Guardian readers commemorate the Holocaust in their own special way

h/t to the ‘global network’ of CiF Watchers

A commendable essay by Hila Shachar was published at ‘Comment is Free’ yesterday (Jan. 27) titled ‘The Holocaust is not your metaphor to use in modern political debates – one in a series of appropriate articles which appeared in the Guardian on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, commemorated annually on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Here’s an excerpt from the essay:

In thinking about what it actually means to honour the victims, I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the best ways to do this is to continue reminding ourselves that those victims were individual human beings. This should seem obvious, right? And yet, the victims of the Holocaust continue to be appropriated as political metaphors and dehumanised in the process.

Specific examples can be both well-meaning or purposefully disrespectful. Take the animal rights group PETA, which is known for its insensitive shock tactics when it comes to its marketing. In 2004, the group created the Holocaust on your plate campaign, using images of emaciated victims of Nazi concentration camps and comparing meat-eaters and those working in the meat-production industry to Nazis. I hope I don’t need to explain why this is wrong. But as I’ve been watching Facebook and Twitter conversations about the Tony Abbott government’s treatment of refugees degenerate into comparisons with the Nazis, I have to wonder if perhaps I do.

Recently, I came across this Facebook post that uses an image of a child who was killed in Auschwitz next to an image of a baby who was born in Christmas Island detention centre. It’s highly emotive and also, in my view, highly unethical. Using images of those who were killed by the Nazis to make a point about the Australian government’s policies is demeaning to those who died. It is essentially saying that their deaths are not to be remembered for their own sake, but rather because they are useful tools as points of reference and comparison in contemporary political debate. It turns Holocaust victims and survivors into concepts, decontexualised imagery and generalisations, and erases their individuality as human beings – even when the intentions behind it are sincere and well-meaning.

As part of our mission, we often monitor reader comments below the line of ‘CiF’ essays to see if moderators promptly remove antisemitic commentary (consistent with their own stated ‘community standards) and, more generally, to get a barometer of the hate often elicited by any Guardian or ‘CiF’ entry which focuses on Jews or Israel.  Here are just a few samples of the less than enlightened reader responses to Shachar’s essay:

Israel-Nazi comparison: 36 ‘Recommends’ and NOT deleted by ‘CiF’ moderators:

oneIsrael-Nazi analogy:

oneIsrael-Nazi analogy:

one

Jewish conspiracy/general antisemitism

oneDavid Ward, MP?

oneInevitable “Zionist Lobby” comment:

one

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Guardian travel tip – a 2-for-1 opportunity for the “Guardian Community”

A guest post by AKUS

This little travel tip popped up alongside an article on the Guardian’s website.

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Yes – if Auschwitz if not enough for one day – visit the fabulous salt-mines nearby for extra value! Make sure to send this great travel tip to all your friends:

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After overcoming my uneasy feeling at the casual juxtaposition of these two tours, and the advertising pitch urging you to save by enjoying both in one package, a quick search on Google turned up numerous similar offers. There is apparently a thriving tourist business in and around Krakow (with several companies like Krakow Discovery competing for the tourist Euro) offering tours with experienced drivers to make sure no-one gets left at Auschwitz and, it seems, a low-cost way to overcome the impact of the concentration camp experience by viewing the famous salt mine, a UNESCO Heritage site in one day at one low price.

This is a strange example of “the banality of evil” – who in Auschwitz could have imagined that their death camp would one day be coupled with a money-saving offer to visit a famous underground World Heritage Site? What is next – a money-saving day trip to a Rwandan massacre site coupled with a safari, with experienced drivers?

But perhaps the Guardian should be a little more selective in allowing its readers to offer such ‘exciting’ and ‘valuable’ opportunities to its “community”?

Turn David Ward’s vile charge on its head

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As CST and others have reported, British MP David Ward (Liberal Democrat, Bradford East) recently decided to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day, observed internationally on Jan. 27 (the day, in 1945, that Auschwitz was liberated), by grossly debasing Holocaust memory.

