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Time is running out for Holocaust survivors | Society

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Shimon Redlich, an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor and author of the book Together and Apart in Brzezany, said: “As long as the survivors are alive and can remember, their testimonies must be recorded. Every story is unique.”

Edith Bruck is a 90-year-old Auschwitz survivor. Hungarian-born, she writes in Italian, and is the author of classics such as Who Loves You Like This? In a recent interview, she said: “Our lives do not belong to us. They belong to history.”

The survivors of the Shoah have allowed us to look into the abyss of the incomprehensible. They have brought generations of readers closer to an experience that can be transmitted, but not shared. However, as the years go by, the era of the witnesses is coming to an end. With their passing, something irreplaceable will disappear.

Primo Levi at home, in 1987.
Primo Levi at home, in 1987.Alamy

Boris Pahor passed away last May at the age of 108. A Slovenian born in Trieste, Italy, Pahor was deported as an anti-fascist resistance fighter during World War II. He is the author of one of the most prominent books on the Nazi camps, Necropolis. “My every word [was] driven by the fear of slipping into banality,” he writes.

The fear of banality and the impossibility of transmitting what was suffered has been a constant in Holocaust literature since the publication of the first great literary testimony of the camps, If This Is a Man by Primo Levi.

Another fear that many witnesses have conveyed is the empty space they will leave behind when the last of them disappears… the incommunicable experience they will take with them.

In an interview with EL PAÍS in 2000, the now-deceased Buchenwald survivor, Spanish writer and politician Jorge Semprún, reflected on the disappearance of those who witnessed the Holocaust: “Do you know what is the most important thing that happened in a concentration camp? Do you know the most terrible thing, the only thing that cannot be explained? The smell of burning meat. What do you do with the memory of the smell of burning meat? For those circumstances, there is, precisely, literature. But how do you talk about it? Do you compare? And what about the obscenity of the comparison? Do you say, for example, that it smells like burnt chicken? Or do you try to reconstruct the general circumstances of the memory, going around the smell, round and round, without facing it? I have inside my head, alive, the most important smell of a concentration camp. And I can’t explain it. And that smell is going to go away with me, as it has already gone with others.”

The writer Ida Fink, photographed in 1994.
The writer Ida Fink, photographed in 1994.Ulf Andersen (Getty Images)

“We have been talking about the end of the survivors for almost three decades,” says Alejandro Baer, professor of sociology and director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota. “That concern has spurred memory in the form of the creation of archives of oral and audiovisual history of survivors, documentaries, even virtual reality projects. But whoever has had the opportunity to meet the witnesses knows that nothing will make up for their absence. Because it is not just about the information they provide, but about the nature of the encounter and the transformation it produces: becoming a witness of the witness. If we look for something that approaches that experience, we will not find it in technology, but in testimonial literature.”

If This Is a Man was published in 1947. Levi himself explained that the publisher went bankrupt and that the book remained forgotten for more than a decade: the first printing of 2,500 copies went unnoticed. Society was not yet ready to read about those horrors, not only because the stories about the extermination confront us with the idea that anyone can be a victim, but because they force us to consider that we too could have been executioners. That same year, 75 years ago, The Diary of Anne Frank was published in the Netherlands under the title The secret annex. Its translation was rejected by various American publishers until Judith Jones of Knopf insisted on publishing it. The diary became an international success in the 1950s.

In the Federal Republic of Germany, Auschwitz did not become a household name for most of the population until the late-1970s, when the series Holocaust was released. That five-episode telefilm sparked a heated debate between those who saw it as a product of popular culture that trivialized the Holocaust by turning it into a family melodrama, and those who thought it did more than any eyewitness account to make Germans stand up to their dark past.

“It is an insult to those who survived. What appears on the screen has nothing to do with what happened,” wrote Nobel Peace Prize winner and Auschwitz survivor Elie Wiesel, the author of Night. However, a survey published after its broadcast revealed that 70% of German young people between the ages of 14 and 19 said that they had learned more about Nazism from the series than at school.

