HDP x WHN: Oorlogstoerisme

Tourists in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Photo by Roger Cremers from his series "World War Two Today", 2016
Tourists in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Photo by Roger Cremers from his series "World War Two Today", 2016

Tourists in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Photo by Roger Cremers from his series “World War Two Today”, 2016

This event is in Dutch.

 

Aankomende maandag 23 april organiseert What is Happening Now? in samenwerking met Huis De Pinto en de Amsterdamse alumnivereniging Holocaust en Genocidestudies een thema-avond over ‘Oorlogstoerisme’.

Tijdens deze avond zullen What Is Happening Now-leden Marieke Zoodsma en Laurien Vastenhout in gesprek gaan met fotograaf Roger Cremers (Roger Cremers photography) en dr. Ido Abram. Tijdens en na het gesprek is er uiteraard ook ruimte voor vragen en discussie.

 

In Cremers’ fotoserie World War II Today staat de naoorlogse herinneringscultuur centraal en de manier waarop deze wel of niet schuurt met het hedendaags toerisme. Abram, emeritus-hoogleraar holocausteducatie, is directeur van de Stichting Leren met als persoonlijke focus het onderwerp ‘Opvoeden na Auschwitz’.

Het aantal toeristen dat beladen plekken als Auschwitz en het Anne Frankhuis bezoeken, is de laatste jaren enorm toegenomen. De manier waarop mensen met deze plekken omgaan, verandert. Objecten worden gestolen en mensen nemen selfies op plekken waar dit ongepast lijkt. In hoeverre is dit ongewenst of zelfs schadelijk? En wie bepaalt wat de juiste manier is om je op dergelijke plekken te gedragen en te herdenken? Hoe zorg je ervoor dat deze plekken geen prooi voor reisorganisaties en massatoerisme worden? Is het beleven van de geschiedenis wel zo gepast op een dergelijke locatie? Vragen zoals deze willen we aan bod laten komen tijdens deze avond.

 

zaal open 19:30 | aanvang programma 20:00
toegang gratis | reserveren via contact@huisdepinto.nl

Klik hier voor het facebookevent.

Film Review: Im Labyrinth des Schweigens – “The Disclosure of a Disturbed Past”

Copyright: Beeldbank WO2- NIOD

 

Main defendant Wilhelm Boger, on the photo left, awaits the beginning of the Frankfurt Auschwitz trial in April 1964. In the background a map of the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp. Copyright: Image Bank WW2- NIOD

 

By Laurien Vastenhout and Marieke Zoodsma – 

 

It was not the handsome leading actor on the promotion poster of the film Im Labyrinth des Schweigens (Labyrinth of Lies) that stirred our young historians’ blood. This was rather caused by the endless number of high-up filling cabinets with documents and dossiers surrounding him, perhaps sloppily archived, but a dream for any historian to dig into. These dossiers are the thousands and thousands of personnel files of the Schutzstaffel (SS), the major paramilitary organization that was, under the command of Heinrich Himmler, primarily responsible for many of the crimes perpetrated during the Nazi-regime. The poster depicts the Berlin Document Center, the central collection point of the American administration for documentation from the time of Nazism. Here, our leading actor, the Frankfurter prosecutor Johann Radmann, initiates his major investigation into the crimes committed at the Auschwitz concentration camp. The film starts at the end of the 1950s in West Germany. Radmann is startled by the fact that no one ever seems to have heard of Auschwitz concentration camp – let alone of the atrocities committed there.

 

This idea of (willful) ignorance of the atrocities committed during the Second World War by the Nazis in the post-war period has been thoroughly investigated by Dan Stone in his recent work Goodbye to all That (2014). He underlines that a consensus on the memory of the Second World War was formulated in Germany. In the communist East-Germany, the capitalist system was blamed for this dark period in German history. In the West, there was a tendency to remain entirely silent on the period. Instead of finding a way to deal with the difficult past in which particular groups had suffered tremendously, the idea that this history had already been sufficiently dealt with prevailed, particularly in the West. Those that were deemed guilty had received their punishments through the Nuremberg trials and, from this perspective, the country had been completely denazified.  Stone has argued that this was a constructed consensus that was necessary in order to restore the country, allowing the German citizens to go on with their lives rather easily without having to think of the disturbing past. This can be seen as the central starting point of Im Labyrinth des Schweigens, with an ambitious young prosecutor who, as the story continues, slowly and painfully opens up this disturbing past.