On his website, there is an entry with the following title: ‘Bradford MP condemns Israel for treatment of Palestinians on the day he signs the Holocaust Memorial Day Book of Commitment’.

It begins thus:

Sunday January 27th will mark the 68th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Nazi concentration and extermination camp which is the site of the largest mass murder in history. In the weeks running up to the day, the Holocaust Educational Trust placed a Book of Commitment in the House of Commons, giving MPs the chance to honour those who were persecuted and killed during the Holocaust and encouraging constituents to work together to combat prejudice and racism today.

Then there is a quote from Ward himself:

Having visited Auschwitz twice – once with my family and once with local schools – I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza.

While some have rightfully focused on the morally obscene comparison between casualties as the result of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and the Nazi extermination of six million Jew, there’s an element of Ward’s quote which is even more disturbing. It is the “they-of-all-people” argument: the suggestion that Jews, having faced unimaginable persecution, should know better than anyone not to be oppressors.

As Howard Jacobson argued, the argument leaves the Jewish people doubly damned: to the Holocaust itself and to elevated moral scrutiny as a result of it.  By this logic, Jacobson argued, “the Holocaust becomes an educational experience from which Jews were ethically obliged to graduate summa cum laude, Israel being the proof that they didn’t.”

Further, as Chas Newkey-Burden so eloquently argued, those who employ the “they of all people” argument are, in essence, saying that it is Jews, and not the antisemites, who have lessons to learn – that it is Jews, not the antisemites, who need to clean up their act. 

Newkey-Burden:

“The Holocaust followed centuries of slander, persecution, violence and murder committed by gentiles against Jews. So it is not you who have an increased responsibility to behave morally, but us.

For instance, something that we gentiles should know better than to do is lazily accuse Jewish people, or the Jewish state itself, of any misdemeanour. We have seen what centuries of slander against the Jewish people led to during the 1930s and ’40s. We see the hatred, heartbreak and bloodshed that such anti-Jewish libels continue to provoke, particularly in the Middle East.

Yet much of the world still continues to delight in damning Israel with indecent haste. From Al Dura (the false claim that Israeli forces murdered a boy in Gaza) to Jenin, from the Goldstone Report to the Gaza flotilla; time and again the world has found Israel guilty of a particular crime before all the evidence was available. When the full picture emerged and exonerated Israel it was too late to undo the damage. We gentiles, of all people, should know better.”

Newkey-Burden’s urgent moral plea to resist those who would so debase Holocaust memory ends thusly:

“Let us strip the “they-of-all-people” argument down to its very basics: gentiles telling Jews that we killed six million of your people and that as a result it is you, not us, who have lessons to learn; that it is you, not us, who need to clean up your act. It is an argument of atrocious, spiteful insanity. Do not accept it; turn it back on those who offer it. For it is us, not you, who should know better.”

Turn David Ward’s vile charge on its head!

Why Jane loves Israel, the extended version: ‘Dancing Auschwitz revisited’

Back in December we asked our loyal readers why they loved Israel and provided them the opportunity to comment below the line and express their unique Zionist passion. We also informed folks that the winner would be given the chance to pen a longer post above the line.

The winner was an Australian Jewish artist named Jane Korman. Here was her reply.

Earlier today I received a reply from Ms. Kormen which read, in part:

Hi Adam,

Firstly, I apologise for my very late reply to your email. I tried a number of times to expand on ‘Why I love Israel’ and for some reason it sounded ‘try-hard’ and so I never sent it, which I feel quite bad about.

But I was just thinking that maybe you might be interested in a talk I gave about a month ago as part of my exhibition, ’Dancing Auschwitz revisited’ at The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV studios) at Federation Square in Melbourne. The talk was titled ’JEW?!? A strip-t-shirt performance’ and I spoke about the thought process behind making ‘Dancing Auschwitz.’

I’m also attaching a transcript of the performance/talk.

I hope you enjoy it. Maybe this sums up my feelings towards Israel in an indirect way.

Thank you very much for all your extremely hard and crucial work.

