Monthly Archives: May 2014

A haunting account of the Holocaust (Otto Dov Kulka’s Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death)

[from The Guardian]
In Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death, Otto Dov Kulka describes how the transmission of fine music and literature in Auschwitz proved the existence of hope – and sarcasm.

I am writing about a very short book, which could take no more than a couple of hours to read and no more than a lifetime to digest. As its author, Otto Dov Kulka, says: “I am … aware that these texts, though anchored in concrete historical events, transcend the sphere of history.” It is a historian’s memoir of Auschwitz, without sentimentality and almost without outrage, since it is an examination of a place where all human reactions are inadequate.

Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death is told in vignettes. Here is one I take to be central: a boy sits playing a tune on a harmonica. Another child comes up to him and asks if he knows what he is playing. No, he replies, it was taught to me six months ago in a camp that no longer exists. Kulka, who was the harmonica player, continues: “He then explained to me what I was playing and what we sang there and the meaning of those words. I think he also tried to explain the terrible absurdity of it, the terrible wonder of it, that a song of praise to joy and to the brotherhood of man, Schiller’s Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s ninth symphony, was being played opposite the crematoriums of Auschwitz, a few hundred metres from the place of execution, where the greatest conflagration ever experienced by that same mankind that was being sung about was going on at the very moment we were talking and in all the months we were there.”

In one sense this terrible absurdity and wonder cannot by their nature be explained. Absurdity and wonder can be revealed and their ramifications expounded, but they cannot be made to make sense; they can’t be reduced to any explanation. The same is true of death – except that in Auschwitz death made all the sense there was. Death was, as Kulka says, “The sole certain perspective ruling the world.”

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Opus No 7 review – more like alchemy than theatre

[from The Guardian]

Medals pinned on chests suddenly resemble blood-splattered gunshot wounds in Dmitry Krymov’s vivid and visceral play.

Opus No 7There are times when Dmitry Krymov‘s production, which draws parallels between the fate of European Jewry with that of artists living under the oppressive Soviet regime, seems less like theatre and more like alchemy. Buckets of paint thrown against a white cardboard wall mysteriously come alive. Holes are cut in the cardboard and the shapeless blobs are transformed into human shapes: the lost Jews of Europe. The wall bursts open and the entire theatre is filled with a blizzard of newsprint, every tiny torn scrap fluttering in the wind an unbearably poignant reminder of all those lost in the Holocaust.

There is so much loss in this visually stunning two and a half hours. A procession of ghosts are raised – victims of fascism and communism. History always walks with a jackboot here: the sinister steps of an SS officer in the first half, Genealogy, are echoed in the second half, Shostakovich. The cardboard wall of Part One is glimpsed under a piano in Part Two as the composer tries desperately to escape his political collusion as the state turns on its artists. Medals pinned on chests suddenly resemble blood-splattered gunshot wounds; Shostakovich’s own medal pierces his back, turning him into a wind-up clockwork toy, dancing to the tune of Mother Russia, represented by a monstrous outsized puppet with hard eyes and trigger-ready fingers.

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Survivors descend on London to agree a British memorial to the Holocaust

[from The Independent]

17-Helfgott-AFP-GettyA Holocaust survivor who saw almost all his family wiped out in the death camps will today take part in an event which it is hoped will help to create a fitting national memorial.

Ben Helfgott, 84, forced to spend his childhood years in concentration camps, will join hundreds of survivors at an event staged by the Prime Minister’s Holocaust Commission, which will discuss the creation of a new, permanent British commemoration.

When he created the commission in January, David Cameron warned that there was a real danger that the events of the Holocaust will become increasingly remote to younger generations.

The cross-party commission, whose members include actress Helena Bonham Carter, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and the Arts Council England chairman Sir Peter Bazalgette, will stage a unique conference in London today, to discuss new education initiatives and memorial proposals gathered from a nationwide public appeal.

The guests include concentration camp survivors, individuals who escaped to Britain on the Kindertransport and those who were hidden from the Nazis as children.

Discussions will include how best to capture digitally the testimony of Holocaust survivors such as Mr Helfgott, and the possible creation of a new permanent museum. The new memorial will focus on the role that Britain played through the Kindertransport, and the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen camp.

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Glaring witness: Film’s ongoing dilemma with the Holocaust

[from Ha’Aretz]

[Interesting position piece about Holocaust cinema]

Cinema is entertainment. This has been the thorny challenge for filmmakers who’ve chosen to grapple with the subject of the Holocaust, and the reason why, from ‘Kapò’ to ‘Schindler’s List,’ most of their attempts have failed.

The Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo is best remembered for two powerful films, “The Battle of Algiers” (1966) and the Marlon Brando-starring “Burn!” (1969). But in 1960 he directed another very important film, called “Kapò.” It was important for two reasons: It was the first prestigious European movie set in a concentration camp; and the criticism written about it had a formative influence on film criticism ever since.

Pontecorvo’s film told the story of a Jewish girl (the American actress Susan Strasberg, who a few years earlier played the lead role in the original Broadway production of “The Diary of Anne Frank”). The girl is sent to Auschwitz with her parents. After they are killed, she tries every possible way to survive, including becoming a kapo.

The movie aroused controversy as soon as it was released. The few feature films before it that had dealt with the memory of the Holocaust – such as Edward Dmytryk’s “The Juggler” (1953), filmed in Israel and starring Kirk Douglas as a Holocaust survivor struggling to overcome the aftereffects of the war, or “The Diary of Anne Frank” (1959) – did not depict life in the camps.

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Misha Defonseca: Author who made up Holocaust memoir ordered to repay £13.3m

[from The Independent]

Holocaust-autobiography

The author of a bestselling Holocaust memoir has been ordered to pay back £13.3 million ($22.5 million) after she admitted much of her sensational story was pure fantasy.

Misha Defonseca, a Belgian writer now living in Massachusetts, claimed she was adopted by a pack of wolves and killed a Nazi soldier to survive after her Jewish parents were taken during the Second World War.

But it emerged that she was not Jewish, as claimed, her real name was Monica Ernestine Josephine De Wael and her tale of four years wandering through forests to escape the Holocaust was untrue.

Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Yearswas published in 1997 and was translated into 18 languages and made into a French film called Survivre Avec Les Loups before Defonseca, 76, admitted that much of it was a lie.

The book, which is still on sale on Amazon for up to £15, took her around the world telling her story to Jewish groups and at Holocaust memorial events.

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Steven Spielberg help sought to create new British Holocaust commemoration

[from The Independent]

Steven Spielberg will be asked to help create a permanent British memorial to the Holocaust which will capture the audio-visual testimonies of all the survivors of Nazi persecution who forged a new life in the UK.

The film director sent a message of support to 400 survivors of the Holocaust and Nazi persecution who gathered at Wembley Stadium for a consultation staged by the cross-party Holocaust Commission, announced by David Cameron in January.

The Commission was set up to investigate what more needs to be done to ensure Britain has a fitting memorial to the Holocaust and the right resources to educate future generations about the genocide, in which an estimated six million Jews were killed.

Spielberg, whose USC Shoah Foundation has filmed about 52,000 two-hour eyewitness accounts in 34 languages and in 58 countries, told the gathering: “The singular perspective of those who were there is vital. You are teachers of the next generation. The power of your stories is an inspiration to me and people the world over.”

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Film Reviews: Ida, The German Doctor, The Lady in Number Six: Music Saved My Life echo the Holocaust’s repercussions

[From The National Post]

The Holocaust continues to cast a long and varied shadow over our cultural landscape. Seventy years on, with the number of actual survivors dwindling, the stories and lessons from that time continue to echo through generations, and across the planet. This week sees the opening in Toronto of three films dealing with the Holocaust and its repercussions.

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Learning about the Jewish Holocaust through arts at the UN

[from Women News Network]

United Nations, New York, U.S., NORTH AMERICA: From Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 until the 1945 liberation, music played an integral role in daily life under Nazism, as illustrated at a United Nations event which used the medium of the arts to communicate fragments of the lives of victims of the Holocaust.

“It give us a deep, nuanced and complicated sense of who these human beings were who experienced these terrible things and how they responded,” said scholar Shirli Gilbert about music that survived the Holocaust.

“And helps us to see them not as a faceless mass of six million people but as individuals who came from different places, from different backgrounds, and understood what was happening in different ways.”

Working in partnership with Clive Marks, who spent most of his life studying European history and music, and who was awarded the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 2005 for his philanthropic efforts, Ms. Gilbert created an on-line resource for music associated with and played during the Holocaust. The website is part of the Organis  ation for Rehabilitation through Training (World ORT).

“In his second symphony, Arthur Honegger writes about the streets of Paris during the German occupation the streets on a wet Sunday afternoon, and you actually feel that you can see the greyness of it all,” Mr. Marks said in an interview alongside Ms. Gilbert ahead of the special event, Learning about the Holocaust through the Arts. Organized by the Holocaust and the UN Outreach Programme, the event was held in partnership with the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations and the World Jewish Congress.

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Blog stats: 15,000

Today the blog recorded 15,000 hits, a major landmark

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