime for war crimes.

The photos were shown to the U.N. Security Council in April. At the time, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said the images “indicate that the Assad regime has carried out systematic, widespread and industrial killing.”

Syria’s Justice Ministry dismissed the images as “lacking objectiveness and professionalism.”

At the museum, the images of Syrian corpses from detention centers share striking similarities with those of concentration camps during the Holocaust, Hudson said, showing evidence of starvation and emaciated bodies. They are the result of long-term detention, not battlefield deaths, he said.

“You don’t wither away and die like that on a battlefield” Hudson said. “You don’t get that in a matter of days or weeks. It’s months and months of depravation that causes the human body to wither away like that.”

Daniel Sturm, 23, of Portland, Oregon, visited the museum for the first time Wednesday with his mother. He follows news out of Syria but said he and most people don’t know what’s happening on the ground. So he was impressed to see the images, he said.

“When you look at that, that is absolutely systematic killing,” Sturm said. “No emotion to it. Just ‘let’s get rid of that situation.'”

It’s important to remember genocide didn’t end with the Holocaust and is a real threat in Syria, Hudson said.

The museum decided to exhibit the images for the foreseeable future because its scholars have long studied how witnesses who escaped Nazi Germany and reported atrocities to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and other officials in Washington, only to be ignored.

“We realized that this person, Caesar, the Syrian who escaped, he was a witness,” Hudson said. “We felt an obligation to tell his story as someone who showed real courage in coming forward and escaping and trying to tell the story of what he saw.”

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Source: Lilit Marcus, #Holocaust selfies are inevitable if you turn solemn sites into tourist trapsThe Guardian, October 9, 2014

I’m a travel writer, and I’m Jewish. That means that, whether I’m writing about them or not, visits to Jewish sites – including museums, synagogues, and restaurants – are often an important part of any trip I take. But there’s one kind of Jewish site in which I have absolutely no interest in visiting: a concentration camp.

I know many people for whom visiting a concentration camp is a serious act or even a triumphant one. A few years ago, a viral video of a camp survivor and his grandchildren dancing around at Auschwitz to the tune of “I Will Survive” had me crying at my desk. For people whose families perished at these places, the visits are mournful and a way to pay tribute all the ones they’ve lost. And events like last month’s excavation of the gas chambers below the camp of Sobibor show that former concentration camps need to be preserved as evidence of what happened there.

But even when the concentration camps and other Holocaust-related sites themselves are presented with respect and dignity, not every visitor acts accordingly. The American basketball star Danny Green’s “#Holocaust” selfie he posted on Wednesday from Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is hardly the most offensive: I’ve seen far too many photos of people smiling, waving and throwing gang signs in front of the “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign at Auschwitz. A friend came back from a visit to Dachau, telling me about the tourists who had taken cheesy selfies in front of prisoner uniforms. And earlier this year, the American college student Brenna Mitchell’s self-described “Auschwitz selfie” went viral and launched many conversations about what is and isn’t appropriate taste at such serious historical sites.

For some people, a visit to a place like Auschwitz isn’t about paying respect or learning about history – it’s simply yet another “must-see attraction” they’re checking off in their guidebook, a thing to be Instagrammed, like the Mona Lisa or the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The Holocaust is so visceral and wrenching to me that I’d rather opt out of visiting a camp altogether than run the risk of having to interact with the people who will treat it like an attraction at Disneyland.

Thanks to work by historians, scholars, artists and activists, there are thousands of ways that I can (and do) learn about the Shoah. But I don’t need to see where people were murdered in order to grasp its gravity – and I especially don’t need to see those killing fields when they’re full of tourists stopping in on their way to the beer garden.

In a short story by the late writer Leonard Michaels, the main character – a Jewish mathematics professor named Nachman – attends a conference in Krakow, Poland, where he is assigned a tour guide who tells him that she is taking him to Auschwitz because she’s aware that some of his family members were there. Nachman, however, has another idea. “I don’t want to tour Auschwitz,” he tells the guide. “I would like to see the ghetto, particularly the synagogue.” In other words, he wants to see where they lived, not where they died.

It’s that idea – I want to see where they lived – that drives my personal Jewish tourism. Everyone has their own way of remembering the past, of committing it to memory. Mine is to see the places where Jewish people lived, where they thrived, where they fell in love and baked apple cakes for Rosh Hashanah and held Passover seders and taught their children to read Hebrew. Concentration camps are anathema to that. I’m glad that many have been preserved, so that there will be always be reminders of the horrible atrocities that humans visited on other humans. But I’ll never go there myself. –Lilit Marcus

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Source: Ruth Margalit, The New Yorker, June 26, 2014

Four teen-agers huddle together, striking a severe pose like a boy band. In the background, just overhead, a sign looms: “Arbeit Macht Frei.” A girl kneels down next to some austere-looking, moss-ridden stairs. Wearing a black beanie and red lipstick, she makes a duck face and an inverse peace sign as the camera snaps. Two girlfriends draped in Israeli flags stand side by side, smiling, in a snow-topped forest. The caption reads, “#Trablinka #poland #jewish.” Underneath, a single comment: “Oh my god, beauties!!!”

The Instagram era has now brought us the selfie in a concentration camp. Or, as the phenomenon was identified in the title of a new Israeli Facebook page (translated here loosely), With My Besties in Auschwitz. The page, taken down on Wednesday, culled from real-life photos—most of them also taken down recently—that had been posted on social-media sites by Israeli kids on school trips to Poland. From the self-absorbed faux seriousness of some (meditating on the grounds of Auschwitz-Birkenau!) to the jarring jokiness of others (hitching a ride by the train tracks!), the pictures have fed a perception of today’s youth as a bunch of technology-obsessed, self-indulgent narcissists.

They also bring to mind the photos compiled in the popular Selfies at Funerals Tumblr blog. But if the “funeral selfie” kids were somehow hilarious in their inappropriateness, there’s nothing quite like seeing Israeli teens blowing kisses from the death camps of Poland to send you into a confusing and curious rage.

The creator of With My Besties in Auschwitz saw the selfie-taking phenomenon among Israeli kids firsthand when she visited Poland herself. She found the pictures by combing through Instagram, Facebook, and Google and using searches for Holocaust-related terms. The variety was “endless,” she says. She created a Facebook page, posted the pictures while peppering them with some caustic captions of her own—“Babes! I’m saving you a seat on the bus to Trablinka!” next to a picture of two pouting girls in Auschwitz, “Even here I’m drop dead gorgeous!” next to another—and watched the page go viral overnight, garnering tens of thousands of likes and shares. During the next twenty-four hours, articles appeared in many major news outlets, and outrage quickly ensued.

Ironically, instead of lobbing the barbs at the offending teen-agers, people seemed to aim most of their criticisms at the creator of the page. “6 million Jews! Shame on you!” was a common refrain among the comments on the site. Watching this unfold from the outside, the angry commenters felt similar to those who took Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” at face value. By the time I tracked down the creator of With My Besties in Auschwitz and chatted with her online, she refused to give her name, saying that she had been “threatened with bizarre lawsuits.”

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“This page started as a total joke meant for my friends,” she told me. “I just thought there was something grotesque in tagging #mountofash next to a mount of ash in Majdanek, or in making a ‘sexy’ or ‘seductive’ face next to a crematorium. What is this supposed to mean exactly—I look hot in Auschwitz?! Turns out many people agreed with me.”

She added that, although the page started in jest, it highlights a disturbing phenomenon in Israel. “The message is the despicable use that is being done of the Holocaust.” She went on, “In a way, it’s not these kids’ faults. Many politicians are cynically using the Holocaust to further their own agenda.” As an example, she cited a recent speech by Israel’s finance minister, who brought up the experience of Jews in the Second World War to lambaste Israelis who choose to leave the country.

“I used sarcasm because when you talk about it seriously it doesn’t really work,” she said. The message was apparently received. Most of the teen-agers, whose names she had redacted, had caught on to the site and were shamed into removing the pictures from their accounts. With her mission accomplished, the creator of With My Besties in Auschwitz shut down the Facebook page. “After rocking the Web here, I feel like this has served its purpose,” she told me, with an air of defiance. “Those who didn’t get the message until now most likely never will.”

Holocaust Tourist

Glasgow filmmaker Jes Benstock brings a wry, quizzical voice and a surprising mix of animation and live action to consider the contemporary legacy of the Holocaust in Poland.

A whistle-stop tour from Auschwitz hot-dogs to Krakow’s kitsch Judaica that asks: how is dark tourism changing history?

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From Amber Wilkinson’s review on Eye for Film, November 23, 2006:

“I didn’t want to make a film about the holocaust,” says Benstock at the outset, “but if you’re a film-maker and Jewish it comes with the job description.”

