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critical, progressive ideas from pondering jews

Tag: holocaust

call for papers – book on the third generation…

by tobybee

I’m part of a group of people who are co-editing a book on the experiences of the third generation – the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. We’re looking for both academic texts and personal reflections, and I thought some of the readers of this blog might be interested in contributing and/or might know some others who would be interested. Here’s the call for papers – feel free to send it around to others as well!


Call for Papers: Forthcoming Book

In the Shadows of the Shadows of the Holocaust: Narratives of the Third Generation

The body of literature which focuses on the children of Jewish Holocaust survivors – the second generation – is extensive. From scholarly work that deals with questions of trauma and its transmission across generations, to literary and creative works that reflect the experiences of growing up carrying the burden of their parents’ trauma, much has been written on how children of survivors relate to their parents’ experiences.

Much less consideration, however, has been given to the next generation, and the impact that memories of the Holocaust have had on the survivors’ grandchildren.

This book will explore the experiences of the third generation – the grandchildren of Jewish Holocaust survivors – who will play an important role in carrying the mantle of Holocaust memory to future generations.

Questions we are interested in addressing include, but are not limited to:
–    In what ways are these ‘shadows’ cast?

–    Can these memories be characterised, or understood, as examples of postmemory or multidirectional memory?

–    How are the narratives of the third generation gendered?

–    What is the role of place in these narratives?

–    What is the relationship between the testimonies of survivors and the stories which the third generation remember?

–    What do these narratives have to say about Jewish identities?

–    How are these histories used to create stories of resistance and solidarity?

–    How do the stories which we were told by our grandparents and parents influence the ways in which we interact with others in the world?

–    What silences, absences, and gaps are there in our understandings of our personal, familial, and community histories?

–    In what ways have memories of the Holocaust influenced the ways that we conceptualise our sexual identities and practices?

–    In what ways have public representations of the Holocaust interacted with family memories to shape understandings of the past?

We welcome both scholarly contributions (6000-8000 words) and personal narratives (2000- 3000 words) – autobiographical, literary or creative – from grandchildren of Holocaust survivors that reflect the vast range of experiences of the third generation. We invite submissions from around the world, and we encourage a broad understanding of what it means to be a grandchild of Jewish Holocaust survivors.
Please send expressions of interest, including an abstract (500 words) and a short autobiographical note (200 words) as a Word Document attachment to by 30th April 2012.

Dr Esther Jilovsky, Dr Jordy Silverstein, Dr David Slucki




the devastation of love/murder

by tobybee


Charlotte “Delbo describes instances in which reading becomes a matter of life and death. For example, she describes a scene of reading in which the SS find a love note. Lily, a female inmate, had left it in a hiding place for her lover; he, unable to get to the spot because of a change in his work detail, had asked a fellow inmate to get it. The latter dropped it returning to camp, and it was found by the SS. With an obsessively single-minded hermeneutics, they decide that ‘this letter was obviously a coded message to communicate political information – because for the Gestapo everything was coded, and love letters must convey political instructions’. Unable to imagine the possibility of a love letter written from one camp inmate to another, the Gestapo read it through their myopic lens of political opposition. Lily’s poignant comment that ‘We are here like plants full of life and sap, like plants wanting to grow and live, and I cannot help thinking that these plants are not meant to live’ becomes a statement of political sabotage in the distorted hermeneutics of the SS. Lily, the recipient, and the man who dropped the letter are all executed as a result of this mode of reading.”

from Jennifer L. Geddes, “Towards an Ethics of Reading Survivor Testimonies,” Studies in the Literary Imagination 41, no. 2 (Fall 2008), 9.

‘no archive without outside’

by tobybee

Two archives have recently been launched: to honour 100 years since the fire, the Forward has put online links to translations of their original coverage of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire (via Lilith), and, in memory of 50 years since the trial, Yad Vashem has put on youtube over 200 hundred hours of testimony from the Eichmann Trial.

I spent a little while over the last few days trying to figure out what to share with you here: which parts of these archives do I draw out as particularly… what? what point did i seek to make? to share the saddest (as though we can, or should, rank grief amongst victims), the most poetic (as though burning in fires, or being genocided, is worse when experienced by someone who has a nice turn of phrase), the one that moves me the most (as though their ability to move me is the point). For as Derrida notes, in Archive Fever (if I am reading him correctly), the archive is a form of law: an institution of memory and forgetting. The guardians of the archive (the archons) “have the power to interpret the archive”; they place the archives in a dwelling, and from there we learn. The archive is both destruction, and a limit of destruction. It contains the death drive (hence le mal d’archive, or archive fever), and threatens every desire. Yet it also contains the desire to see, to read. Archives, for Derrida, are both ‘the commencement and the commandment’.

