The Holocaust in popular culture
There is a wide range of ways in which people have represented the Holocaust in popular culture.
The subject of the Holocaust has been dealt with in modern dance. 1961, Anna Sokolow, a Jewish-American choreographer, created her piece Dreams, an attempt to deal with her night terrors; eventually it became a memoir to the horrors of the Holocaust. In this dance, the dancers stand still, each clasping a balled fist with the other hand, trying to pull them apart but with no success.
This same feeling of being trapped and enslaved is illustrated also in Philobolus' dance, Selection, in which one of the dancers approaches a dancing couple, separates them with his cane, and snatches the woman away from her partner’s arms.
Rami Be'er tries to illustrate the feeling of being trapped in Aide Memoire (Hebrew title: Zichron Dvarim). The dancers move ecstatically, trapped in their personal turmoil, spinning while swinging their arms and legs, and banging on the wall; some are crucified, unable to move freely on the stage. This piece is performed by the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company.
The Holocaust has been the subject of many films, such as Night and Fog (1955), The Pawnbroker (1964), The Sorrow and the Pity (1969), Voyage of the Damned (1976), Sophie's Choice (1982), Shoah (1985), Korczak (1990), Schindler's List (1993), Life Is Beautiful (1997), and The Pianist (2002). A list of hundreds of Holocaust movies is available at the University of South Florida, and the most comprehensive Holocaust-related film database, comprising thousands of films, is available at the Yad Vashem visual center.
Arguably, the Holocaust film most highly acclaimed by critics and historians alike is Alain Resnais’ Night and Fog (1955), which is harrowingly brutal in its graphic depiction of the events at the camps. (One of the more notable scenes shows Jewish fat being carved into soap.) Many historians and critics have noted its realistic portrayal of the camps and its lack of histrionics present in so many other Holocaust films. Renowned film historian Peter Cowie states: “It's a tribute to the clarity and cogency of Night and Fog that Resnais’ masterpiece has not been diminished by time, or displaced by longer and more ambitious films on the Holocaust, such as Shoah (film) and Schindler's List.”
With the aging population of Holocaust survivors, there has also been increasing attention in recent years to preserving the memory of the Holocaust through documentaries. Among the most influential of these is Claude Lanzmann's Shoah, which attempts to tell the story in as literal a manner as possible, without dramatization of any kind. Reaching the young population (especially in countries where the Holocaust is not part of education programs) is a challenge, as shown in Mumin Shakirov's documentary The Holocaust - Glue for Wallpaper?.
Central European Film
The Holocaust has been particularly important theme in cinema in the Central and East European countries, particularly the cinemas of Poland, both the Czech and Slovak halves of Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. These nations hosted concentration camps and/or lost substantial portions of their Jewish populations to the gas chambers and, consequently, the Holocaust and the fate of Central Europe's Jews has haunted the work of many film directors, although certain periods have lent themselves more easily to exploring the subject.[which?] Although some directors were inspired by their Jewish roots, other directors, such as Hungary's Miklós Jancsó, have no personal connection to Judaism or the Holocaust and yet have repeatedly returned to explore the topic in their works.[which?]
Early films about the Holocaust include Auschwitz survivor Wanda Jakubowska's semi-documentary The Last Stage (Ostatni etap, Poland, 1947) and Alfréd Radok's hallucinogenic The Long Journey (Daleká cesta, Czechoslovakia, 1948). As Central Europe fell under the grip of Stalinism and state control over the film industry increased, works about the Holocaust ceased to be made until the end of the 1950s (although films about the World War II generally continued to be produced). Among the first films to reintroduce the topic were Jiří Weiss' Sweet Light in a Dark Room (Romeo, Juliet a tma, Czechoslovakia, 1959) and Andrzej Wajda's Samson (Poland, 1961).
In the 1960s, a number of Central European films that dealt with the Holocaust, either directly or indirectly, had critical successes internationally. In 1966, the Slovak-language Holocaust drama The Shop on Main Street (Obchod na korze, Czechoslovakia, 1965) by Ján Kadár and Elmer Klos won a special mention at the Cannes Film Festival in 1965 and the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film the following year.
