The “Difficulty of Reality”: Terezin/ Theresienstadt
Unlike most of the places we visit in our lives, Terezin is on our list, not in spite of the tragic history of the Jews who were incarcerated here, but because of it. We rarely think about what the Romans did to their slaves and prisoners of war. We go to Rome to marvel at the antiquities, including the coliseum. But when we get off the bus from Prague in Terezin, though we could easily turn left to the large inviting public square and then continue our rambles across the field and into the suburbs beyond, we turn right instead. We are already programed to proceed directly to the information stand and the Ghetto Museum, where we receive further instructions on how to visit Terezin. How many of us ever see present-day Terezin at all; or, for that matter, the Terezin that preceded the War? My present focus on sites of Holocaust commemoration and memorialization such as Terezin is an attempt to understand physical sites as occasions for philosophical and moral reflection in which we put the experiencing “subject” – i.e. ourselves – at the center of the inquiry into what such spaces, or, more precisely, our engagement with such spaces, can yield in terms of self-reflective moral knowledge. We scholars of the Holocaust need to be especially scrupulous in our motives and agendas in relation to the objects of our inquiry so as to free the past from our claims on it and to permit the victims of the Holocaust their maximum voice and freedom.
The Theresienstadt Ghetto as Represented in the Film Collections of the US Holocaust Museum
I will discuss unique USHMM collections related to the experience of Czech Jews before and during the Holocaust. I will show excerpts of these films and discuss how amateur films created by Jews work against the propagandistic narrative created by the Nazis. I will also show at least one excerpt from the Claude Lanzmann outtakes about experiences in Terezin.
A Dialogue of Atrocities: Contexts of the Soviet film of Majdanek
While it may be seen as establishing lastingly influential images of the Death Camps, the Soviet decision to publicise their discovery of the Majdanek concentration camp, near Lublin, Eastern Poland, in July 1944, is also a response to 1943 Nazi revelations over the Soviets’ own massacre of Polish officers at Katyn, in 1940. This paper will examine the Soviet film of the Majdanek concentration camp (Majdanek, dir. Irina Setkina, 1944) in the context of Soviet responses to Katyn, such as Setkina’s own Tragedy in the Katyn Forest (1944), the Polish film about the Majdanek concentration camp (Vernichtungslager Majdanek: The Cemetary of Europe, Aleksander Ford, 1944) and the Soviet print reports about Majdanek, especially Konstantin Simonov’s articles for Krasnaia zvezda. The purpose of this analysis is to establish the degree to which the emphasis upon the unprecedented nature of the crimes committed at Majdanek must also be seen in context and in the light of precedents.
Verschönerung/Vernichtung: H. G. Adler’s Critique of the Moving Image as Memory and Witnessing in the Ghetto
In his Theresienstadt 1941/1945, H. G. Adler describes episodes of film making in Theresienstadt giving most attention to the history of the production of the 1944 film. He sums up the episode calling its purpose and organisation by the SS ”der grausige Filmkarneval”. Interesting enough, while giving a whole chapter in the book to a description of Theresienstadt’s cultural life, Adler never mentions the film among other examples of cultural expression but inserts its description into Theresienstadt’s administrative chronicle. The film receives a place for itelf within the context of the bureaucratic transformations of Theresienstadt from a closed camp into a ”ghetto” and finally into a purely decorative ”Jewish settlement”. This latter transformation Adler describes as part of the cynical campaign of Verschönerung of Theresienstadt, an attempt of the SS and the administration to make it presentable to international observers. Adler describes the cruel film carneval as the campaign’s piece de resistance and thus resolutely excludes the film from the domain of cultural phenomena as if rejecting any possibility for its redemption. Instead, he inscribes the project into the administrative logic of extermination, film making becoming an additional – inventive in its cruelty and effective – technique of moral extermination in the world of ” der verwaltete Mensch”.
In my presentation I will emphasize Adler’s view of the moving image as predominantly an administrative means, not a medium of cultural expression. This view becomes quite challenging and complex if Adler’s witness account of the film project in Theresienstadt is read together with his reflection on mechanically reproducible, and especially moving, images in Adler’s fiction. In my presentation, I will concentrate on Adler’s treatment of the image and image technology in his novels Panorama and The Journey, with a special attention to the way he considers the relation between the apparatus, memory, and witnessing.
No butterflies fly here. Theresienstadt in documentaries of the postwar period
he topic of the Theresienstadt camp is a frequent one in documentary films in Germany as well as other countries such as Czechoslovakia or in international coproductions. As early as 1958 the Czech film “No butterflies fly here” (Motýli tady nežijí) by Miro Bernát showed children’s drawings from Theresienstadt. The cultural activities in the camp are a central theme of many productions. The drawings, the music and the cultural program were discussed and often shown. The search for traces of Karel Schwenk and his cabaret is the plot of “Those Days in Terezin” (1997). The children’s opera Brundibar has been several times a subject since the 1960ies. There are also some documentaries about Kurt Gerron and his life. He also started a cabaret in the ghetto and was the director of the second propaganda film 1944.