So then, I’m not sure how to read or to watch these archives with respect. What precisely they commence, or command me to do. And what I should do when it is begun and propelled. With the acknowledgement of the layers of law that bring to me what I will see – we see through the institutions of the newspaper and the courts after all. But also with the knowledge that I can do no more than dip into these archives. Maybe that’s what we’re meant to do. Who knows.

But then, the point of these archives is the testimony. It’s not my analysis. or is it? what is testimony without analysis. none of us ever just ‘speak’. So here’s an excerpt from one report, from March 28, 1911, of the story of one victim, Yetta Rosenboym. (Go here to read more.)

Yetta Rosenboym

22 year old Yetta Rosenboym lived with her brother Sam at 308 East Houston Street. She began working at the ‘Triangle’ Co. last Friday and was burned to cinder. Her brother was able to identify her yesterday at the morgue by a scar the ill-fated young woman had on her left leg. That foot managed to remain whole, as it lay in water. The scar remained on her foot since an operation she had there when she was 8 years old.

After examining the foot, which was all that remained of the beautiful Yetta, the coroner determined it was her, and produced the permit for her brother to bury her. The young woman was in this country for three years. She comes from Rovno, in the Volyn region.

And here is one video of Eichmann’s Trial. (Go here to watch more)

holocaust stories

by anzya

A friend recently interviewed author Ghita Schwarz on her book Displaced Persons for the Brooklyn Rail.  It’s a really interesting conversation about writing and reading and telling stories about the Holocaust, and on dealing with trauma and its effects as it’s passed down through generations. Here’s an excerpt:

Rail: What I found to be unique about your book was the way you chose to focus on the subtle aspects of trauma that pervade the characters’ lives after 1945, rather than depicting the more horrific details of their war experience which we’re used to reading in a Holocaust narrative. This is a challenging thing to do. One of your characters, Sima, says herself that “sometimes Americans lost interest if one did not say the words ‘concentration camp.’ As if what gave the experience its importance was the form of torture one had endured, rather than the loss of everything…They preferred violence—‘the gory details’…to grief.”

Schwarz: One of the primary motivating feelings I had when writing the book was this weird feeling of being both turned-off and interested in the gory details myself, and noticing how in so much that’s written about not just the Holocaust but any sort of major historical, horrible human rights event, people really do focus on the machetes cutting off the arms, and the gas chambers, and it has a way of erasing the experience and making it into a horror that ends, rather than something that people go through and live with. When I used to hear stories, my father didn’t focus that much on a horrible thing he saw. He really focused on how he never saw his father again after this one time. So I wanted to equalize it a little bit and make the grief and the loss the focus of the book rather than the actual mini-events.

Read the rest here…

memory and love

by tobybee

It begins with a woman confessing her story to a judge. We don’t know why – this doesn’t seem like a story that requires confessing. But then maybe all stories require a confession to be known. This, after all, is something we have learnt from both Freud and Foucault: that a speech, a confession, a talk, with an interlocutor is how we make meaning, or make truth, of our lives.

But how to make meaning when meaning is so difficult to grasp?

This is a problem that Nicole Krauss grapples with in her books. I recently finished reading her most recent book, Great House, and in so many ways, I think, she nails what it means to live in the unknown. And this is in some ways a peculiarly post-Holocaust generations, early twenty-first century unknown. Her works are works of postmemory (the type of memory described by Marianne Hirsch, wherein the traumas the traumas of the Holocaust—and their working-through—continue across time, space and generations). But it’s also, as Hannah Arendt has pointed out, a part of the general modern human condition (which isn’t to say that it’s an inevitable part of all human nature, but that it’s a part of a particular, and continuing, historical moment or experience of alienation in modernity and nationalism).

But despite its potential generality, Krauss writes of Jews and trauma, memory, longing, replacement. She writes of a man who, from the time the Holocaust ends, works to reconstruct their father’s study, as though by bringing together the items of his study his being could be brought back. It points us to a fetishisation of objects, but also to the poignancy of the impossibility of filling the hole created by losing one’s parents (in a genocide). But I like that it’s a study that he recreates.