While some of these films, such as Shop on the Main Street, used a conventional filmmaking style, a significant body of films were bold stylistically and used innovative techniques to dramatise the terror of the period. This included nonlinear narratives and narrative ambiguity, as for example in Andrzej Munk's Passenger (Pasażerka, Poland, 1963) and Jan Němec's Diamonds of the Night (Démanty noci, Czechoslovakia, 1964); expressionist lighting and staging, as in Zbyněk Brynych's The Fifth Horseman is Fear (...a paty jezdec je Strach, Czechoslovakia, 1964); and grotesquely black humour, as in Juraj Herz's The Cremator (Spalovač mrtvol, Czechoslovakia, 1968).
Literature was an important influence on these films, and almost all of the film examples cited in this section were based on novels or short stories. In Czechoslovakia, five stories by Arnošt Lustig were adapted for the screen in the 1960s, including Němec's Diamonds of the Night.
Although some works, such as Munk's The Passenger,[when?] had disturbing and graphic sequences of the camps, generally these films depicted the moral dilemmas the Holocaust placed ordinary people in and the dehumanising effects it had on society as a whole, rather than the physical tribulations of individuals actually in the camps. As a result, a body of these Holocaust films were interested in those who collaborated in the Holocaust, either by direct action, as for example in The Passenger and András Kovács's Cold Days (Hideg Napok, Hungary, 1966), or through passive inaction, as in The Fifth Horseman is Fear.
The 1970s and 1980s were less fruitful times for Central European film generally, and Czechoslovak cinema particularly suffered after the 1968 Soviet-led invasion. Nevertheless, interesting works on the Holocaust, and more generally the Jewish experience in Central Europe, were sporadically produced in this period, particularly in Hungary. Holocaust films from this time include Imre Gyöngyössy and Barna Kabay's The Revolt of Job (Jób lázadása, Hungary, 1983), Leszek Wosiewicz's Kornblumenblau (Poland, 1988), and Ravensbrück survivor Juraj Herz's Night Caught Up With Me (Zastihla mě noc, Czechoslovakia, 1986), whose shower scene is thought to be the basis of Spielberg's similar sequence in Schindler's List.
Directors such as István Szabó (Hungary) and Agnieszka Holland (Poland) were able to make films that touched on the Holocaust by working internationally, Szabó with his Oscar-winning Mephisto (Germany/Hungary/Austria, 1981) and Holland with her more directly Holocaust-themed Angry Harvest (Bittere Ernte, Germany, 1984). Also worth noting is the East German-Czechoslovak coproduction Jacob the Liar (Jakob, der Lügner, 1975) in German and directed by German director Frank Beyer, but starring the acclaimed Czech actor Vlastimil Brodský. The film was remade in an English-language version in 1999 but did not achieve the scholarly acceptance of the East German version by Beyer.
A resurgence of interest in Central Europe's Jewish heritage in the post-Communist era has led to a number of more recent features about the Holocaust, such as Wajda's Korczak (Poland, 1990), Szabó's Sunshine (Germany/Austria/Canada/Hungary, 1999), and Jan Hřebejk's Divided We Fall (Musíme si pomáhat, Czech Republic, 2001). Both Sunshine and Divided We Fall are typical of a trend of recent films from Central Europe that asks questions about integration and how national identity can incorporate minorities.
Generally speaking, these recent films have been far less stylised and subjectivised than their 1960s counterparts. For example, Polish director Roman Polanski's The Pianist (France/Germany/UK/Poland, 2002) was noted for its emotional economy and restraint, which somewhat surprised some critics given the overwrought style of some of Polanski's previous films and Polanski's personal history as a Holocaust survivor.
|A novel about Auschwitz is not a novel – or else it is not about Auschwitz.|
|Day by Elie Wiesel|
Some of the more famous works are by Holocaust survivors or victims, such as Jean Améry, Aharon Appelfeld (and his satirical novel Badenheim 1939, for instance), Tadeusz Borowski, Anne Frank, and Gizelle Hersh, Edgar Hilsenrath, Imre Kertész, Jerzy Kosinski (see his semi-autobiographical novel, The Painted Bird), Primo Levi, Joaquim Amat-Piniella, Boris Pahor, and Elie Wiesel, but there is a substantial body of literature and art in many languages. The Holocaust has been a common subject in American literature, with authors ranging from Saul Bellow to Sylvia Plath to addressing it in their works.
