Here is a short excerpt from a longer interview with Jerome Rothenberg. It has been transcribed by the wonderful Michael Nardone. The transcription is good but it's still a work in progress, and we hope to release this and other interview transcriptions through Jacket2 in the coming months. Meantime, here I am talking with Jerry about writing about the Holocaust.
This is the Handscher family in Warsaw, Poland. My father's mother, Jenny, was born Jenny Handscher. These people are her brothers and sisters - and her parents, my great-grandparents. In the bottom row, from left to right, we have Schloime (who survived and later came to the U.S.); Eliezer (father of Menachem/Mike and Meyer who also survived); the parents, Menachem and Tova; the youngest of the children, Bezalel.
Emma Morgenstern gave a lunchtime talk recently at the Writers House to present her research into the survival of Judeo-Spanish language and culture in GreecEmma Morgenstern gave a lunchtime talk recently at the Writers House to present her research into the survival of Judeo-Spanish language and culture in Greece. She travelled to Rhodes and Thessaloniki on a grant given her through our Heled Travel & Research Grant (made possible by my former student, Mali Heled Kinberg in memory of her mother). Audio and video recordings of the event are now available. Links to both are here.
The other day I mentioned Rob Fitterman's new conceptual poetics project, and got a lot of positive response to it. My favorite literary photographer (as regular readers of this blog already know), Lawrence Schwartzwald, found this wonderful photo of Rob standing in front of the Ear Inn. We think the date was January of 1992.
I'm pleased to have had a chance to read the manuscript of Rob Fitterman's new massive conceptual writing project, called Holocaust Museum. It is now being sent around to publishers. The book will consist of a list of archival materials, organized under headings ("the science of race," "shoes," "mass graves," "uniforms"). The image above (sorry--it's taken from a Word document version of the typescript) shows a portion from the chapter of "family photographs." The effect of the project is realized most acutely only after one has read dozens or hundreds of items on the lists. One begins, blearily, weakly, to be half-conscious of the upsetting juxtapositions. Of course holocaust materials are loaded ipso fact with dramatic ironies, especially all the prewar stuff. The caption of the last-listed photo is of course a poem: "A group of young people pose outdoors in the snow." I could write three interpretive pages--traditional poetic close reading--of that line. That, too, would be ironic.
Jan Karski became somewhat well known after the release of Claude Lanzmann's Shoah, where Karski is an anxious, halting, intense presence in the second halJan Karski became somewhat well known after the release of Claude Lanzmann's Shoah, where Karski is an anxious, halting, intense presence in the second half of the film, with an unforgettably creased face and adz-shaped head. He was a member of the Polish underground government--one of its couriers from inside the Nazi-occupied nation after 1939. In 1942 he met with two Jewish leaders who told him what was happening to the European Jews. He listened, then visited the Warsaw ghetto twice, and then set off for London and Washington with the goal of persuading the allied governments to stop the genocide. He did not succeed, and knew from the start that "The truth might not be believed," as he put it in a document he wrote a little later.
Here is a passage from that document:
This was the solemn message I carried to the world. They impressed it upon me so that it could not be forgotten. They added to it, for they saw their position with the clarity of despair. At that time more than 1,800,000 Jews had been murdered. These two men refused to delude themselves and foresaw how the United Nations might react to this information. The truth might not be believed. It might be said that this figure was exaggerated, not authentic. I was to argue, convince, do anything I could, use every available proof and testimonial, shout the truth till it could not be denied.
They had prepared me an exact statistical account of the Jewish mortality in Poland. I needed some particulars.
"Could you give me," I asked, "the approximate figures of the murder of the ghetto population?"
"The exact figure can be very nearly computed from the German deportation orders," the Zionist leader informed me.
"You mean that every one of those who were presumably deported was actually killed?"
I've long used the video archive of Holocaust testimony at Yale (housed in Sterling Library there in New Haven). For years a sampling of testimonies has been available for borrowing - first on VHS, then on DVD. Now the folks at Yale (Joanne Rudof and her staff) have made a selection of these testimonies available on YouTube. I urge readers of this commentary to watch Paul D. — to hear about his recurring dream; and Helen K. to hear about her brother dying “in mein arms” on the train to Treblinka; and the remarkable Menachem S., who passed as a non-Jewish street waif for years and literally didn’t recognize his parents when reunited with them in 1945.
You should watch all 30 minutes of Edith's testimony as a survivor of Auschwitz. But if you cannot watch the whole thing, at least for now, move the counter to 15:19 and listen/watch as Edith tries to "describe" Auschwitz in sum.
After teaching his Holocaust course for the first time in the spring semester of 1976, Terrence Des Pres wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times aAfter teaching his Holocaust course for the first time in the spring semester of 1976, Terrence Des Pres wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times about the experience of teaching this material. (His approach was that of his book, The Survivor, which was being published around that time.) Here is a link to a PDF copy of the piece as it appeared in the Times. In my own course on representations of the Holocaust (I'm currently teaching it), we use Des Pres' book.
Lily: Rather than acknowledge this and do something like direct his artistic vision to conveying th[e problem of] inefficacy [of representations of the Holocaust generally] by, for example, dizzying us with an overwhelming amount of images and scenes or using unconventional camera angles or resisting one story line, Spielberg ploughs through, wants to pass off his movie as an 'accurate' portrayal, and that's that.
Rachel: Schindler’s List is not only easy because it tells us what to feel. It is easy because it tells us to feel obvious and uncomplicated emotions. The terrible contradictions and the ambiguity of moral questions are largely forgotten in his film. Schindler’s List is a blockbuster, with some interesting characters; but I don't think it represents the experience of the Holocaust victim.
Sami: As I watch Schindler's List I can't help thinking that a movie representation of the Holocaust is the least effective way of getting us to understand the X. Whereas Levi and Wiesel struggle with bearing witness, Spielberg is thinking about how to make an intriguing, compelling story. How can you take the occurrences of the Holocaust and try to produce the story for an audience? How can you hire actors who cannot possibly understand the X to pretend they were part of the Holocaust? The more I think about these questions, the more I find the film offensive and presumptuous. That's just my initial reaction....