VHM presents Voyages

This Sunday (October 28) marks the start of the Virginia Holocaust Museum’s Fourth Annual Film Series. The first film of the season is the award winning French film Voyages.

Reverberations of the holocaust continue to shape the lives of Jewish women in this three-part drama. The first story centers on Rivka (Shulamit Adar), who can’t find the strength to leave her insensitive husband. In the second story, Regine (Liliane Rovere) learns that the father she thought was killed in a concentration camp is alive. In the last tale, Vera (Esther Gorintin) travels from Moscow to Tel Aviv and makes an important new friend.

The film starts at 2:00 and admission is free.

Black Nazi victim remembered by artist

Gunter Demning, a German artist, is working on a project called “Stolpersteine,” where the former houses of Nazi victims are identified with 10 inch square brass monument plaques known as “stumbling stones.” Shortly, Demning will be placing the first marker to honor an African victim of the Nazi regime.

The stone will be placed in front of the house on Brunnenstrasse in Berlin’s Mitte neighborhood formerly occupied by Mahjub bin Adam Mohamed, a Sudanese man, who enlisted as a soldier in the colonial forces of then German East Africa. In 1929 Mahjub moved to Berlin, where he worked as a waiter in an upscale hotel while holding bit roles in 20 films from 1934 to 1941.

In 1941, Mahjub was arrested by the Nazi authorities and accused of miscegenation. He died in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp on the outskirts of Berlin on Nov. 24, 1944.

The placement of the stone coincides with the release of a biography, “Truthful Till Death,” about Mahjub written by Africa scholar Marianne Bechhaus-Gerst.

Thus far, Demning’s stones have been placed throughout Germany, with the exception of Munich where they’re concerned with anti-Semitic activity, as well as Salzburg and Budapest.

Holocaust descendants experience trauma

It’s fairly well known that I’m hoping to eventually complete a PhD in Holocaust and Genocide Studies. While talking with a co-worker about this a few months back, I mentioned that it would be interesting to study how the survivors of the Holocaust coped with their ordeal versus the survivors of modern genocides.

In a not dissimilar line of thinking, Janine Beck, a PhD student at Queensland University of Technology, conducted a study that revealed that depression, anxiety, and trust issues were all elevated in descendants of Holocaust survivors.

The children and grandchildren of survivors experienced depression and anxiety at a higher rate than the general population, Ms Beck said.

They also had more difficulty trusting others, which leads to difficulties in relationships.

The researcher said the traumatic after-effects of the Holocaust flowed to subsequent generations through the way survivors interacted with their children.

“Survivors were either over-protective or clingy because they were fearful that something would happen to their children or they were dismissive and pushed their children away in an attempt to prevent any future hurt,” Ms Beck said.

“These parenting patterns are highly likely to be repeated, so the cycle of trauma transmission continues.”

The study showed that the most affected survivors – those who spent time in concentration camps or were the sole survivor in their family – had children who were the most affected.

“In addition, survivors from Hungary and Eastern European countries appear to have suffered from higher symptom levels than those from Western European countries,” Ms Beck said.

I imagine that Beck’s findings would translate fairly uniformly to places such as Rwanda and Darfur. I do wonder, however, if the availability of mental health services wouldn’t factor into the outcome, leaving impoverished countries with greater suffering and a more prolonged impact.

I was particularly grateful to see Beck’s study as the question I had originally asked was one that I would never actually get around to answering myself. I’m interested to see if she goes on to do similar studies with different conflicts.

Raul Hilberg dies at 81

Raul Hilberg, one of the earliest Holocaust scholars, died Saturday at the age of 81. He was perhaps best known for his book The Destruction of the European Jews (originally released as a three volume set).

Hilberg’s reputation was made through his meticulous examination of documents from every facet of German life – the Nazi government, bureaucrats, citizens, etc – which revealed that the Holocaust was not part of a single idea dreamed up by Hitler.

Though some critics said Mr. Hilberg had understated the impact of historic German anti-Semitism, his broad conclusions were based on painstaking research. He examined microfilm of thousands upon thousands of prosaic documents like train schedules and memorandums between minor officials.

“This head-against-the-wall technique is the only virtue I can parade without blushing,” he said last year when Germany gave him with its Order of Merit, the highest tribute it can pay to someone who is not a German citizen.

The historian Hugh Trevor-Roper wrote that Mr. Hilberg’s book “reveals, methodically, fully and clearly, the development of both the technical and psychological process; the machinery and mentality whereby one whole society sought to isolate and destroy another, which, for centuries, had lived in its midst.”

Aside from The Destruction of European Jewry, Hilberg was also known for Perpetrators Victims Bystanders, The Politics of Memory, and Sources of Holocaust Research.