The title character of American author's William Styron's novel Sophie's Choice (1979), is a former inmate of Auschwitz who tells the story of her Holocaust experience to the narrator over the course of the novel. It was commercially successful and won the National Book Award for fiction in 1980.
In 1991, Art Spiegelman completed the second and final installment of his Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel, Maus. Through text and illustration, the autobiography retraces his father's steps through the Holocaust along with the residual effects of those events a generation later. According to Holocaust Literature: A History and Guide, Maus can be seen as a species of oral history, and is very much an autobiography, for the parents "bleed history" into their children. In its domestic, psychoanalytical focus and its feminism; in its iconography, comedy, ethnicity, and politics, it is an American tale. The evolution of Maus also allows us to see precisely how provisional memory became authorized. Written between 1980 and 1986, is a different work entirely, not only because the private has been rendered public through recourse to animal allegory, but also because Spiegelman has chosen a sager venue by shifting from his mother's story to his father's.
Also, in 1991, Martin Amis' novel, Time's Arrow was published. This book, shortlisted for the Booker Prize, details the life of a Nazi doctor but is told in reverse chronological order, in a narrative that almost seems to cleanse the doctor of his sins he has committed and return to a time before the horrific acts of pure evil that preceded the Nazi regime.
White Wolf, Inc. put out Charnal Houses of Europe: The Shoah in 1997 under its adult Black Dog Game Factory label. It is a carefully researched, respectful, and horrifically detailed supplement on the ghosts of the victims of the Holocaust for the Wraith: The Oblivion.
Pinaki Roy offered a comparative study of the different Holocaust novels written in or translated into English. Roy also reread different Holocaust victims' poems translated into English for the elements of suffering and protestations ingrained in them. Elsewhere, Roy explored different aspects of Anne Frank's memoir of the Nazi atrocities, one of the more poignant remembrances of the excesses of World War II.
Richard Zimler's The Warsaw Anagrams takes place in the Warsaw ghetto in 1940-41 and is narrated by an ibbur (ghost). Named 2010 Book of the Year in Portugal, where Zimler has lived since 1990, the novel was described in the San Francisco Chronicle in August 2011 as follows: "Equal parts riveting, heartbreaking, inspiring and intelligent, this mystery set in the most infamous Jewish ghetto of World War II deserves a place among the most important works of Holocaust literature." Zimler's The Seventh Gate (2012) explores the Nazi war against disabled people. Booklist wrote the following: "Mixing profound reflections on Jewish Mysticism with scenes of elemental yet always tender sensuality, Zimler captures the Nazi era in the most human of terms, devoid of sentimentality but throbbing with life lived passionately in the midst of horror."
Key works in other languages include Ukrainian Anatoly Kuznetsov's novel about the Babi Yar massacre and Polish Tadeusz Borowski's books "This way for Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen" and "We were in Auschwitz".
"Stalags" were pocket books that became popular in Israel and whose stories involved lusty female SS officers sexually abusing Nazi camp prisoners. During the 1960s, parallel to the Eichmann trial, sales of this pornographic literature broke all records in Israel as hundreds of thousands of copies were sold at kiosks.
Some alternate history fiction set in scenarios where Nazi Germany wins World War II, includes the Holocaust happening in countries where it did not happen in reality. And, the effects of a slight turn of historic events on other nations is imagined in The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth where an alleged Nazi sympathizer—Charles A. Lindbergh—defeats FDR for the Presidency in the United States in 1940.
Ernestine Schlant has analyzed the Holocaust literature by West German authors. She discussed literary works by Heinrich Böll, Wolfgang Koeppen, Alexander Kluge, Gert Hofmann, W.G. Sebald and others. The so-called Väterliteratur (novels about fathers) from around 1975 reflected the new generation's exploration of their fathers' (and occasionally mothers') involvement in the Nazi atrocities, and the older generation's generally successful endeavour to pass it under silence. This was often accompanied by a critical portrayal of the new generation's upbringing by authoritarian parents. Jews are usually absent from these narratives, and the new generation tends to appropriate from unmentioned Jews the status of victimhood. One exception, where the absence of the Jew was addressed through the gradual ostracism and disappearance of an elderly Jew in a small town, is Gert Hofmann's Veilchenfeld (1986).
