From the Newsletter | Holocaust Remembrance Day: Recall, Engage and Preserve. But Reimagine?

By | Jan 27, 2023
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image shows a black and white blurred train station with people walking through it. The words Moment Minute and the outline of a clock overlay the train station image.

British filmmaker David Wilkinson describes a jarring incident on a London bus that kickstarted a project he’d long wanted to pursue—as he puts it, “a film forensically examining why 99 percent of those who carried out the murders in the Holocaust were never prosecuted.” Coinciding with International Holocaust Remembrance Day (which is observed annually in most countries on January 27), that documentary film, Getting Away with Murder(s), will be available to U.S. audiences through six different streaming services starting tomorrow. Learn more, including what happened on that bus and how Wilkinson’s investigation of the criminal past exposed flirtations with Nazism in the present—specifically on location for a section of the film that focuses on Lithuanian Jews imprisoned and murdered by the Nazis.

Among the people who appear in Wilkinson’s film is American lawyer Benjamin Ferencz, who, at 102, is the last remaining Nuremberg prosecutor. As fewer and fewer eyewitnesses to the Holocaust remain with us, preserving not only their histories but their voices and expressions on film is one of the most important ways to “never forget.” As Moment cofounder Elie Wiesel said, “For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.” Another way, detailed by American University historian Michael Brenner, is of course through in-person storytelling and what the Zweitzeugen initiative calls “secondary witnessing.” Brenner’s mother Henny, who died last year at the age of 95, escaped the Nazis the day after Dresden was bombed and in her later years shared her experiences with students in countless classrooms. Video interviews produced by Zweitzeugen allow Henny to continue vividly educating students and others about the Holocaust; people “meet” her in traveling exhibitions and school workshops, after which students are encouraged to write letters to Brenner and his brother.

As Brenner notes, further innovation has been used to combine holograms with voice recognition technology, allowing “conversations” with survivors. Younger people who have not been exposed to primary or even secondary witnesses to Nazi atrocities may be especially vulnerable to Holocaust denial or distortion, and the social media that peddles it. A personal encounter with individuals targeted by the Nazis, says Brenner, “even one that is feigned,” or simulated, in the ways technology allows, is often more memorable than reading about those experiences.

Which makes me wonder about the young women I described in my recent article on how antisemitism is presented on TikTok. Several years ago, hundreds of teenage girls participated in the “Holocaust Challenge”—dressing up and applying makeup to appear as concentration camp prisoners to tell made-up stories, not of how they lived and survived, but how they died—the injuries they sustained, what they looked like in heaven, and so on. What do we call this? Is it a form of witnessing, albeit a bizarre one, or is it something more narcissistic or even sinister? I’d love to know what you think: please email to share.

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