Warm regards,

Jane Korman

For those of you who haven’t seen ‘Dancing Auschwitz’ I suggest you do so. While some may find the clip of Jane Korman filming her three children and her father- 89-year-old Holocaust survivor Adolk – dancing to the Gloria Gaynor song “I Will Survive” ( in front of Holocaust land-marks in Poland) offensive, I personally find it affirming and a testament to the Jews’ unquenchable spirit. As Korman put it:

“[My father] is saying ‘we’re dancing, we should be dancing, we’re celebrating our survival and the generations after me,’ – the generation he’s created. We are affirming our existence.”

Here is the video clip of her talk at the exhibition in Melbourne, followed by a transcript.

To anyone pondering what this has to do with the Guardian, as I replied to Ms. Korman; sometimes it’s not enough to simply fisk the anti-Israel lies, distortions, malice and contempt at the Guardian and ‘Comment is Free’ and to expose the institution’s complicity with antisemitism.

At times it is necessary to combat the Guardian’s endemic hostility to the Jewish state by passionately elucidating upon not merely what we oppose, but also what we affirm. 

Naturally, my Aliyah was not predicated on the hope that I would one day defend Israel from the assault on her legitimacy at the Guardian but, rather, due to a broader passionate belief that (to paraphrase Ernest Hemingway) the Jewish state was a good place and worth the fighting for.  

Transcript:

April 22, 2012

What does it mean to be a Jew?

Jane’s talk at Federation Square at the MoNOW exhibition at NGV studios

Hi, and welcome.

I’m going to tell you a little about myself and my thought process that led me to the making of Dancing Auschwitz.

Dancing Auschwitz used to be a four-part installation, but today it’s a multi-part installation, which includes my 91-year-old dad, as ‘living art’. Another new addition to Dancing Auschwitz revisited is the display of a selection of the huge amount of email responses I received from around the world – arranged in groups of ‘Love’, ‘Hate’ and ‘Healing’.

So what was going through my mind before I made this work?

I’ve been an artist ever since I can remember – working and living as an artist all my life. About six years ago I went back to study Fine Art at Uni to learn what I didn’t know in the world of Art, before I left the city for the ‘simple’ life in the country.

During my Honours year at Uni, I was suddenly stuck for an idea. The only thoughts that filled my mind were those on the JEW. But I thought to myself: ‘I can’t do work on the Jew’ – it’s too difficult, too uncomfortable, too uneasy.’ But I couldn’t think of anything else to work on, because nothing seemed more urgent.

(T-shirt 1. JEW) So I made a t-shirt with the word JEW on it. I wanted to understand why this word felt so heavy, so uncomfortable and so scary. Could I really go out with this word on my t-shirt?! And what did this ‘scariness’ mean?

(Scapegoat horns) And what were the associations of being a Jew? Did it mean I was a scapegoat? So I made some scapegoat horns and wore them as I walked down the street in Ashburton.

(Nose). And then I made some accessories for my face. I made myself a big nose. I wondered, is this what it means to be a Jew (does this define me as a Jew)? (see email responses: ‘look at the kike-nose!’)

What does it mean to be a Jew? I’m aware of the propaganda, I’m aware of the stereotypes, I’m aware of what some people call Jews…but is this what it meant to be a Jew?

Thinking about this brought me back to when I was a little girl. I was walking home from school one day, and a boy yelled out and accused me of killing Jesus.

(T-shirt 2. I Didn’t Kill Jesus) I didn’t know who Jesus was when I was six. I was very upset that I was told that I had killed someone. I said I was sorry, but I didn’t kill him. So I made a t-shirt ‘I didn’t kill Jesus.’

So these are the thoughts swimming in my head – some of them – recent, some of them – throughout my life.

(T-shirt 3.Star of David symbol) That led me to thinking about this – this sign – the star of David or shield of David. It was meant to be quite a positive sign, a symbol of the Jewish people. But then it was twisted. It became a sign of humiliation and degradation that people – Jews –  had to wear, and they were separated from the others and persecuted. So this symbol also made me think about ‘what it means to be a Jew’.