A comparison of these propaganda images from Theresienstadt with the real life takes place in several documentaries as early as 1966, when the educational film by the German institution Film for Science and Teaching (Film für Wissenschaft und Unterricht, FWU) “The führer gives the Jews a city. Report of a propaganda film ” discussed these differences. 1997 Irmgard von zur Mühlen produced “The ghetto Theresienstadt. Deception and reality”. Often the production background and the history of propaganda recordings are explained. In many documentaries witnesses heard – both perpetrators and victims who survived Theresienstadt. They are often asked by young people as in “All Jews out!” (1992) or the current production of Douglas Wolfsperger about the children’s opera Brundibar. Theresienstadt is thus a recurring theme in the documentary film after 1945. The talk will be analysing Theresienstadt as a recurring theme in documentary film after 1945 and how the propagandistic material is used as a historical source.
“I Know It’s My Father Because I See His Face Every Night When I Go to Sleep” – Rethinking Credibility of Witnesses Identifications
In the past years, both holocaust research and holocaust-related films research used eyewitnesses and their testimonies as a primary source, assuming that one who was there is a person who could tell the story and identify people and events the best way. When it comes to films, we tend, many times, to show witnesses a film, taken so many years ago, and not always high quality preserved, assuming they will remember many details about it: how the film was produced, who were the people in it, what happened to them after etc.. The credibility we give witnesses largely determines the allocation of efforts to find them and document their testimonies.
In my lecture, I would like to question this methodology, and ask about the reliability of the witnesses – do they really remember all the films content and characters after all the years? Did they have what to remember – how much did they know to begin with? Can we use widely-accepted historical methods with testimonies when it comes to survivors who identify themselves, their relatives or friends on the screen? Is the credibility we attribute to these testimonies based on an assumption of historical accuracy, or simply because there is often no better alternative?
A Film and a Context: The Terezín Film of 1944 and Hippler’s Der ewige Jude
The paper gives the Terezín film of 1944 a filmic context by comparing it with Fritz Hippler’s propaganda film Der ewige Jude (1940). Issues such as the “reversal” of Nazi attitude to Jews, especially in the context of visual representation of work, are discussed, and some speculations about the “audience” of the Terezín film are added.
The Posthumous Life of the Nazi Propaganda – Postwar Films on the Warsaw Ghetto
Using Terry Eagleton’s definition of ideology as a point of departure I am going to focus on the use of archival footage from the Warsaw Ghetto in Polish postwar documentary films. The following films will be analysed: Requiem for 500 000 (dir. Jerzy Bossak and Wacław Kaźmierczak, 1962), Chronicle of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising According to Marek Edelman (dir. Jolanta Dylewska, 1993) and 912 Days of the Warsaw Ghetto (2001). In order to overcome the determinism of the found ideology several methods have been employed by the filmmakers: re-editing the footage with an added voice-over narrative, the presence of an expert whose authority would undermine the truth claims of the footage, and a recent technology of digital manipulation. It is necessary to focus on the formal aspects of the usage of archival footage as well as the objectives of the film. One of the key problems a documentary filmmaker working on the Holocaust has to face is both a need to refer to the oppressive discourse of the perpetrators and keeping a critical distance.
Taking up this topic necessitates an inquiry into the posthumous life of the Nazi propaganda as the analysis of the postwar use of these material needs to take into consideration the fact that propaganda entails an uncritical adoption of its contents. What happens to propaganda when its political sponsors are no longer in power? We cannot forget that new contexts are not free from their own ideological tinging which affects the perception of Nazi ideology.
The Warsaw Ghetto in the films of 1942
In the spring of 1942 a German camera crew produced film footage in the Warsaw Ghetto. During the month-long shooting, they filmed the people in the streets, the food trade, the housing situation, cultural and religious events and activities to control diseases such as typhus and the detention center of the ghetto. The surviving recordings are fragments in rough cut without sound and have a total playing time of about 63 min. So far there are no indications for the purpose of these shots or who exactly commissioned the film. In order to approach the film as a source and despite the lack of background knowledge the shots are to be considered in two different perspectives: The first perspective focuses on content and selected visual motifs. Here the film is very closely related to the images of Nazi propaganda about ghettos in 1942 and reproduces already well-established structures of perception and instructions. The various shots show the rules and organizational structures of the National Socialist discourse and create a “typical” image of the ghetto. The second perspective which is deemed to be even more significant deals with the question on how the film is made. I will present an approach to this question by an analysis of the visual mechanisms and the involvement of the sequential structure of the medium. To demonstrate my reasoning I will illustrate some shots of the film.
„The Second Life“ of the Theresienstadt Films after the World War II
Film materials shot in the ghetto of Theresienstadt between 1942 and 1945 were considered lost for a long time. Results of historical research of the last decades (cf. the work of the historian Karel Margry) and other recently appeared facts enable us to reconstruct how the individual film fragments made their way into different international archives after the year of 1945. One should point out that there are still lost materials and contexts that haven’t been yet clarified, – among others the question of hiding the film clippings of 1942 by Irena Dodalová. Recently found documents in the Archive of Security Services in Prague became a new source of information about filming in the ghetto and the production of the controversial propaganda film Theresienstadt. Ein Dokumentarfilm aus dem jüdischen Siedlungsgebiet (1944-45). They are connected with a trial in the mid 1960’s in Prague which was dealing with the illegal transfer of this film to West Germany, or rather its fragment. The topic of the post-war history of the film materials from the Theresienstadt ghetto which became an important source for historical study and also for publications on the Holocaust for the public, still presents a challenge for current research.