Petr Koura

Swinging in the Ghetto. Swing-Musik and Swing-Musicians in Theresienstadt

It was not only classical music but also swing that was played in the Theresienstadt. Its most famous band, the Ghetto Swingers, became later a legend among jazz fans. Owing to the fact that the Nazi propaganda took advantage of the band, a record of one of its songs has been preserved. The contribution will introduce both the history of this exceptional band and life stories of its protagonists (Fritz Weiss, Martin Roman, Eric Vogel), based on a recent interview with the last living member of the Ghetto Swingers, ninety-year old jazz guitar player Coco Schumann. The history of the group will be presented in the context of jazz music exploited by the Nazi propaganda.

Günther Agde

The Second Moment of Freedom: First versions of the Buchenwald films of the U. S. Signal Corps, April 1945

In April 1945, the camera crew of the U. S. Signal Corps were making a film after the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp. They followed closely behind the fighting troops and entered the camp immediately after them. While exploring the large area, the camera crew filmed everything they saw. The random nature of the recording reflected the situation in the camp.
Notable scenes from this material have been shown in numerous documentaries about Buchenwald, defining the iconography of concentration camps over decades. However, there are many sequences that have not been used.
I will present the unedited film they shot, ‘camera rushes’, and discuss the immediacy of this ‘objective’ filming.


Thomas Tode

A teardrop on the cheek of time. Henri Cartier-Bresson’s film about the camps Le Retour

One of the most moving documents of human agony and joy to emerge from World War II, Le Retour follows the liberation and homeward journey of French prisoners from Nazi concentration camps from April to July 1945. From their disbelieving, sunken faces to the hospital recoveries and finally to their journey home by foot, truck, and plane, the camera captures their profound expressions of fear, anticipation and bliss. Confrontations at the border checks, the U.S. airlift over France, and the tentative smiles on the men’s faces as they arrive by train and watch for familiar faces are rendered unforgettably by Cartier-Bresson’s adroit camera. By concentrating on this single event, he has said more about the separation and destruction of war than hours of combat footage. ‘In the face of great catastrophe and human tragedy’, says film historian Richard Barsam, ‘the artist is often mute; in reflection he finds that simplicity is the only technique by which to capture the magnitude of the events before him. Cartier-Bresson is such an artist.


Emily Budick

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.


Leslie Swift

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.

Jeremy Hicks

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.

Irina Sandomirskaja

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.

Kay Hoffmann

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.

Anat Kutner

“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?

Jindřich Toman

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.