I Will Survive: Auschwitz

Scott Macauley of Filmmaker Magazine tipped me off to one of the more fascinating YouTube videos I’ve seen in a while: a video of a Holocaust survivor and his family dancing at various concentration camps in Poland and Germany filmed by Australian Jewish artist Jane Korman.

As Scott points out, the video has elicited quite a bit of controversy, which is perhaps unsurprising given the solemnity typically associated with representations of the Holocaust and the kitsch connotations associated with the Gloria Gaynor disco anthem, but others, such as Tanner Ringerud of Buzzfeed, have defended the video as being “the most heart-warming Holocaust memorial ever displayed” (assuming Ringerud is being sincere), while the discussion at The Atlantic recalls Groucho Marx’s spontaneous dance on Hitler’s grave in 1958 for a small audience of friends.

Korman herself defends the video in an article in Haaretz by stating that it is meant as an affirmation of her family’s survival in the face of Nazi brutality: “it might be disrespectful, but he [her father] is saying ‘we’re dancing, we should be dancing, we’re celebrating our survival and the generations after me,’ – the generation he’s created. We are affirming our existence.”

I think it’s worth watching the video all the way through to get what the video is trying to accomplish: Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” fades into Leonard Cohen’s far more melancholic “Take This Waltz” and then, against a black screen, Korman’s father talks briefly about the miracle of survival and the need to celebrate that, with the defiance of Gaynor’s song shifting into something a little more introspective. Still, it’s a little unsettling to see the family dancing in places that were sites of mass murder. I’m also curious about how authorship functions here: the video wouldn’t likely “work” if it didn’t include at least one survivor, but I’m wondering how Korman’s status as an artist affects our interpretation of the video, if at all. No matter what, “I Will Survive: Auschwitz” raises some compelling questions about representation.

Update: The video series actually consists of three parts (Parts two and three have been viewed far less frequently). Part three, in particular, depicts Korman’s father touring Aushwitz and reflecting on his experiences in the camps.

6 Comments »

  1. Ramón Calderón Said,

    July 13, 2010 @ 11:01 am

    I have to admit it, the video is quite shocking. But nobody complained when Robert Benigni put a lot of not only subtle but quite straightforward humor into “La vita è bella”, a film based in the same subject. On the contrary, everybody loved that film and even laughed or smiled at certain scenes. I know this video has nothing to do with “La vita è bella”, but that film proved you can add a touch of humor to almost anything (including the Holocaust) and not being necessarily disrespectful.

  2. Chuck Said,

    July 13, 2010 @ 11:12 am

    To be honest, I found Benigni’s film to be somewhat cynical in its use of the Holocaust (there was quite a bit of controversy here about the film when it came out, especially for Holocaust studies scholars), but I think you’re right that we shouldn’t prevent depictions of the Holocaust that include humor. I don’t see Korman as being cynical (or disrespectful) at all, and the second and third parts definitely complicate the playfulness of part one. I don’t think I’m necessarily critical of what she has done, as much as I am fascinated by the mixed feelings it has inspired for me.

  3. Ramón Calderón Said,

    July 13, 2010 @ 1:20 pm

    Well, I did hear some complaints about Benigni’s film but I’ve always been under the impression that the complainers were very few people. Maybe I’m wrong, I don’t know. I personally don’t think “La vita è bella” is cynical at all, it’s one of my favorite movies, actually! But the truth is that I tend to think that any kind of humor is perfectly OK so… I understand that people can find the film cynical, though. As everything, it depends on your point of view.

  4. Chuck Said,

    July 13, 2010 @ 1:29 pm

    I think the film ended up getting lost in some of my other experiences with Benigni’s work, including his over-the-top performances at the Oscars, so I’ve probably become a little too critical of it. It’s definitely a stunning performance, and I think the film takes an engaging approach to the Holocaust. In a way, I think the questions about the film (and about the “I Will Survive” video) are very much worth asking and discussing, which is what makes film blogging (and filmmaking) such a worthwhile activity.

  5. “Dancing Auschwitz” « Perverse Egalitarianism Said,

    July 13, 2010 @ 6:50 pm

    [...] Via The Chutry Experiment I came across this YouYube video, filmed by artist Jane Korman, of a Holocaust survivor and his family dancing it up at several different concentration camps in Germany and Poland.  This is Part 1: [...]

  6. Rimero de enlaces Said,

    July 20, 2010 @ 10:09 am

    [...] The Chutry Experiment » I Will Survive: Auschwitz Después de pensarlo, he llegado a la conclusión de que ésta es la mejor venganza posible. [...]

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