Emotional Arithmetic

Emotional Arithmetic, a Holocaust related drama, will be closing this year’s Toronto Film Festival (Sept 6 – 15).

The film, based on the Matt Cohen novel of the same name, stars venerable Swedish actor Max von Sydow, Hollywood stalwarts Gabriel Byrne and Susan Sarandon and Canadians Christopher Plummer and Roy Dupuis.

Sarandon and Byrne portray survivors of a Second World War internment camp for Jews in France.

They make plans to reunite after discovering the political dissident (von Sydow) who had protected them at the camp did not die at Auschwitz as they had thought, and is still alive.

The film is of particular interest to me because it deals with the much neglected emotional aspect of Holocaust survival.

Italian court modifies ex-Nazi’s sentence

Survivors and members of the Jewish community were outraged recently when they heard that Erich Priebke, a former Nazi officer who was convicted of war crimes and has been serving a house arrest life sentence, was given permission to leave each day to work at his attorney’s office.

Priebke has been in prison or house arrest since he was extradited to Italy in 1994 from Argentina. He was convicted of war crimes three years later for his role in the massacre of 335 civilians at the Ardeatine Caves on the outskirts of Rome.

Priebke has admitted shooting two people and helping round up the victims, but has always insisted he was just following orders and should not be held responsible.

The massacre Priebke took part in took place after a partisan attack killed 33 Nazis in Rome.

USHMM hosts educational seminar

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is holding a seminar this week for United Nations information personnel. The series is designed to promote the idea that public outreach and education can prevent future genocides.

At a groundbreaking seminar at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., participants will examine topics as diverse as the genesis of famous anti-Semitic texts and genocide in the Internet era.

The seminar, “The History of the Holocaust: Confronting Hatred, Preventing Genocide and Cultivating Moral Responsibility,” is the result of a new partnership between the museum and the UN Department of Public Information (DPI).

Information Officers from UN Information Centres in Paraguay, Colombia, Colombia, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Mexico, Panama, Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil and the United States are taking part to support educational initiatives on the Holocaust by Member States, mandated in a 2005 General Assembly resolution.

They are exploring how intolerance can lead to the breakdown of democratic values and, in its extreme form, turn into mass killing, according to DPI’s outreach division.

It’s good to see USHMM creating programs for the UN, but I can’t help but wonder if it woudn’t be more affective if the actual UN representatives and their staff were attending.

Record keeping

As a librarian with a Holocaust organization, I wind up receiving a fair number of inquiries about raw facts that are often easily answered by current events. For example, this weekend I was forwarded a message from a patron who was asking if the 6 million victims reported for the Holocaust referred only to Jewish victims, and how it was possible to be so precise about the number.

Naturally, I told her that it’s impossible to be completely precise about the total but explained that we believe the number of Jewish victims to be between 5.6 and 6.3 million because the Nazis were meticulous record keepers (and many records were duplicated in various locations). In fact, it’s that record keeping that has been at the forefront of Holocaust discussions for the last six months, as the archives in Bad Arolsen continues to flit through the spotlight.

If the Nazis had been a little less bureaucratic we would have wound up with the same kind of situation we’re seeing in Darfur, where the number of deaths are (by necessity) an estimate. I went on to recommend a number of sources to her and commented that if she wanted a nice snapshot of the technocracy behind the Third Reich, she should check out IBM and the Holocaust by Edwin Black.

When I finished answering her email, I found myself wondering if this isn’t one of the reasons we’re less invested in other genocides. The Holocaust wasn’t the first act of genocide — and as we’ve seen in Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Darfur, Timor, and Cambodia — it certainly isn’t going to be the last, but the level of documentation was certainly beyond what we’ve seen before or since.

Yom HaShoah sacrifice

As the country watched the massacre at Virginia Tech unfold yesterday, the Jewish world was observing a holiday — the Holocaust Martyrs’ Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah). It’s an occasion to remember those who died during the Holocaust. Ironically, a survivor was one of the victims:

As Jews worldwide honored on Monday the memory of those who were murdered in the Holocaust, a 75-year-old survivor sacrificed his life to save his students in Monday’s shooting at Virginia Tech College that left 32 dead and over two dozen wounded.

Professor Liviu Librescu, 76, threw himself in front of the shooter, who had attempted to enter his classroom. The Israeli mechanics and engineering lecturer was shot to death, “but all the students lived – because of him,” Virginia Tech student Asael Arad – also an Israeli – told Army Radio.

Several of Librescu’s other students sent e-mails to his wife, Marlena, telling of how he blocked the gunman’s way and saved their lives, said the son, Joe.

“My father blocked the doorway with his body and asked the students to flee,” Joe Librescu said in a telephone interview from his home outside of Tel Aviv. “Students started opening windows and jumping out.”