March 7, 2005

Professors Explore Holocaust Imagery

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“Visualizing the Holocaust: Taboos and Potentialities,” a conference held to discuss how to understand and interpret visual representations of the Holocaust, was held at the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts last Thursday and Friday. Seventeen scholars from a variety of colleges attended the conference. Many of the papers discussed at this conference were based on work done at the German Academic Exchange Service (DADD) summer seminar held at Cornell in 2003, according to David Bathrick, J.G. Schurman Professor of Theatre Film and Dance and professor of German studies.

Visual representations of the Holocaust have been ingrained in American culture. Movies such as Schindler’s List and Life is Beautiful, both of which dealt with the Holocaust, have enjoyed long box office runs and have gone on to win Academy Awards. Similarly, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum opened to the public in 1993, and traveling exhibitions are held across the country. All of these representations are designed to make sure that the atrocity of the Holocaust will never be forgotten and to serve as tribute to those who lost their lives, as well as those who survived.

Prof. Lisa J. Nicoletti, art, Centenary College of Louisiana, spoke of the cultural significance of Anne Frank.

“Elvis-like, [Anne Frank] haunts American Culture,” Nicoletti said. “Americans regularly celebrate her birthday. Her favorite thirteenth birthday gift [her diary] first led to our relationship with her.”

Nicoletti theorized that representations of Anne Frank, whether through her book or through the many museum exhibits around the world, resonate with Americans because they bring to the fore some of our worst fears and anxieties, especially the fear of a missing, kidnapped child.

Nicoletti also mentioned several artists who have created their own representations of Frank. Rachel Schreiber’s 1999 series Anne in New York consisted of a series of photographs depicting photographs of Frank stenciled onto buildings and vehicles in contemporary New York City. According to Nicoletti, “Schreiber was interested in exposing the ‘cult of Anne Frank’ and questioning how she has come to symbolize the suffering of millions of people.”

Prof. David Brenner, German, Kent State University, spoke of movies that have come to represent the Holocaust. Brenner mentioned movies such as Life is Beautiful and Train de vie (Train of Life). Grenner said these movies are unique because they are “more or less comic films about the Holocaust,” in contrast to somber dramas such as Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List.

“This representation causes anxieties that these traumas will be trivialized,” he explained. But Brenner also argued that perhaps these comedic representations “can afford to show or say what more serious modes of representation dare not to.”

Other themes explored at the conference included the use of photographs and narratives as ways of representing the Holocaust.

The conference was sponsored by the Institute for German Cultural Studies, the Jewish Studies Program Society for the Humanities, the Department of German Studies, the Department of Theatre, Film and Dance and the New German Critique, a journal of German studies published by Cornell.

Archived article by Samira Chandwani
Sun Staff Writer