(T-shirt 4.Made in Australia.) Then I thought – this exhibition is about the collective Australian consciousness – and I knew that I was made in Australia. So what does that mean, together with everything else – Jew, Jesus, star of David, made in Australia…? What sort of artwork does this mixture make? And what sort of Jew was I?

(T-shirt 5.Made in Israel) That led me to thinking about Israel. I went to live in Israel thirty years ago because I married someone who wanted to live in israel. It was a very interesting – a fantastic experience. I had some kids who were made in Israel. I was straddling two worlds – Australia and Israel.  I knew that Israel is the home of the Jewish people. So what did that mean? Did it help me understand what it means to be a Jew?

(T-shirt 6/7. Victim/Perpetrator) I read the newspapers, and I read that the Jews have a ‘victim’ mentality, that the Jews have been persecuted for years and years, and centuries. So does that mean I also have a ‘victim’ mentality?

And then I read – that I was also a ‘perpetrator’ (because I identify with Israel). So I didn’t know anymore. Am I a victim/a perpetrator/a victim/a perpetrator (swirling around).

All this made me more confused.

Back at uni one of my teachers saw that I was quite obsessed – as artists become. I was obsessed with the JEW topic. She said: ‘Listen Jane – I want to give you a piece of advice. I think you should go BACK to Europe, back to Poland, back to where your parents grew up, where they went to school, where they spent time in the war. Just go back! Go back because your parents are alive. You’re very lucky. Go back with your parents and go back with your children. It’s a very unique opportunity.’

 I was never interested in going ‘back.’ What did Poland mean to me? But  that day I went home and I spoke to my kids, and I said: ‘Hey kids, this crazy teacher’s got an idea that we should all go ‘back’ to Poland.’ And my kids said to me: ‘You know mum, this is a very special, important thing to do.’ So the trip came about. We came from different parts of the world, and we gathered together in Poland.

Meanwhile I thought – I’m an artist – I should take this opportunity to make art. So what message do I want to convey; what is important to me?

I knew one reason was related to my parents and their attitude to life. They had always celebrated life, always danced and held compulsory dress up parties for all their friends – mostly survivors. (Every one had to dress up and dance otherwise they couldn’t come to the party. These took place in the 60’s, 70‘s, 80’s and 90‘s. Mum made sure everyone had something fun to wear and organised a beautiful spread, and dad organized the music and filmed the parties.)

So I thought – we could also dance at the concentration camps – together, as a family – because that reflected my growing up years, how I was raised and what influenced me. Dancing would be a symbol of survival and a celebration of life at these horrific, loaded sites.

Then I wondered, what sort of dance should we dance? The only dance step I knew was a step I learnt when I was a teenager called ‘Ben Adam’.

And what sort of song should we use? I googled songs that sung about survival, and I chose Gloria Gaynor’s song ‘I Will Survive.‘  I felt her song is unique because it’s about minorities. Gaynor’s a black and she sings about her own freedom, and her freedom from men. The song was also sung by a group of transvestites in the movie ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’  who sung about their freedom as transvestites. So I thought, ok – now it’s the Jews’ turn to use the song.

Now I had the dance, I had the song and I had the t-shirts.

(T-shirt 8. 2nd Gen) I printed ‘Survivor’ on a t-shirt for my father because he’s a survivor of Hitler’s concentration camps. (my mum too). I printed ‘2nd Gen’ for me, because that’s what a child of a survivor is called, and I printed ‘3rd Gen’ for my kids and niece, because that’s what the grandchildren of survivors are called.

The other reason I wanted to do Dancing Auschwitz was to confront people’s prejudices towards the Jews. I wanted to present my family –  a family of Jews –  that didn’t represent the propaganda image of a stereotypical Jew with a big nose, drooping lips and invisible horns, (as ridiculous it might seem). I wanted to present a regular family that would make people think, and hopefully shatter these perceptions.

And that’s the background to the work.