Events

03/18/2014

Northeastern Holocaust Commemoration

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Hinda Tzivia Eisen, Northeastern’s 2013–2014 Gideon Klein Scholar, began her lec­ture at the university’s Holo­caust Com­mem­o­ra­tion on Tuesday morning by asking a rhetor­ical ques­tion: Could the West­er­bork Cabaret, a per­for­mance troupe com­prising inmates at a World War IIdeten­tion camp in the Nether­lands, be revived with the same spirit in which it was orig­i­nally intended?

The answer, Eisen later told the audi­ence of about 100 stu­dents, fac­ulty, and staff, was a resounding no—“not because you couldn’t sing the songs, trans­late the scripts, tell the same jokes,” she said, “but because the audi­ence and the milieu no longer exist in society today.”

Eisen’s lec­ture kicked off Northeastern’s annual Holo­caust Aware­ness Week, which is pre­sented by the Human­i­ties Center and the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties in part­ner­ship with the Holo­caust Aware­ness Com­mittee. Titled “Remem­brance and Resti­tu­tion,” the com­mem­o­ra­tive and edu­ca­tional series of events —including a panel dis­cus­sion, a sur­vivor talk, and a film screening—aim to reflect on the Holocaust’s legacy in the 21st century.

Fol­lowing Eisen’s talk, two North­eastern researchers dis­cussed their expe­ri­ences in leading a group of under­grad­uate stu­dents on a Holocaust-​​themed Dia­logue of Civ­i­liza­tions pro­gram to Ger­many and Poland last summer. Natalie Bor­mann and Veronica Cza­stkiewicz, an aca­d­emic spe­cialist and a doc­toral can­di­date in the polit­ical sci­ence depart­ment, respec­tively, explored the ethics of vis­iting sites of trauma and chron­i­cled the chal­lenges of nav­i­gating today’s land­scape of Holo­caust memorials.

Stephen W. Director, provost and senior vice pres­i­dent for aca­d­emic affairs, under­scored the value of the week­long com­mem­o­ra­tion in his intro­duc­tory remarks. “Holo­caust Aware­ness Week reminds us that indif­fer­ence to evil is the same as com­plicity,” he said. “We are here to remember the vic­tims of geno­cide and to honor those who have worked against it.”

Eisen’s pre­sen­ta­tion hon­ored a score of German-​​Jewish inmates at the West­er­bork deten­tion camp, who staged six the­atrical pro­duc­tions from July 1943 to June 1944. Located in the north­east region of the Nether­lands, the camp famously housed Anne Frank and her family before they were deported to Auschwitz, and was ruled by 1st Lt. Alfred Gem­meker, whom Eisen described as a “patron of the arts.”

Gem­meker, she said, rou­tinely invited the Jewish artists into his home, and yet “still sought their depor­ta­tion to ‘the east’ as a neces­sity of the Nazi cause.”

One of the artists he liked was cabaret director Max Ehrlich, a German actor and screen­writer who was killed at Auschwitz on Oct. 1, 1944. Under his direc­tion, Eisen said, the cabaret troupe aimed to “bring light into the dark­ness, not to utopi­anize the out­side world, just to bring comedy to the dark sit­u­a­tion they found them­selves in.”

But it was an almost impos­sible task. In fact, Eisen said, the prospect of sur­vival was so bleak that the West­er­bork Cabaret became known as the the­ater of despair “because of its ability to decide who lived, at least while involved in pro­duc­tion, and who was deported to ‘the east’ to be mur­dered.” In the end, the num­bers told the story: of more than 50 troupe mem­bers, only two sur­vived the war.

Eisen is a grad­uate stu­dent at Hebrew College’s School of Jewish Music. The Gideon Klein Award—which honors the memory of the Czech pianist and com­poser who died in a Nazi con­cen­tra­tion camp in 1945—is annu­ally bestowed upon one stu­dent, who receives $5,000 to study the work of artists who were per­se­cuted by the Nazis. Bill Giessen, a former North­eastern pro­fessor who grew up in Nazi Ger­many and passed away in 2010, estab­lished the award in 1997 in memory of his mother, Gustel Cormann Giessen.


 

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