The Futures of Genocide Memory
Beyond the Era of Witness: The Digital Afterlife of Holocaust Testimony
Noah Shenker (Monash University)
Although still grappling with the aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust, we are also facing a momentous transition. The “era of the witness” marked by a consolidation of survivor memory through film, testimonies, and other media, is giving way to a period when witnesses will no longer be present to anchor representations with their living, moral authority. In the face of the looming aftermath of living witnesses, institutions are grappling with ways to preserve the memories and testimony of Holocaust survivors. The USC Shoah Foundation’s Dimensions in Testimony Project (DiT), addresses this loss to the world’s collective memory and the need for teaching to the next generation through living interaction with survivors in museum and classroom settings. The Shoah Foundation is now using motion-capture technology, intensive interviewing, and database-structured artificial intelligence to create a collection of on-demand virtual, interactive witnesses.
This talk draws from Dan Leopard and Noah Shenker’s current book project entitled Beyond the Era of the Witness, a book which offers scholars, archivists, curators, and others, a framework for interpreting and working with the DiT and other digital representations of the Holocaust. It demonstrates how initiatives like the DiT draw upon a long genealogy of automata and virtual humans: clockwork men, toys, and robots, as well as AI- driven programs, including virtual psychotherapy interfaces and military simulations. Seen within this historical lineage, the DiT avatars are not only testifying witnesses, but virtual, pedagogical agents that are part of a larger history of interactive learning that often interacts with and is at times subsumed by spectacle. Rather than carrying the burden of testimonial integrity and authenticity—expectations that they cannot fulfil—virtual witnesses should be assessed on their pedagogical and communicative possibilities. Beyond the Era of the Witness blends essayistic prose scholarship (for instance, Adorno, Barthes, Baudrillard, and Kristeva) with visual essays (fashioned on comics and polemical graphic art – for instance, Spigelman, Gonick, Satrapi, and Rius) to show how digital media are being used to reshape the agency and subjectivity of witnesses as institutions are increasingly turning to projects like the DiT to preserve the living traces of survivor memory.
Photographic Testimony of Genocide in the Digital Age
David Simon (Yale University) and Eve Zucker (Yale University and Columbia University)
In the 20th Century, the memorialization of genocide led to certain iconic representations which reflected key elements of the collective understanding of those traumatic events. These representations are often, but not always, photographic images. For the Holocaust, they might involve images of emmaciated concentration camp inmates, ghetto roundups, railroad cars, and gas chambers. Photographs of Khmer Rouge soldiers and of Tuol Sleng prisoners are iconic for the Cambodian genocide, as are – with respect to the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda – photographs of machetes and of the bones (especially skulls) of victims. But in the digital era, iconic images are less stable, both in the sense that 21st Century genocides seem to lack the same sort of representational touchstones as pre-digital era genocides and in that the icons of the 20th Century are prone to manipulation, reinterpretation, and reproduction on a scale previously not imaginable. In this combined paper, we examine the impact of digital media on genocide images and iconography, addressing in turn the stability of Holocaust memorialization tropes, the photoshopping and animation of prison portraits of Holocaust and Cambodian victims, and the curious evolution of iconic representations of the Rwandan and Srebrenica genocides, for which the establishment of memorialization norms straddled the digital and pre-digital eras.
In the course of elaborating on the cases studies, the paper will address the following questions:
- How has the meaning of the photographs (that is, what they were testifying to and to whom) changed over time?
- How has digitization instigated changes to these meanings?
- As time passes, how do new audiences come to interpret and share these photographs, particularly in light of digital technology?
Kaddish by the Ruins: A Liturgy of Yiddish Holocaust poetry
Kaddish by the Ruins: A Liturgy of Yiddish Holocaust poetry
The Bashevis Singers and Dr Nathan Wolski (Monash University)
Kaddish by the Ruins: A Liturgy is a 20 minute all Yiddish song cycle that sets selected Holocaust poems by Aaron Zeitlin (1898-1973) to music. A collaboration between Nathan Wolski, Husky Gawenda and Gideon Preiss, the liturgy fuses theology, music, song, spoken word and commemoration.
The event features a debut recording of the full liturgy with accompanying art by local artist Anita Lester and live performance of two pieces from the cycle by the Bashevis Singers. The performance will be followed by remarks by Nathan Wolski and an interactive Q and A.