When you read (here) Krauss’ explanations of some of the stories in the book (for there are numerous different threads which run through Great House, all united by a desk and its travels), she makes clear that parenthood has made her rethink what it is to be intimately connected to people (Krauss has two young sons). But one of the other things I like about the book is that she never creates a model of a family where everything is perfect. She writes of love that is beyond understanding but that sometimes works. She writes of failed relationships. She ponders whether we can ever know another person, no matter how much time we spend with them. So while her characters are heterosexual, their relationships, for the most part, are not simply straight. She plays with the expectations of heteronormativity.

And then there are the moments in the writing that make me laugh: a woman is describing the poet who she is to inherit the desk from, and she says “He had a big nose, a big Chilean-Jewish nose, and big hands with skinny fingers, and big feet, but there was also something delicate about him, something to do with his long eyelashes or his bones” (p. 10). It’s the ways she nails the search for the semitic in the body that mirrors something I so often do. Looking at the obvious repositories of bodily jewishnesses.

So yes, you should read this book. And if you haven’t read The History of Love – her previous book – you should most definitely do that as well. Nicole Krauss’s writings of memory, love and loss make me swoon.

Sosnowitz memories

by tobybee

I’ve just finished marking some essays for a university history subject called “Genocide and Holocaust Studies”. Reading these essays – particularly this year, when I didn’t tutor the subject, but just got work doing the marking, so I have no idea who any of the students/writers are – is an amazing experience in reading the abstraction of genocide. Students say things like ‘the ways in which the Nazis stereotyped the Jews was disappointing’; or, ‘the Rwandan genocide was the fastest genocide in history.’

It reinforces for me that the university essay is no place for the representation of genocide. Actually, that’s overstating it, because some of the students write beautifully poignant and meaningful essays. But in general, and particularly when I’m sitting there trying to get through them in the time that is allotted, with music playing in the background to help me along, it feels somehow disrespectful.

In one of the last essays I read, the student said something like, ‘On 9 March 1941, 1000 Jews from Sosnowitz were transported to Auschwitz, and gassed on arrival.’ For that student, the name Sosnowitz is probably meaningless; transported just symbolises a really bad train trip; and gassing is incomprehensible. For me, Sosnowitz is the name of the town that my grandmother came from, and that ‘transport’ is the train that probably took some of my family to their death. Still for me, it’s an abstraction. But an overwhelming one.

I had to take a deep breath before I could continue reading.

“afterwards I felt something here was not right”

by anzya

Max Blumenthal has a good blog post up which sheds some light on some of the depraved behaviour and attitudes of soldiers in the IDF. Discussing the photo of an Israeli woman soldier posing mockingly in front of a group of blindfolded, handcuffed Palestinian men, Blumenthal makes the point that this incident is no aberration but “a typical product of Israel’s comprehensively militarized society”.

He also discusses the shocking, illuminating doco  “To See if I’m Smiling”, produced by the Israeli human rights group “Breaking the Silence”. The film exposed so well the racism and dehumanisation in the IDF by interviewing women ex-soldiers, most of whom expressed regret and disgust about how they had acted towards Palestinians while in the army. I’ve posted an excerpt from one of the “Breaking the Silence” testimonies Blumenthal quotes and discusses here, which I think is pretty powerful:

I recall once, this was after we moved to Mevo Dotan, to the base there, some Palestinian was sitting on a chair and I passed by several times. Once I thought: Okay, why is he sitting here for an hour? I feel like spitting at him, at this Arab. And they tell me: Go one, spit at him. I don’t recall whether anyone did this before I did, but I remember spitting at him and feeling really, like at first I felt, wow, good for me, I just spat at some terrorist, that’s how I’d call them. And then I recall that afterwards I felt some thing here was not right.


Not too human. I mean, it sounds cool and all, but no, it’s not right.

You thought about later, or during the act?

Later. At the time you felt real cool.

Even when everyone was watching, you felt real cool.

Yes, and then sometimes you get to thinking, especially say on Holocaust Memorial Day, suddenly you’re thinking, hey, these thing were done to us, it’s a human being after all. Eventually as things turned out he was no terrorist anyway, it was a kid who’d hung around too long near the base, so he was caught or something.

A child?

An adolescent.



Blindfolded and all?

Yes. I think that at some point no one even stood watch over him.