 

In his publication Legacies of Dachau (2008), Harold Marcuse has also illustrated this deliberate silencing of the past by describing the way the Dachau concentration camp was viewed by German society in the post-war period. The municipality of Dachau refused both to construct signs indicating where the camp was located as well as the construction of a metro stop when a new metro line was built. All efforts were directed to make people remember the ‘good’ things of Dachau, for example that it used to be a place with a significant community of painters before the war. The war period was, in short, entirely ignored. This unwillingness of authorities to investigate the past, or even to pay attention to it in the first place, is a reoccurring theme in Im Labyrinth des Schweigens. Johann Radmann and his prosecuting team become visibly frustrated with the fact that the authorities they have to work with, refuse to actively help find the alleged Nazi perpetrators.         

 

The film neatly portrays how politically charged this search for, and the eventual arrest of, alleged Nazi war criminals has been. Even though 50 years have passed since the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials (1963-1965) and international law has quickly developed afterwards, with international tribunals sprouting up like sunflowers in the sun, the politicization of the arrest of alleged war criminals is still as relevant today as it was then. As Radmann digs further in the evidence on crimes committed at Auschwitz, he learns about Joseph Mengele, the infamous Nazi-doctor of Auschwitz who performed medical experiments on the camp prisoners – at that time Mengele is at large and living in Argentina. Radmann decides he wants to bring Mengele to justice, that he ought to be the ‘big fish’ of these trials; “Mengele is Auschwitz”, he claims. The unwillingness of the West-German authorities to arrest Mengele, even when he visits his family in Germany, is reminiscence of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) 2009 arrest warrant of Omar Al-Bashir – the still presiding Sudanese president who is indicted for genocide and crimes against humanity (see Iona’s recent interview with professor Samuel Totten on the Sudan-conflict). When the Mossad (the Israeli intelligence agency) captures Adolph Eichmann in May 1960, Mengele flees to Paraguay and eventually dies a free man in 1979.

 

As the film is largely based on events that have actually taken place, it is a decent and thorough portrayal of the difficulties faced by anyone who wanted to call attention to the troubled past in a period (1950s and early 1960s) when the large majority remained silent. The historical accuracy is praiseworthy, despite the dramatization of some events – with arrests of suspected Nazi criminals taking place even while they are in the dentist’s chair. The film ends with the actual start of the trials which could leave the viewer feeling somewhat unsatisfied. However, the director’s choice not to focus on the perpetrators and the trial itself but mostly on the pre-trial period, where the silence and lies present in German society are most visible, is a favorable decision. This story is not about the war criminals and the actual trial, it is about the difficult disclosure of a disturbed past.

 

Only last week, the 93-year old “Accountant of Auschwitz” Oskar Gröning, who was assigned with the confiscation of luggage of prisoners at Auschwitz, has gone on trial in Germany. Of the approximately 7,000 SS-officers who served at Auschwitz and its sub-camps, no more than a hundred of them have faced trial and even less went to prison. On January 27th of this year, the 70th commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz was held. Next week on the 5th of May, the Netherlands will celebrate their 70-year liberation of Nazi-occupation. Let these trials, how belated and perhaps incomplete as they might be, be a remembrance of the stories untold by the thousands of victims of dictatorial and genocidal regimes. Perhaps not justice but the opening up of silence, of the labyrinth of lies as the film cleverly portrays, is thus primarily served.

“We Are You”: The Meaning of the Holocaust in Israeli Identity and Politics

IMG_1292
IMG_1292

Photo: Laurien Vastenhout

By Laurien Vastenhout

By After the ‘march of unity’ of world leaders in Paris on the 11th of January, which was a response to the terrorist attacks on both the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo and the Jewish grocery store in the city centre, Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu visited the memorial ceremony at the Grand Synagogue of Paris. The ceremony was dedicated to the remembrance of those (Jewish) citizens who had been brutally murdered by Muslim terrorists a few days earlier. Rather than mourning for the lives lost, Netanyahu used the opportunity to spread his own message. He encouraged French Jews to come to Israel since this, in his view, is the only country where Jews can live safely. The French authorities were offended. Clearly, Netanyahu saw the attacks in Paris as an opportunity to promote his election campaigns at the expense of relations between Jewish and non-Jewish citizens of France. The Prime Minister of Israel even made a link between the horrendous attacks on innocent French Jews and his settlements policy, justifying the latter because he considers it a necessary policy in order to protect the Jewish citizens of Israel against any foreign threat.