MIRKA Exhibition and Child Survivors: Art in the Aftermath
MIRKA Exhibition and Child Survivors: Art in the Aftermath
Noah Shenker (Monash University)
Noah Shenker will moderate a conversation about the MIRKA exhibition on display at the Jewish Museum of Australia. The Museum, in partnership with William Mora Galleries and supported by Heide Museum of Modern Art, presents MIRKA – an intimate, previously unseen view into the rich and fascinating life of the late Mirka Mora (1928–2018). A story of survival and migration, interspersed with a generous dose of family, art, food and love, Mirka Mora’s history is a profoundly affecting post-Holocaust Australian Jewish tale which, until now, has not been presented with such depth and scope.
Sexual Violence and the Holocaust
Remembering pipels and male-male sexual violence in the camps
Courtney Baker (Monash University)
The history of so-called “pipels”, young men and boys who were sexually abused and coerced by older prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps, is a long underexamined feature of the Holocaust – although many camp survivors have described this phenomenon as “widespread”. This paper/presentation will examine the testimonies of male sexual abuse victims in order to discuss the phenomenon of “pipels” as a particular form of sexual violence that took place within concentration camp spaces, and how survivors have remembered this sensitive and difficult history in light of changing, and often contentious, discourses, of Holocaust victimhood, survival and child sexual abuse.
Nazi Guards and Jewish Spaces: Sexual Violence against Jewish women in Ghettos
Dr Annabelle Baldwin (University of Melbourne)
Unlike Nazi concentration camps, ghettos are largely considered to have been ‘Jewish space’. German guards were not as prevalent within the ghetto walls as they were in camp environments, as it was administered and protected by the inhabitants. Despite these lowered opportunities, in my large-scale research of almost 1000 survivor testimonies on sexual violence, Germans were identified as the predominant perpetrators within ghetto spaces. This paper considers how the fact of the ghetto as ‘Jewish space’ affected the vulnerability of Jewish women to sexual assault to German men. I argue that the nature of the of Jewish life within the ghettos, and the structure of the ghettos themselves, had a marked impact on how sexual violence was experienced within these walls.
Sexual Violence Against Children in Hiding: Recovering Agency Through Retelling
Margot Holt (Monash University)
Women who experienced sexual violence in hiding — as children or adolescents — frequently lament “I didn’t say anything”, “I could not scream, I could not leave”, “I never told a soul”. They also impress upon the listener to their testimony that “now it must come out”, “I need…to talk about it”. This paper will draw upon the powerful impulses of silence and speaking in order to examine the range of choices available to this particular group of witnesses at the time of the events. And the ways in which these women were able to recover a sense of agency by framing and shaping their narratives of sexual violence in the context of their audiovisual testimonies.
Art Spiegleman in conversation (Keynote address)
Art Spiegleman in conversation
In this conversation, we’ll discuss the life and work of Art Spiegelman, the impact of Maus decades after its publication, and why comics are such an important medium for storytelling.
Child Refugees and Migrants
The Dunera Boys
Seamus Spark (Monash University) and Hannah Robinson (Monash University)
A significant number of internees sent to Australia on the Dunera in 1940 were young men, the youngest 16. Anecdotal evidence suggests that during their internment they suffered less than the older internees. The younger Dunera internees commonly did not have partners or children in Britain or Europe, and generally weren’t leaving stable jobs. Their youth and good health meant they were well-equipped to survive the rigours of internment, and more inclined to see adventure in their predicament. While interned, many developed political, practical and academic passions and made lifelong friends. This talk examines the ways in which younger Dunera internees responded to internment, then and after, and the ways in which their experiences corresponded with and differed from those of the general Dunera population.
Emotional Frontiers: Refugee Youth, Feelings, and Familial Separation, 1933-1945
Daniella Doron (Monash University)
This presentation will examine the words and inner worlds of European Jewish refugee youth in the United States in wartime. I will draw upon the words penned by young Jewish refugees, torn from their families by war and persecution, in the late 1930s and 1940s. In tracing their inner worlds, I wish to uncover how youth experienced, understood, and negotiated their migration and their position as refugees? We shall see that refugee youth were not wholly shaped by their new environments. Rather they acutely felt the friction produced by clashing European and American norms, and resisted attempts at “emotional formation” by creating, or longing for, alternative emotional communities in which they could find solace in shared histories and vent their pain. This evidence challenges the scholarship of certain historians who have drawn upon the writings of social workers or retrospective sources to suggest that refugee Jewish youth enjoyed a comparatively frictionless transition into American social and cultural life.