‘let’s just commemorate’

by tobybee

Last Sunday night I participated in a discussion at the Bund about how they commemorate the Holocaust. This commemoration takes place on April 19th every year, at a ceremony that is called the Geto akademye: April 19th is the date on the secular calendar when the Nazis entered the Warsaw Ghetto to begin the final Aktion, or deportation of prisoners. As is well known, they were met with armed resistance from some of the Jews. And so this is the date that the Bund worldwide has taken as its day of commemoration.

A problem arose in the aftermath of the commemoration this year. Regular readers of this blog might remember that we posted Dave Slucki’s speech which he gave at the akademye this year (if you didn’t read it then, go read it now!). And I said then, and I still maintain, that this was one of the most perfect speeches I can think of for a Holocaust commemoration at this particular historical moment. Unsurprisingly however, it caused a few ripples, as others in the Bund community later said that they were offended by what he had said.

So, in response, the Bund convened the meeting which took place on Sunday evening. About 35 people gathered together in the Bund’s halls, to listen to speakers and voice their opinions about what April 19th should entail. And, I have to say, it was one of the most interesting discussions about Holocaust commemoration that I have heard for some time. Interesting, however, not in the best sense of the term, unfortunately…

I was asked to speak as someone who is outside the Bund community but who has spoken at a previous April 19th ceremony, and as someone whose academic work is concerned with considerations of Holocaust memory. What was most fascinating for me, I think, was the way in which the discussion turned oh-so-very quickly into an emotional plea. Which isn’t to devalue emotions, but to try to point at the way in which, in this particular space, emotions were held up as something purer than what was perceived as academic thought (which reared its head when I suggested that any historian of memory would say that to remember is inherently political).

So one speaker argued that the Bund should ‘stay true to remembering’, calling for a space in which people could ‘just commemorate’. The ceremony was equated to the experience of ‘standing at [a family members’] grave’. There was a discourse of purity of commemoration at work, such that someone else in the audience was driven to ask ‘when you all say remember, and commemorate, what do you actually mean?’ And the answer? One person said that on all other days they remember, of course, but on this day, what makes it different, is that it is a holy day; that it is about standing at the cemetery and reciting a set of poems, and songs, lighting candles. That this day, this commemoration, is about a set of rituals which are known, and which bring comfort; that it’s not a day to make (what was perceived as) extraneous meaning out of the Holocaust. The perception that April 19th is in some way holy permeated the room. Speaker after speaker said that that ceremony is their Yom Kippur, their Rosh Hashana. Indeed, Dave was accused of having ‘shattered the holiness of the ceremony’.

So what was it that was so shattering?

I think, from my reading, that it was that he raised a different set of questions about the Holocaust. In his speech he raised the question of what it means to honour the memories of those who died and those who survived. And I think, in essence, that is the central question that all makers of Holocaust memories and commemorations are trying to answer. But the answers he posed were, truly, shattering. I think there is a kernel of truth in that. For instance. In the speech he called the Israeli occupation of the West Bank illegal. And this is, I would think, a truth. In international law, yes, the Occupation is illegal. That he said so on that night, and in that space, was for some disrespectful. This was a word that people kept returning to: that the speech was disrespectful and didn’t respect the sanctity of the event. For Dave, however, I think, it was a question of ethics. April 19th this year fell on Yom Ha’atzmaut. While the akademye was taking place, across town a large group of the Melbourne Jewish community was celebrating the anniversary of Israel’s independence. To not mention that, in light of the type of questions Dave was raising about the Holocaust and what it can mean for us today, was in an important sense unethical.

But the hegemonic position of the Bund community seemed to be that the ceremony was not political: that to raise explicitly political questions was to be disruptive and to show dishonour. That to make people uncomfortable was to disrespect the event (and by event here I mean both the Holocaust and April 19th).

We know of course that this is not true: that everything is political: that the mere choice to remember, to include particular stories and exclude others, to use particular structures and motifs of commemoration, is political. That to be rebellious, to consider different ways of thinking and speaking, is an important way in which the Holocaust can be commemorated (after all, it’s a commemoration which falls on the anniversary of the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising: how better to honour the memories of those who rose up than to echo their rising?). And this was a point which was definitely made by a few people present at the meeting on Sunday night. So I don’t mean to suggest that it was Dave against the Bund – certainly not. But what I took from the meeting was that for all the work which theorists of memory and commemoration generally, and of the Holocaust in particular (and in general), have done, there is still a sense which pervades the Melbourne Jewish community, that the Holocaust is sacred, that remembering it needs to be done in a ‘pure’ fashion, and that such purity can exist. Indeed, as one person commented, ‘it’s not academic. It’s emotional. It’s historical. It’s simple.’

