Three of the students from Cohort II recently participated in the annual Simon Wiesenthal Institute Conference in Vienna, and wrote to us about their experience. We are happy to share their experience with you today:
In June of this past summer we came across an interesting “call for papers” for the annual Simon Wiesenthal Center Conference in Vienna. This year’s topic was Genocide at Prime Time: The Holocaust on TV. The Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies (VWI) in cooperation with the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation Österreichischer Rundfunk (ORF) organized the conference.
We discussed making a project out of it, and decided to apply as a panel- during which we would present our individual, but related, papers. After several back and forth emails, the conference organizers agreed for our proposal to be sent in for jury judgment. Two months later we got our affirmative reply and began to work closely with each other. When we say work, we mean: sharing articles and movies, countless meetings, and as the class dispersed at the end of the summer, regular Skype conference calls.
We were motivated by the theme of the conference: marking the 35th anniversary of the first airing of the series “Holocaust” on Austrian TV (ORF). In the late 1970s, the US miniseries “Holocaust” shook TV audiences in the United States, in Western Europe and in Israel. The series was controversial, and while its reception remained ambivalent, the production spoke to how the murder of the Jews was dealt with, remembered, forgotten or suppressed. In Eastern Europe, it was not possible to air “Holocaust” until after the fall of communism; hence it received a different reception over a decade later. The Simon Wiesenthal Conference 2014 used this occasion as a springboard for examining how the Holocaust has been dealt with in US-American and (explicitly both East and West) European TV cultures.. The conference also assessed the degree to which the series influenced the way the Nazi mass murder was dealt with in national TV culture.
However, the miniseries “Holocaust” was not the sole focus of the conference. Various lectures provided a wider investigation into the TV depiction of the murder of the Jews. It is often forgotten that the murder of the Jews had already been the topic of numerous TV productions (trivial, artistic, fictional as well as documentary) before “Holocaust” was aired. These early TV productions were also subjects of heavy debates that took on different forms. They reflect the various political systems and their dependence on the specific cultures of remembrance in those given societies.
Today we can state that the trivialization of the fate of one German-Jewish family during the years 1933-1945 caused an epochal change in the remembrance of the murder of the European Jews and significantly shaped its representation in the media. The series marked the beginning of a global culture of remembrance and opened up the possibility of having transnational, universal frames of reference. Before the miniseries, the term Holocaust had been little known and used; after the series it became the general (albeit certainly controversial) descriptor for the Nazi murder of the Jews.
A paradigm change eventually occurred in the 1990s, after both TV and new media offered innovative ways of addressing the Holocaust and allowed entrenched, even deadlocked paradigms of remembrance to be transformed via the media.
The conference addressed the following questions: How did TV productions shape the memory of the Holocaust? What shape did the reception take in different countries and did any productions contribute to a globalization, universalization or Americanization of the memory of the murder of the European Jews? Do the productions share a certain aesthetic form that can be identified as a visual telling of the Shoah? Are there new, innovative approaches that have developed as a result of or reaction against existing and established forms of the media representation of remembering the Holocaust? How did the TV formats develop as a result of the focus on the Holocaust? How did narrative/fictional, documentary and (where applicable) experimental productions rank over the course of the decades? What are the limits of the representation of the murder of the European Jews in depictions in the media?
Basing our panel on a common theme, namely “Agency in Media”, our papers dealt with three aspects of authenticity in media, putting emphasis on the place of testimony in the representation of the Holocaust. We addressed the following topics:
Gabriel Mayer: Holocaust Cinema: Authenticity and Limits of representation
Gabriel traced the evolution of Holocaust Cinema, beginning with newsreels and wartime footage and evolving into a multifaceted genre, that includes testimony, documentary and fictionalization- the docudrama. Throughout this period the challenges posited by external interests- economic, social, political-tended to compete with individual agency, an issue best summed up by Elie Wiesel: “the question is not what to present, but how?” Shifting the discussion to current cinema and postmodern influences, often swayed by a cosmopolitan view of the Holocaust, he challenged, scholars and filmmakers, to carry a moral standard, or risk transforming representation into a form of “reperpetration.”
Zahava Moerdler: Jurisprudence, Society and the Moving Image
Zahava’s lecture presented a paradigm positing that law and society are interconnected and through analysis of landmark legal battles in conjunction with relevant media, social consciousness and remembrance of the Holocaust can be understood and studied. Particularly when looking at both media and the courtroom one must ask about the way narratives are framed, constructed and maintained. Like television dramas, the courtroom is staged. What does that staging demonstrate about authenticity and agency for Holocaust survivors and their stories? Zahava presented two case studies: first, the Nuremberg trials of 1945 and how they related to early representation of the Holocaust in America, especially in light of the television episode “This is Your Life: Hanna Bloch Kohner.” Second, she developed the case of the Eichmann trial and its influence on Holocaust memory as seen through “Holocaust” the mini series.
Madene Shachar: Constructing the Israeli Narrative
Focusing on the Ghetto Fighters’ House Trilogy Project, Madene’s lecture analyzed three films produced in the 1970’s and ’80’s that deal with the Holocaust, Jewish resistance during World War II, the Jews’ mass exodus to Israel and issues surrounding Jewish identity after the Holocaust. With no narrators or commentary, the trilogy gave agency back to the authentic film footage and authentic voice of the victims. Madene posited that the Trilogy offered a new generation a relevant “language of representation”, not allowing the Holocaust to be relegated to the past and bringing to the forefront a new discourse, one more complex, more inclusive and yet, leaving many fundamental questions without closure.
By the time our panel rolled around, we were being referred to as “the Israelis”, much to our delight. Our papers were very well received and many participants engaged us in conversation, before and after, but especially after.
Our takeaway included a tremendous learning experience and a real appreciation of the knowledge imparted to us at University of Haifa. Yet, most importantly we were able to persistently work as a team. Across geographic and time barriers we maintained collegiality. Perhaps this camaraderie, so much a feature of our 2014 Cohort, is what makes the Haifa International School MA in Holocaust Studies, such a stellar program.