East German authorities were more keen to mark a discontinuity with previous German political entities, the Nazi one included, compared to their Western counterparts. Jewish victims of the Holocaust take for instance centre stage in Jacob the Liar (1969) by East German Jewish author Jurek Becker.
The effect of the Holocaust on Jews living in other countries is also seen in The Museum Guard by Howard Norman, which is set in Nova Scotia in 1938 and in which a young half-Jewish woman becomes so obsessed and disturbed with a painting of a "Jewess on a Street in Amsterdam", that she is resolved to go to Amsterdam and "reunite" with the painter, despite all the horrific events occurring in Europe at the time and the consequences that may result.
A large body of literature has also been established concerning the Nuremberg Trials of 1945-1946, a subject which has been continually written about over the years. (See Nuremberg Trials bibliography).
Jane Yolen's The Devil's Arithmetic (1988) hurls its protagonist—an American teenage Jewish girl of the 1980s—back in time to the terrifying circumstances of being a young Jewish girl in a Polish shtetl in the 1940s.
The prize-winning companion novels of another Australian, Ursula Dubosarsky, The First Book of Samuel (1995) and Theodora's Gift (2005), are about children living in contemporary Australia in a family of Holocaust survivors.
|To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric. And this corrodes even the knowledge of why it has become impossible to write poetry today. Absolute reification, which presupposed intellectual progress as one of its elements, is now preparing to absorb the mind entirely.|
|Prisms by Theodor W. Adorno|
German philosopher Theodor Adorno famously commented that "writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric", but he later retracted this statement. There are some substantial works dealing with the Holocaust and its aftermath, including the work of survivor Paul Celan, which uses inverted syntax and vocabulary in an attempt to express the inexpressible. Celan considered the German language tainted by the Nazis, although it is interesting to note his friendship with Nazi sympathizer and philosopher Martin Heidegger.
Poet Charles Reznikoff, in his 1975 book Holocaust, created a work intrinsically respectful of the pitfalls implied by Adorno's statement; in itself both a "defense of poetry" and an acknowledgment of the obscenity of poetical rhetoric relative to atrocity, this book utilizes none of the author's own words, coinages, flourishes, interpretations and judgments: it is a creation solely based on U.S. government records of the Nuremberg Trials and English-translated transcripts of the Adolph Eichmann trial in Jerusalem. Through selection and arrangement of these source materials (the personal testimonies of both survivor victims and perpetrators), and severe editing down to essentials, Reznikoff fulfills a truth-telling function of poetry by laying bare human realities, and horrors, without embellishment, achieving the "poetic" through ordering the immediacy of documented testimony.
In 1998, Northwestern University Press published an anthology, edited by Marguerite M. Striar, entitled Beyond Lament: Poets of the World Bearing Witness to the Holocaust, which, in poetry, defends the sentiments of the statement of Adorno, in a section entitled "In Defense of Poetry," and reinforces the need to document for future generations what occurred in those times so as to never forget. The book collects, in poetry by survivors, witnesses, and many other poets—well known and not—remembrances of, and reflections on, the Holocaust, dealing with the subject in other sections chronologically, the poems organized in further sections by topics: "The Beginning: Premonitions and Prophecies," "The Liberation," and "The Aftermath."
Aside from Adorno's opinion, a great deal of poetry has been written about the Holocaust by poets from various backgrounds—survivors (for example, Sonia Schrieber Weitz) and countless others, including well-known poet, William Heyen (author of Erika: Poems of the Holocaust, The Swastika Poems,and The Shoah Train), himself a nephew of two men who fought for the Nazis in World War II.
The songs that were created during the Holocaust in ghettos, camps, and partisan groups tell the stories of individuals, groups and communities in the Holocaust period and were a source of unity and comfort, and later, of documentation and remembrance.
Terezín: The Music 1941–44 is a set of CDs of music composed by inmates at Terezín concentration camp. It contains chamber music by Gideon Klein, Viktor Ullmann, and Hans Krása, the children's opera Brundibár by Krása, and songs by Ullmann and Pavel Haas. The music was comosed in 1943 and 1944, and all the composers died in concentration camps in 1944 and 1945. The CDs were released in 1991.
The massacre of Jews at Babi Yar inspired a poem written by a Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko which was set to music by Dmitri Shostakovich in his Symphony No. 13 in B-Flat Minor, first performed in 1962.