If I was reminded of anything on Sunday night, it was that when it comes to Jewish communities remembering the Holocaust, it’s never simple.

yiddishing sweden

by tobybee

Sorry for my absence from the blog over the last few weeks, dear readers – I was taking a holiday in (western) Europe. Part of this intended holiday was that I wasn’t going to do anything Holocaust related: I didn’t go to any Holocaust museums, or memorials. And for me (seeing as how I’ve spent the last 5 years thinking and writing about Holocaust representations) that was a pretty major thing. The closest I got to breaking that was in Paris, when I saw a sign pointing to a memorial and followed with, dragging my friends with me. But we couldn’t find the memorial, and instead ended up eating a crepe in the park. A much nicer option!

But, of course, the Holocaust haunts Europe, and haunts me. As we walked through the Marais in Paris, I told the friends I was travelling with (both of whom aren’t Jewish), that this was the former Jewish area of Paris, and was the place made into the ghetto for Jews before being transferred to concentration and death camps. And one of my friends hadn’t heard about my family’s losses from the Holocaust, so I shared their/my story with her.

On the day I arrived in Copenhagen, as we left my friends’ apartment to go wandering around the city, one of the first things I told my friends was that Denmark was one of the few countries which is remembered as being good to the Jews: that the story goes that King Christian – and many other Danes – wore the yellow star when it was demanded that all Jews wear it; and that they sent many away be boat so they couldn’t be deported. And that Denmark and Bulgaria are unusual like that – that they protected so many Jews – but that at schools, and in Jewish collective memories, Denmark is remembered much more than Bulgaria is.

And of course there were the occasional ‘holocaust jokes’, so common and important amongst jews of my generation, which my friends had no idea how to respond to…

But the point of visiting Europe was not the Holocaust.

One of the things I learnt while I was away was that Sweden is incredibly close to Denmark (just a short bus ride away, or one train stop past the airport). And I learnt on returning to Melbourne that Sweden has 5 official minority languages: Finnish, Sami language, Romani, Yiddish, and Meänkieli (Tornedal Finnish). Finnish, Sami languages and Meänkieli are named as such because there are significant groups of people in Sweden who speak the languages, they have been spoken in Sweden for a significant amount of time, and the language should be of cultural benefit to the people speaking it. But Romani and Yiddish are included not because they meet these criteria, but it seems as a means of managing guilt for lost populations. The Holocaust haunts.

But it also means that there’s an important yiddishist community in Sweden (there’s a yiddish retreat happening there in August), even if in this video some members of it are charmingly 80s looking (or something)…

bits of jew-y arts news

by anzya

I’ve come across news of a couple of exciting jewish arty projects, so thought I’d take this opportunity to plug them here:

1. A Film Unfinished is released this year: a doco about an unfinished Nazi propaganda film made in the Warsaw ghetto which uses actual footage, diaries and interviews with survivors. It has been getting excellent reviews, including this one by Jewdar at Heeb magazine who writes:

Watching the footage, and, knowing what the Nazis had in mind for their subjects, it’s hard to escape fully the conclusion that this film ultimately wasn’t propaganda but anthropology–the Nazis making a video record of the quaint customs and rituals of what were supposed to be Europe’s last Jews in their natural habitat.

For Melbournites, it is also screening at MIFF in July & August.

2. Klezmer bands from around the world have got together to create the album Klezmer Against the Wall . Their cd is available online and from itunes, with proceeds going towards music and arts projects in Palestine.  reports (the unfortunately predictable) that,

Florida’s main Jewish radio station, Shalom South Florida, has responded to “Klezmer Musicians Against the Wall” by banning all American and European Klezmer bands featured on the CD from their airwaves.

In other jew/arts news, that seems relevant to mention today, there is a bit of a row brewing over in Adelaide, where a poster advertising artist Andrew Steiner’s exhibition about Art and the Holocaust was removed by a staff member who said, according to the AJN :

The flyer had ‘Holocaust’ written on it, and we’ve got a customer that comes in here who doesn’t believe in the Holocaust, so if we have stuff up there like that, then we have to get into arguments with people, and we can’t be bothered.

Geez, lady.

AJN and The Australian reports that the complaining customer turned out to be notorious Holocaust denier Fredrick Toben.