Last year, during the Yom HaShoah, the Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel, Netanyahu acted in a similar way. While the entire evening was dedicated to the remembrance of the suffering of the Jews during the Second World War, for example by reading poems and listening to survivor’s stories, he used the opportunity to give a lecture on the offensive policies of Iran and argued that Israelis should be aware that enemies are continuously trying to demolish the Holy land, Eretz Israel. The moment of national mourning was used to spread a highly political message. Rather than remembering the victims, Netanyahu used the Holocaust as an example of what might happen to the Jewish population in case they did not protect themselves to the maximum. 

When we take a closer look to the meaning or function of the Shoah in the politics of Israel and in the consciousness of the citizens of Israel, a particular development can be identified. In the years following the end of the Second World War, the idea that there had been many collaborators amongst the European Jews prevailed among citizens of Israel. Also, it was generally argued that Diaspora Jews had somehow contributed to their own suffering by easily submerging themselves to the German anti-Jewish measures. In short, the European Jews were considered to have been too weak. In this period, which lasted from around 1945 until the early 1960s, the Shoah hardly played a role in national consciousness of citizens of Israel; the establishment of the State was the sole focus of attention.

This altered with the changing of time.  As soon as the establishment of the State of Israel was no longer a ‘new’ reality, attention could be paid to more ‘peripheral’ topics. As a result, the story of the immigrant Jews whom had fled Europe either during or after the Second World War, surfaced on the agenda. Rather than arguing that European Jews had been too weak and collaborative, room was made for a more differentiated and compassionate attitude.  This tendency was reinvigorated by the Eichmann trial in 1961, during which the stories of the suffering of Jews in concentration camps in Eastern Europe and elsewhere played a central role. By then, 600.000 Jews living in Israel, out of the 2 million in total, were survivors of the Holocaust.  Because of the increasing tendency to pay attention to the traumatic experiences of Jews during the Second World War, this quarter of the population that had survived, began to fulfill a new social role. That was particularly true because, the Diaspora Jews were finally equalled with the autochthon Jews. As Shabbetai Keshev, a journalist of the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz stated in 1961: ‘we are you’, in which the ‘you’ referred to the Jews who had come from Europe to Israel either during or after the Second World War. In doing so, the burden of guilt of those who had lived through the Holocaust, was mitigated. The Diaspora Jews were now no longer seen as a marginal, weak and unimportant group, but rather as a bridge between Israelis and the Diaspora Jews that were still living in Europe. A new social reality was born.

This trend of increasingly incorporating the Shoah in the identity of Jews living in Israel has continued. As a result, the Shoah has become a key moment to which Israelis look back, and base their existential decisions on. Apart from the famous notion of ‘never again’, there exists in fact an additional view: ‘this will never happen again to us’. Currently, this notion plays a central role in Israeli identity and politics. Research has indicated that the large majority of Israelis consider the Shoah to be part of their core identity. Increasingly, the Jewish State is by now considered a safe haven, established in order to provide Jews all over the world with a country in which they can live safely. The Holocaust is an example used to illustrate of what will happen in case the Jews do not find protection in their Holy Land. The recent speeches of Benjamin Netanyahu re-emphasize this feeling in a clever way and take this notion even a step further. Not only is Eretz Israel a safe haven to Israelis, it is the only safe haven for Jews. In fact, the country should protect itself by all means against any foreign threat.

Strangely enough, with the changing of time the history of the Shoah has come to play a more central role in the identity to those Israeli citizens who have not personally experienced it. This is a good example of the way the meaning and importance of history and historical events can change, and can be reinterpreted, whether subconsciously or consciously. The increasing conscious approach of Netanyahu to use the Shoah as a justification for continuous repressive actions against Palestine is absolutely worrying. Not only because it is the view of one political leader, but because this concept is partly the result of an atmosphere that is reigning among the population as well.