In Pink Floyd's album The Wall (1979), one of the record's tracks is titled "Waiting for the Worms". This song is set in the middle of the time the main character, Pink, has become a neo-nazi, and the head of a fascist group. The song seems to be set in a march down a main street in Brixton, England, with Pink singing/saying the lyrics through a megaphone. One of the lyrics from the song is, "Waiting! For the final solution to strengthen the strain!"
In 1984, Canadian rock band Rush recorded the song "Red Sector A" on the album Grace Under Pressure. The song is particularly notable for its allusions to The Holocaust, inspired by Geddy Lee's memories of his mother's stories about the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, where she was held prisoner. One of Lee's solo songs, "Grace to Grace" on the album My Favourite Headache, was also inspired by his mother's Holocaust experiences.
In 1988, Steve Reich composed Different Trains, a three-movement piece for string quartet and tape. In the second movement, Europe — During the War, three Holocaust survivors (identified by Reich as Paul, Rachel, and Rachella) speak about their experiences in Europe during the war, including their train trips to concentration camps. The third movement, "After the War", features Holocaust survivors talking about the years immediately following World War II.
In 2007, composer Lior Navok composed "And The Trains Kept Coming..." (Slavery Documents no.3) for narrators, soloists, choir and orchestra, based on real documents, correspondence between the allies, train schedules and last letters. It was premiered in Boston, by the Cantata Singers, David Hoose, music director. 
Creating artwork inside the Nazi concentration camps and ghettos was punishable; if found, the person who created it could be killed. The Nazis branded art that portrayed their regime poorly as “horror propaganda”. Nonetheless, many people painted, sketched, and wrote literary pieces; the ghettos and camps were dreary places, and inhabitants needed a way to bring life into their lives and express their human need to create and be creative. The Nazis found many of the artists' works before the prisoners could complete them.
German internment camps were much less strict with art. A black, Jewish artist named Josef Nassy created over 200 drawings and paintings while he was at the Laufen and Tittmoning camps in Bavaria.
While inside the Łódź Ghetto, Mendel Grossman took over 10,000 photographs of the monstrosities inside. Grossman secretly took these photos from inside his raincoat using materials taken from the Statistics Department. He was moved to a labor camp and died in 1945, but the negatives of his photos were discovered and published in the book, With a Camera in the Ghetto. The photos illustrate the sad reality of how the Germans dealt with the Jews.
Other survivors presented their memories of the Holocaust in various forms of art.
Alice Lok Cahana (1929- ), a Hungarian Holocaust survivor, is well known for her artwork dealing with her experiences in Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen as a teenage inmate. Her piece, No Names, was installed in the Vatican Museum's Collection of Modern Religious Art. Her work is also exhibited at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
Esther Nisenthal Krinitz (1927–2001), a Polish survivor untrained in art, told her story in a series of 36 fabric art pictures that are at once both beautiful and shocking. Memories of Survival (2005) displays her art along with a narrative by her daughter, Bernice Steinhardt.
In Israel, many additional artists have dealt with the subject of the Holocaust, including Moshe Gershuni, Joseph (Yoske) Levy, Yigal Tumarkin, and others. Children of survivors have also expressed their personal family stories through various forms of visual art, such as quilting. An exhibition held at Yad Vashem in 2011 Virtues of Memory highlighted six decades of Holocaust survivors' creativity.
A number of artists produced pictures of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in the months following its liberation, including Leslie Cole, Mary Kessell, Sargeant Eric Taylor (one of the camp's liberators), Mervyn Peake, and Doris Zinkeisen.
- Holocaust denial
- List of composers influenced by the Holocaust
- Nazi exploitation
- World War II in art and literature
- Yellow badge
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From Holocaust Survivors And Remembrance Project—iSurvived.org:
- Heartstrings: Music of the Holocaust an online exhibition by Yad Vashem
- Music of the Holocaust, Teacher's Guide
- Music of the Holocaust, CSUS
- Art and the Holocaust from University of Pennsylvania
- Unspeakable - The artist as witness to the Holocaust. Imperial War Museum exhibition
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- Essay on the history of Holocaust cinema
DEFA Film Library Massachusetts
-  Jacob The Liar
World ORT Resources: