Pinky Pie

“I will survive” & Me

Posted on: July 17, 2010

The family dances in front of the gate to Auschwitz, which carried the words, Arbeit macht frei (work makes you free). It was all a lie.

This post is not about me, although I certainly hope and plan to be in the “I will survive” category.

I’m writing instead about a Holocaust survivor, Adolek Kohn, and the video made about his return to Poland with his daughter and grandchildren. They are shown dancing at various sites at the Auschwitz death camp and at the Lodz ghetto in Poland. Wearing sweatshirts that say “Survivor,” they dance to the Gloria Gaynor song, “I Will Survive.”

Before it was taken down Thursday for copyright issues a half million people saw it on YouTube. It was back up Saturday when I viewed it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPgKloQMeh8

The video only gained attention after a Neo Nazi group in Germany posted it, undoubtedly not with the spirit in which Kohn, his daughter and grandchildren intended. The issue instead has created passionate debate about whether what the family did was a celebration of survival or disrespectful to the millions of Jews and others who died in these camps.

On the video itself and with other news media, Kohn said, “I came with my grandchildren. I don’t know how many people could come with their grandchildren because most of them are dead.”

It celebrated, “we are still alive when the life was nearly taken away.”

Kohn’s daughter, Jane Korman, an Australian artist, made the video. “The word, Holocaust, and everything related to the Holocaust have become numbing and people have become desensitized,” she was quoted as saying.  So I wanted to make some artwork that would awaken people. I wanted them to think again about this past.”

Korman said she asked her father what he thought afterwards and he responded,  “we came from the ashes and now we dance.”

Not all are happy with the video, to say the least. Other survivors and family members of those who died have used words like “shameful” and “despicable.”

Abraham Foxman, director of the anti defamation league, said he understood the desire to celebrate survival but he feared the video could be misused and tarnish the lessons of the Holocaust.

Australian television interviewed another survivor, raising the question of whether it was a celebration of survival or a trivialization of the Holocaust. He said, “the soil is full of ashes where people were murdered.”

“Dude’s disrespecting everyone that was involved in the second world war. It wasn’t just Jews who lost their lives in the camps,” wrote another commenter at the YouTube site.

A man who said he was a Catholic from Spain wrote, “An applause to this man, his daughter Jane and his grandchildren. It must have taken a lot of courage to get back to hell with the family he had raised after surviving the horrors of a madman.”

The Los Angeles Times ran a poll in which it asked whether the video was hilarious or offensive. Categories of responses and results were:

  • “It’s a total disgrace. The artist and her family show no respect for victims of the Holocaust.“ 10 percent
  • “Lighten up, people. This is funny! The family is celebrating the gift of life and the joy of survival.” 59 percent
  • “Typical artist trying to get a rise out of the public. Shock art is seldom as shocking as the artist wants it to be.” 5 percent
  • “I like it because it’s the anti-‘Schindler’s List.’ Why does the act of commemoration always have to be solemn?” 23 percent
  • “It’s creepy, like the brainchild of Mel Gibson and Richard Wagner.” 3 percent

How do I feel about the video? I see it, like many, to be a celebration of the human spirit. But I also believe in erring on the side of sensitivity and worry about how others who had more direct connections with the horrors would feel about dancing at this place of death.

I am the co-author of a book about an Auschwitz survivor who I suspect would be shocked and grieve for her many family members who died there.

Throughout her book, she describes the importance of telling her story so that we do not forget what happened to millions of Jews, Poles, Russians, Gypsies and many others who died in death camps like Auschwitz. It is painful, very painful, for her to talk about her years in Auschwitz, and yet she feels she must.

Her book is her way to sing, “I did survive.”

One last quote from someone seeing the video on YouTube: “Dance old man. You lived through it and you have every right to dance. After you are done with your dance go and piss on the graves of those who were trying to kill you in that camp. Then go and dance some more…”

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2 Responses to "“I will survive” & Me"

Too much politics over these kinds of videos. Why can’t people just enjoy or not enjoy them for what they are instead of infusing them with political correctness?

I agree and yet I do feel for folks who are survivors. In other words, I am of two minds on this. Mostly, I love the spirit that Mr. Kohn showed. He seems very sharp and feels triumphant.

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