Comments from an Israeli Director

My name is Avivit Shaked and I am an Israeli Theatre Director and group facilitator.

I’m working with groups of young pupils (in the 8th grade) and Holocaust Survivors. The name of the program is “Documentary Theatre for the Commemoration of the Holocaust in Israel”. In this program we are interacting young pupils with Holocaust survivors, so they can hear a firsthand testimony, as long as there are Holocaust Survivors left. These meetings are very touching. They enable a different kind of communication between generations. The meetings give the survivors—some for the first time in their lives—the opportunity to talk about what they have been through. For the pupils it is an experience that enables them to take responsibility and mature.

I got into this project as a 3rd generation of the Holocaust. I find it fascinating to work with older people, to hear testimony from a person that experienced an insane reality and one so difficult to understand or to accept. Read More »

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Holocaust Theater: Representation or Misrepresentation

(This is a transcript of a speech given by Arnold Mittelman to Association of Holocaust Organizations on 1/10/12.)

I wish to thank Bill Shulman, President of the Association of Holocaust Organizations, and member of the National Jewish Theater Foundation/Holocaust Theater Archive Advisory Board, for inviting me to make this presentation to you, his constituents, at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Facts are not the enemy of art, and art is not the enemy of facts. However, humankind often sees everything subjectively, even as we aspire to see the world objectively. Everything we see, touch, and feel is subject to individual interpretation. The late great Italian author Luigi Pirandello’s plays often examine how it is impossible to look at something truly objectively, since we are always looking at things subjectively through our own experience and understanding. And to a great extent, that is the power of theater: it has the ability to be seen individually and understood personally, defying all our collective attempts to view it objectively.

The aesthetic experience of the theatrical audience is to relate, not just to the live performance onstage, but to the reality and sense of each other’s presence. And therefore, although we are seeing the same performance together, we are never actually seeing the same collective performance because we all see the world differently. No wonder one person’s sense that a play is an accurate representation can be thought by another person to be a total misrepresentation. Such is Theater.
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What the Survivor and Historian Know: Detente Between Those Who Lived the Shoah and Study It

by Dr. Michael Berenbaum, Director American Jewish University

Jeff Cohen’s The Soap Myth, as produced by the National Jewish Theater Foundation and directed by Arnold Mittleman, has brought to life on the New York stage the inherent tensions between Holocaust historians and Holocaust survivors over facts and interpretation of facts. Time and again, survivors speak of the Nazis’ making human fat into soap, while Holocaust historians say that, at best, there is insufficient evidence to support that claim.

When, during its creation, I was project director at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, I rejected the display of a cake of soap. So, too, did my colleagues at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and at Auschwitz and Majdanek in Poland. Rather than go into the minutiae of detail regarding the soap, however, it is worthwhile to consider the relationship between survivor testimony and historical fact.

Elie Wiesel, the preeminent survivor, set the bar impossibly high: “Only those who were there will ever know, and those who were there can never tell.” Survivors’ testimony was privileged. They alone could know. Nothing could be said by my generation, born after the war; what could we know?

Yet, over time, we have come to understand each other better and perhaps to listen to one another more respectfully.
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All About Jewish Theatre

The NJTF Holocaust Theater International Initiative wishes to recognize the Israel based website ALL ABOUT JEWISH THEATRE, Moti Sandak editor, for the development of their Holocaust Theatre On Line Collection. This publicly accessible compilation of articles, reviews and theatre works can be found at: All About Jewish Theatre

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The Aftermath of War: Second Generation Performance Art

Dr. Susan Jacobowitz
Queensborough Community College
The City University of New York

A rock drops into the center of a pond. Ripples spread. Make that a flaming comet crashing into a boiling tar pit. A tidal wave ensues. Consider the Holocaust as that first event. Call the pit “Europe.” (“In the Beginning Was Auschwitz” B7)

– Melvyn Julies Bukiet

Performance art is a particular subset of second generation creative work that is still emerging from the tidal wave. It combines or fuses the project of depicting and understanding the Holocaust experience with bringing second generation experience into perspective. Like other second generation work, it involves research, imagination, re-creation and often an actual pilgrimage back to sites of memory or significance in Europe. For performance artists such as Deb Filler, Naava Piatka and Lisa Kron, it means depicting or actually embodying the parent whose story is being told. The work can be revealing and confrontational. Since Kron and Filler are comediennes, their pieces are often quite humorous as well. These are works that utilize multiple media: text, song, photography, comedy, performance. There is a strong experiential component for both the creator and the audience. These one-person plays and shows advance our understanding of the consequences and complexities of genocide.

Sonia Pilcer, whose The Holocaust Kid has been adapted into a one-woman show, writes of her parents, “I was their first seed of life after so much death. A living monument to their survival, a shrine to their murdered mothers. But I am not a Holocaust survivor. All that I survived was my childhood and my parents’ fierce, anxious love” (4). Melvyn Jules Bukiet uses his father’s concentration camp tattoo as identification for his bank account and as his signature—he inscribes a copy of his book for Helmut Kohl using the number 108016. Bukiet writes:

It would be disingenuous for me to claim that those six digits were the first I knew. Presumably I could count, but the artless aniline blue of 108016 tattooed on my father’s forearm was an abiding sign of the past in our present. It was his alone and then, as much as such a thing can ever be, it became mine, and now it’s yours; we can share (B10).

Second generation performance art participates in this project of sharing. Read More »

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