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.