Representations of the Holocaust Across Generations:
Artistic Inheritances of the Holocaust
Kathy Temin (Monash University)
These three identities have informed both my artistic practice, my research as an educator and as my identity as the daughter of a survivor. My practice as an artist looks at the intersections of art history, private and collective memory. I challenge the notion of what a memorial or a monument can be, working with unconventional materials such as synthetic fur, because of its associations with the heightened emotional content that soft toy imagery generates. My research focuses on the museum as the container of history and memory through the archive and the experiential viewing or listening of material. I am specifically interested in the history of Holocaust memorials and how remembrance is represented in different countries through artistic contributions that include sculptural, architectural, sound and exhibition forms as part of the memorial museum.
Exhibiting the Holocaust and Human Rights in Australia: An Intergenerational Challenge
Avril Alba (University of Sydney)
Increasingly, Holocaust museums are choosing to expand their exhibition programs and educational mandates to encompass the topic of human rights. In Australia, the first museum to undertake this development was the Sydney Jewish Museum (SJM), resulting in the opening of a new permanent exhibition The Holocaust and Human Rights in 2018.
As a private museum, the SJM was able to navigate this often-fraught process of confronting these topics through a different framework to state museums or those institutions built on a public-private partnership. Yet, this did not mean that the process was without political dimensions. Rather, as this paper will show, the politics of exhibition development in community museums such as the SJM can be delineated and laid bare through an examination of the interconnections between the curatorial process and a shifting communal landscape. In the case of the SJM, an institution founded and shaped by Sydney’s Holocaust survivor community, it will be posited that these political battles are most acutely evidenced and analyzed against the backdrop of intergenerational communal change.
About us, about them, about you
Jayne Josem, Jewish Holocaust Centre of Melbourne
The Jewish Holocaust Centre opened its doors in 1984 when a group of Holocaust survivors felt a duty to present their history publicly. ‘This happened to us’ was at the heart of their efforts – to speak as eyewitnesses with the lesson ‘never again’. The redeveloped exhibition, curated in 2010 by Jayne Josem, presented their story, putting more survivor stories on display, as less survivors were talking to visitors on site. In 2022 a new exhibition will open, and it will ask visitors to contemplate the survivor stories and consider ‘how does this relate to you?’
Museum of Inherited Memories - 'never again: us, you, them'
Siân Darling, One Louder Entertainment
A descendant of Holocaust survivors, Siân was raised in the shadows of the Shoah. In 2019, Siân began curating Yom Hashoah events for third generation survivors in an effort to inspire a connection with the legacies being inherited. In 2020, Siân founded the Museum of Inherited Memories, a cultural institution housed online that produces both events and exhibitions in physical and online spaces. The Museum utilises contemporary arts to honour Holocaust memorial and combat antisemitism by inspiring empathy between people of various backgrounds. The presentation for Aftermath 2021 will explore the function of the Museum in the unique space it carves for Holocaust memorial and third generation engagement.
Jewish Holocaust Songbook
Memory in musical material culture: mapping narratives of trauma and migration in the music archive of the Jewish Holocaust Centre, Melbourne
Joseph Toltz (University of Sydney), Anna Hirsh (Jewish Holocaust Centre of Melbourne) and Anna Boucher (University of Sydney)
The human emigration of European Jews in the aftermath of the Holocaust has been well documented by historians and social scientists, but less is known about the stories around the personal musical material that they carried: notation, texts (lider) and knowledge. One such object is the earliest compiled collection of Holocaust songs, published in Bucharest in June 1945, a copy of which made its way to Australia. The collection presents a case study on the ability of music-based material objects to sing and tell complex stories around trauma and migration in the present as in the past. This lecture recital will examine this and other musical material objects in the Jewish Holocaust Centre, revealing the potential of such microhistories of trauma and memory to understand events at different scales in a simultaneous and non-hierarchical fashion.