Monthly Archives: May 2015

Into That Darkness review – Gitta Sereny’s study of evil is chilling on stage

[From The Guardian]

In 1970, after being convicted of the murder of 900,000 people, Franz Stanglagreed to a series of interviews by Gitta Sereny. The writer wanted to know how an ordinary Roman Catholic police officer drawn into the Nazi war machine could rationalise a crime of such magnitude. In this gripping adaptation of her book, the answer turns out to be distressingly mundane.

Played by Cliff Burnett, hair slicked back, buttons fastened neurotically to the top, the commandant of the Treblinka extermination camp spends a dense and demanding two acts trying to explain his complicity. An eminently reasonable man, he admits to having felt various degrees of distress as his career brought him ever closer to the dark heart of Nazi policy. The best answer he can give, under the measured cross-questioning of Blythe Duff’s interviewer, is that by focusing on doing a good job, he could blank out the horrendous moral implications of what that job was for.

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1,000 Songs From Holocaust Survivors Archived

[from nprmusic, with thanks to Sebastian Weil for pointing me to this]

In the summer of 1948, an amateur folklorist named Ben Stonehill recorded more than 1,000 songs from Holocaust survivors in the lobby of New York City’s Hotel Marseilles. This week, 66 of those songs become available online through the Center for Traditional Music and Dance, complete with translations; another 300 songs will go up over the next few months — all free for anyone to hear.

Some sing in Russian; some sing in Polish, Czech, Lithuanian, Hebrew. But the majority sing in Yiddish, a language whose speaking population was dramatically reduced during WWII. That loss is a big part of what brought Stonehill to that lobby. He was looking to capture the sound of something he’d feared might disappear.

Miriam Isaacs, a sociolinguist who has been studying the collection, says there’s all kinds of stuff in the music. “There’s babies crying, there’s women giggling, there’s people helping each other out, sometimes joining in song.”

Stonehill described the scene in the lobby of the Hotel Marseilles in a recording he made while practicing for a lecture in 1964.

Boys, girls and mothers would gather about the recorder and beg permission to sing into the microphone in order to hear their own voices played back. The thrill and glow that spread over their faces, and the tears that came to their eyes, was patently an admixture of witnessing an electronic miracle and having the satisfaction of knowing that their intimate, closely guarded songs from home, camp and ghetto were being preserved for academic study.

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Filed under Holocaust in the news, Listening materials, Yiddish materials 4: primary sources

Son of Saul review: an outstanding, excoriating look at evil in Auschwitz

[From The Guardian]

This astonishing debut film, about a prisoner in the concentration camp employed in the industrial processes of body-disposal, is a horror movie of extraordinary focus and courage

7b8119d2-4e02-4a5a-9ccb-be7e9bc73301-620x372A season in hell is what this devastating and terrifying film offers — as well an occasion for meditating on representations of the Holocaust, on Wittgenstein’s dictum about matters whereof we cannot speak, and on whether these unimaginable and unthinkable horrors can or even should be made imaginable and thinkable in a fictional drama. There is an argument that any such drama, however serious its moral intentions, risks looking obtuse or diminishing its subject, although this is not a charge that can be ultimately levelled at Son of Saul.

By any standards, this would be an outstanding film, but for a debut it is really remarkable, a film with the power of Elem Klimov’s Come and See — which has surely inspired the film’s final sequence — and perhaps also Lajos Koltai’s Hungarian film Fateless. It also has the severity of Béla Tarr, to whom director Làszlò Nemes was for two years an assistant, but notably without Tarr’s glacial pace: Nemes is clearly concerned at some level to exert the conventional sort of narrative grip which does not interest Tarr.

Son of Saul is set in the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in 1944, and one Hungarian Jewish prisoner named Saul (played by Geza Röhrig) is a member of the Sonderkommando, a group of prisoners given humiliating and illusory privileges as trusties, with minor increases of food ration in return for the task of carrying the bodies from the gas chambers to pyres to be burnt and then carting the ashes away to be dumped: a task carried out at a frantic, ever-accelerating 24/7 rate, as the Allies close in. Among the dead, Saul discovers the body of his young son, and sets out to find a rabbi among the prisoners to give this boy a proper burial in secret: an objective requiring the deployment of pleas, threats, blackmail and the offerings of bribes using jewellery (called the “shiny”) stolen from the bodies. Saul’s desperate mission is carried out with the same urgent, hoarse whispers and mutterings as another plot in progress: a planned uprising, which Saul’s intentions may in fact upset. And all the time, the Sonderkommandoare aware, through this network of whispers, that they themselves will be executed in due course by their Nazi captors.

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Filed under Film, Holocaust in the news, Holocaust testimonies, Other primary sources (not Yiddish)

Northumbria University academic to stage special performance of The Tin Ring in Czech town

Jane Arnfield is to perform stage show The Tin Ring in Terezin where its subject, Zdenka Fantlova, was held by the Nazis

The Tin Ring is a story that has moved many to tears and it is likely to do so again this week in the Czech Republic.

Jane Arnfield, actress and arts academic at Northumbria University, is to stage her one-woman play about Holocaust survivor Zdenka Fantlova in Terezín, the Czech town where thousands died in a concentration camp (called Theresienstadt by the Germans) during the Second World War.

Zdenka, a Jew from former Czechoslovakia, grew up with a love of music, learning to play the piano and being taken to concerts and the theatre.

In 1942, aged 18, she was transported to Terezín where her boyfriend, Arno, gave her the tin ring that would, many years later, provide the title for her moving memoir.

In The Tin Ring she relates matter-of-factly the horrors she had to endure – in Terezín, Auschwitz and finally Bergen-Belsen.

Many times she came close to death but she survived the war, being plucked to safety from among the dead and dying by an unknown British solider after the liberation of Bergen-Belsen. She never saw Arno again.

Jane Arnfield, reader in arts at Northumbria, adapted The Tin Ring into a stage show with the help of director Mike Alfreds.

Since its 2012 premiere, it has been performed to acclaim around the world, including at Newcastle’s Lit & Phil, where Zdenka was in the audiuence and afterwards signed copies of her book.

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