Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dancing, laughing at Auschwitz: who has the right?

From the AP:

Who has the right to dance at Auschwitz, to make light of the Holocaust, to shoot videos set amid cattle cars and gas chambers?

A home video that has gone viral on the Internet showing a Holocaust survivor dancing at Auschwitz and other Holocaust sites to the disco classic "I Will Survive" with his daughter and grandchildren has brought such questions to the fore.

To some, images of Adolek Kohn and his family shuffling off-beat at such hallowed places is an insult to those who perished; to others a defiant celebration of survival. The incongruous juxtapositions have struck many viewers as funny and chilling at the same time.

Whether the comedic effects were intentional or not, they bring a new dimension to questions about how far taboos can be tested in an age when comedians like Larry David and Sacha Baron Cohen find rich fodder for their jokes in the Holocaust.

The fact that the video only gained massive attention when neo-Nazi groups spread it online further complicates the question.

"If the humor is meant to cheapen, then it's bad," said Raul Teitelbaum, 79, who survived the Nazi camp at Bergen-Belsen. "But if the humor is simply a human reaction to tragedy, it's all right. It's complicated to do it, but a successful humorist can pull it off."

Making light of Nazi cruelty goes back at least as far as Charlie Chaplin's biting 1940 parody of Adolf Hitler and anti-Semitism in "The Great Dictator." But it takes on new implications in the age of Facebook and YouTube, when amateur videos like Kohn's can quickly reach millions of people worldwide — and when it can be hard to distinguish between sincere acts of remembrance and publicity stunts.

One thing is clear even 65 years after World War II: a playful approach to Holocaust memory is always bound to offend someone, and it's really only acceptable coming from survivors or other Jews intending no offense.

In Israel, Holocaust jokes have long been a staple of the country's black humor — and the Auschwitz dance video has made little impression there possibly because it doesn't seem all that unusual. But the video has been big news in Germany, which is still grappling with the nation's guilt.

Michael Wolffsohn, a German Jewish historian at the Bundeswehr Munich, called it "tasteless" and questioned Korman's motives. "It is simply embarrassing self-promotion," he said.

Click here for the entire article.

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