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Category Archives: New Books

jews-superJumbo

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.”

HolocaustImpiety

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.

A new and pathbreaking collection of studies has come out, the first book which addresses systematically the neglected field of Nazisploitation. Many chapters deal with the Holocaust theme in Exploitation cinema, especially in Italian Sexploitation films from the late 1970s. A detailed review will follow as soon as possible, in the meantime we offer the description from the publisher’s website:

Nazisploitation! examines past intersections of National Socialism and popular cinema and the recent reemergence of this imagery in contemporary visual culture. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, films such as Love Camp 7 and Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS introduced and reinforced the image of Nazis as master paradigms of evil in what film theorists deem the ‘sleaze’ film. More recently, Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, as well as video games such as Call of Duty: World at War, have reinvented this iconography for new audiences. In these works, the violent Nazi becomes the hyperbolic caricature of the “monstrous feminine” or the masculine sadist. Power-hungry scientists seek to clone the Führer, and Nazi zombies rise from the grave.

The history, aesthetic strategies, and political implications of such translations of National Socialism into the realm of commercial, low brow, and ‘sleaze’ visual culture are the focus of this book. The contributors examine when and why the Nazisploitation genre emerged as it did, how it establishes and violates taboos, and why this iconography resonates with contemporary audiences.

Table of Contents

“Nazisploitation: An Introduction” by Daniel H. Magilow

Part I. Origins, Histories, and Genealogies
1. Cinema beyond Good and Evil? Nazi Exploitation in the Cinema of the 1970s and its Heritage by Marcus Stiglegger
2. Sexual Deviance and the Naked Body in Cinematic Representations of Nazis by Michael Richardson
3. Ilsa and Elsa: Nazisploitation, Mainstream Film, and Cinematic Transference by Alicia Kozma
4. Reproducing the Fourth Reich: Cloning, Nazisploitation, and Revival of the Repressed by Elizabeth Bridges
5. Utterly without Redeeming Social Value? “Nazi Science” Beyond Exploitation Cinema by James J. Ward

Part II. Bitches, Whores, and Dominatrices
6. The Third Reich as Bordello and Pig Sty: Between Neodecadence and Sexploitation in Tinto Brass’s Salon Kitty by Robert von Dassanowsky
7. Revisiting the Cruel Apparatus: Disability, Queerness, and Taste in In a Glass Cage by David Church
8. Eine Armee Gretchen: Nazisploitation Made in Switzerland by Benedikt Eppenberger
9. Meshes of Power: The Concentration Camp as Pulp or Art House in Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter by Elissa Mailänder

Part III. Heroes, Villains, and the Undead
10. Digital Nazis: Genre, History and the Displacement of Evil in First-Person Shooters by Jeff Hayton
11. Captain America Lives Again and So Do the Nazis: Nazisploitation in Comics after 9/11 by Craig This
12. A Past that Refuses to Die: Nazi Zombie Film and the Legacy of Occupation by Sven Jüngerkes and Christiane Wienand
13. Messing Up World War II-Exploitation: The Challenges of Role-Play in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds by Mimmi Woisnitza
14. Of Blitzkriege and Endlösungen: The Resurrection of a Dead Genre? by Michael Fuchs

Bibliography
Selected Filmography
Notes on Contributors
Index