It is the nature of ‘holocaust tourism’ that interests – or perhaps that should be ‘unsettles’ – Benstock. Is it right that tourist shops have sprung up to cash in on visitors to Auschwitz? The town of Krakow is a bustling hub of tourism. Holidaymakers eat in Jewish-themed bars and restaurants before making a ‘pilgrimage’ to the death camp. But is pilgrimage the right word, or is this just another stop off on the tourist trail “blazed by Hollywood”?

Benstock has assembled an impressive set of interviewees, from a sculptor who laments the commercialisation of his craft, to professor of the faith and member of the Auschwitz committee Jonathan Webber and several people who work and maintain Auschwitz. Each paints a bleak picture of a tragedy, if not forgotten, then diminished somehow.

Benstock cleverly mixes animation and live footage to hold the attention and the use of quick cuts between kitsch ornaments, people smiling for the camera under the infamous Arbeit Machs Frei sign and letting children run about without a thought for those on a true pilgrimage of remembrance shine a startling light on our ignorance.

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The Holocaust Visual Archive is proud to present a short clip from the film, published with permission of the author Jes Benstock and of The National Center for Jewish Film – Brandeis University, that we warmly thank.

To buy the DVD or arrange a screening, visit this page.

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Source: The Guardian, December 28, 2012

A statue of Adolf Hitler praying on his knees has sparked controversy after going on display in the former Warsaw ghetto.

The artwork by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, titled Him, has been installed in the Polish capital where thousands of Jews were killed or sent to their deaths by the Nazi regime.

The statue has attracted large numbers of visitors since its installation last month, but some organisations have criticised the decision to erect it in such a sensitive area.

One Jewish advocacy group, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, described the statue’s placement as “a senseless provocation which insults the memory of the Nazis’ Jewish victims”.

“As far as the Jews were concerned, Hitler’s only ‘prayer’ was that they be wiped off the face of the earth,” the group’s Israel director, Efraim Zuroff, said in a statement.

The Hitler statue is visible from a hole in a wooden gate and viewers can only see the back of the small figure praying in a courtyard.

Cattelan has not made it clear what Hitler is praying for, although organisers of the exhibition in which it features claim the statue is meant to make people reflect on the nature of evil.

Fabio Cavallucci, director of the Centre for Contemporary Art, which oversaw the installation, said: “There is no intention from the side of the artist or the centre to insult Jewish memory.

“It’s an artwork that tries to speak about the situation of hidden evil everywhere.”

It is estimated that about 300,000 Jews who lived in the ghetto either died from hunger or disease or were sent to their deaths in concentration camps under the Nazi rule.

Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, said he was consulted on the installation’s placement but did not oppose it because it conveyed a strong moral question by provoking the audience.

He said he was reassured by the organisers who told him the statue did not aim to rehabilitate Hitler but instead show that evil can present itself in the guise of a “sweet praying child”.

“I felt there could be educational value to it,” Schudrich added.

 

The collages created by Alex Ayaan, a photographer and graphic artist from Bucharest, exemplify how history and collective memory collapse into each other in Holocaust visual culture. Ayaan employs the same juxtaposition (past/present) and the same visual pattern (black and white/color) inaugurated by Alain Resnais’ Nuit et Brouillard (Night and Fog, 1955), that became a recurring topos in Holocaust films up to Schindler’s List. The death camp is here both a memorial site and a contemporary “touristic” structure. See more of Alex Ayaan’s collages here.

The ethical limit of Holocaust representations (in art, literature, architecture, film, etc.) lies on a system of substitutions going from mimesis to abstract motifs. The set of patterns and artistic theories coming from the modernist and avant-garde movements provide a conceptual framework to explore the intersection of memory, ethics and aesthetics in the artistic expressions (one of the major issues in “Holocaust Studies”).

From this point of view, the Grid, considered as a Modernist Myth, is a fundamental visual pattern. As noted by art historian Rosalind Krauss, the grid “announces, among other things, modern art’s will to silence, its hostility to literature, to narrative, to discourse”. In the cultist space of modern art “the grid serves not only as emblem but also as myth. For like all myths, it deals with paradox or contradiction not by dissolving the paradox or resolving the contradiction, but by covering them over so that they seem (but only seem) to go away”.  A paradox, or contradiction, which involves the unrepresentability of Holocaust.

We can look at the grid structure as a myth not only referring to modernist artists like Ryman or Mondrian, but also to the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin (Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas, 2005) designed by architect Peter Eisenman. In this specific case, the paradox is represented by a monument that Germany built to its own fault.

Piet Mondrian, Composition No. 10 Pier and Ocean (1915)

Peter Eisenman, Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas, 2005