Why not? – blog
By Agata Peleszuk | 03/10/2010
In coming week Danny Chanoch, the protagonist of a documentary “Pizza in Auschwitz”, is visiting his family town of Kaunas in Lithuania during the Kaunas International Film Festival. A sentimental trip of the Holocaust survivor to the place of his origin brings out the most essential characteristics of all photo from "Pizza in Auschwitz"
controversial cultural projects that cover the horrific events of the Second World War – naturalistic pictures of the past combined with the present time devoid of a verbose lines.
Without any doubt the story of Danny Chanoch crossed many borders that the Holocaust-movie makers try to avoid. The documentary, produced by an Israeli label, Trabelsi Productions, was called by Chanoch's daughter “Holocaust reality TV”. Bitter humor, sarcasm blended with tears, shouts breaking the silence and prayers in a place considered as abandoned by G-d fall under the category of a reality show which is designed to expose the actual state of things, without any stylistic corrections. The screening of “Pizza in Auschwitz” in Lithuania is a symbolical journey of Chanoch who this time is going to restore his memories from a childhood prior to the Holocaust.
The contemplation about the Holocaust cinematography, books or arts can be kindled by a quota from “Pizza in Auschwitz” where Chanoch responds to the outrage over an idea of eating pizza in the camp barrack - “Why not pizza? Especially, pizza, because it was never available in Auschwitz”. The question “Why not?” keeps revolving around the borders of obscenity or sanctities in movies covering the Holocaust. In her work on the Holocaust culture, Terri Ginsberg describes that the source of an exceptional sensitivity of the working material is a proliferation of the Holocaust research to various disciplines: history, sociology, philosophy. Therefore, Holocaust documentaries or other works do not only play educational roles, but rather expend their effect on various unassociated categories (Ginsberg, 2007). From this perspective, the term “controversial” in regard to Holocaust cultural productions is being used with completely different emphasis and limits. Whereas in the past artists would show the horrific history through more abstract prism – as Ginsberg calls it a misidentification – modern movie makers and writers often prefer not to interpret or report the Holocaust, but rather to strike the public with a brutally realistic material.
In recent decades documentary realism as a form of squaring off against the indescribable crimes was used by many artists. One of the earliest ones was a fictional drama about Dr Josef Mengele titled “Nothing But the Truth”. The movie by Roland Suso Richter stirred a discussion about the legitimacy of showing Nazi murders in a more favorable light, even in a fictional framework. My first reaction was, if I can give the audience some of this personal emotional struggle, I think it is worth doing the film – responded the director. “The Kindly Ones”, a book by Jonathan Littell, of nearly 1.000 pages about a Nazi SS officer was not well received by critics and readers: Not only for writing skills, but mostly for the unpopular presentation of a Nazi character who makes an effort to explain his doings.
Not so long ago, a different kind of controversy, though within the same historical category, aroused from “Adam Resurrected” by Paul Schrader. In spite of criticism over means of expression in the movie, the director went to any lengths to tell the story of a mad confrontation of a boy who believes he is a dog and a Holocaust survivor who used to be forced by a Nazi officer in the concentration camp to pretend to be a dog. Another documentary that caused a lot of stir was “Killing Kasztner: The Jew Who Dealt with Nazi” that presented a comprehensive study of life of a murdered Holocaust survivor, accused of collaboration with Nazis. The interview with the assassin Ze'ev Eckstein and meeting with Kasztner's family built up an interesting reportage of events where the story is colored by the director's critical and at times subjective opinions.
The alternative exposition of the Holocaust issues concerns also museum exhibitors. In 2002 the Jewish Museum in New York City incurred a wrath by critics for a controversial exhibition devoted to the use of Nazi symbolism in the historical and cultural discourse. Among requisites the museum displayed LEGO Concentration Camp Set which presented LEGO blocks as officers and camp prisoners. Furthermore, Zyklon B gas cans by Tom Sachs were designed as perfume bottles with famous and fancy brands. The approach to present the Second War World history in alternative framework was also discussed in Poland where the municipality of Bedzin organized a theater performance accompanied by a reconstruction of a historical events from 1943. According to the scenario, performers showed the expulsion of Jews and the ghetto liquidation. In spite of the fact that the event was consulted with the regional Jewish Community of Katowice, the very idea of enacting cruel events for educational purposes was criticized by various circles. If the Bedzin adaptation, though prepared professionally, with attention to details and historical facts, triggers off such a strong objection, and at the same time becomes a subject for the media polemics of various circles representing Jews, its organizers should make a solid appraisal which will help other initiators of similar events in the future to avoid making decisions that give rise to controversies, are publicized by the media and divide our community – said Piotr Kadlčik the head of the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland.
All mentioned events share the common educational goal. All are aimed to attract attention of the public already familiarized with the horrifying pictures of the Holocaust and the war. They are all designed to shock and to distinguish from the ocean of other movies and performances devoted to this difficult subject. Due to their controversial means of expression they are all destined to be harshly criticized. Nonetheless they keep being watched, read and commented. Repeating the words of Danny Chanoch – Pizza in Auschwitz? Why not?
Really, why not indeed?