Photo montage made by Diego Quijano from an image of imprisoned children in Auschwitz on the day of the liberation of the camp, on January 27, 1945.
Photo montage made by Diego Quijano from an image of imprisoned children in Auschwitz on the day of the liberation of the camp, on January 27, 1945.Galerie Bilderwelt (Getty Images)

This debate revealed another dimension to the horror of the camps: Is it legitimate to put yourself in the shoes of someone who has suffered something that cannot be explained? Is it possible to use the Holocaust to write fiction?

John Hersey wrote the first American Holocaust novel, The wall, between the 1940s and 1950s. It took place in the Warsaw ghetto; Hersey had met with survivors and visited the ruins of the Polish capital. However, his biographer, Jeremy Treglown, wrote that Hersey was faced with similar questions about authenticity: “Who owns the narrative? Can a young privileged white Anglo-Saxon from New England put himself in the shoes of the suffering of European Jewry under Nazism?”

Since the success of The boy in the striped pajamas, this debate has only grown. Novels with “Auschwitz” in the title have multiplied. The latest one is titled The dressmakers of Auschwitz. Some, such as The librarian of Auschwitz, by Antonio Iturbe, have sold hundreds of thousands of copies and received critical praise. Others, like The tattooist of Auschwitz, have been scrutinized by experts. The Auschwitz Memorial made a resounding statement about this best-seller by Heather Morris: “Because of the number of factual errors, it cannot be recommended as a valuable work for those who wish to understand the history of the camps.”

The writer Imre Kertesz, winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize for Literature, pictured in 2009.
The writer Imre Kertesz, winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize for Literature, pictured in 2009.CENDAMO LEONARDO (Getty Images)

“This popular literature, which is so successful, simplifies the history and reality that is so difficult for us to understand,” says Yessica San Román, director of the Education and Holocaust department at Madrid’s Centro Sefarad-Israel. “The result is a trivialization of the facts. What should concern us when we read books like these about the Holocaust is that they resort too much to stereotypes, both for the Jews and for the perpetrators. The perpetrators were not all monsters or psychopaths. They were much more normal than we like to admit. The Holocaust was committed by men and women.”

“I haven’t read The Tattooist of Auschwitz,” explains Shimon Redlich. “I don’t like kitsch books about the Holocaust. However, I believe that films like Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah or Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List have had a significant effect on the dissemination and understanding of the Holocaust.” Asked by email about the books he considers essential, the survivor and author cites four: the works of historian and survivor Saul Friedländer, The years of persecution (1933 -1939) and The years of the extermination (1939-1945); An interrupted life, the diaries of Etty Hillesum, who was murdered at Auschwitz; and Anatomy of a genocide: the life and death of a town called Buczacz, by Israeli historian Omer Bartov.

Entrance to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, in the summer of 1944.
Entrance to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, in the summer of 1944.Alamy Stock Photo

Bartov’s book is part of a series of recent essays that are helping to deepen knowledge of the genocide. They mix detective-like investigations with the handling of thousands of documents. In the face of all-encompassing books like Raul Hilberg’s The destruction of the European Jews, a new generation of authors is focusing on smaller-scale stories.

“Most of the witnesses have disappeared and the investigators must become indirect witnesses, with the material they handle,” Dr. Wendy Lower, Director of the Mgrublian Center for Human Rights in Claremont, California, explains by phone. “We work with the material we have access to… [over] the last decades, we have been compiling documents, testimonies…. such massive archives have been amassed and so many testimonies have been recorded that no historian would be able to listen to them all. When there are no more witnesses, there will be a lot of material to work on: archaeology, forensics, documents, recordings…”

Eyewitness testimonies were not always considered such important material. “In the beginning, when researchers strove to establish the history of the Nazi genocide, they did not always welcome the voices of the survivors,” says Dr. Sara R. Horowitz, a professor of literature at York University in Toronto and the author and editor of numerous books on the memory of the Holocaust, including Voicing the void: muteness and memory in Holocaust fiction and Shadows in the city of light. “Historians preferred to rely on documentary evidence and were reluctant to base historical accounts on memory: they saw it as unreliable, fallible, and limited in scope. But relying on documents also has its limitations. In the decades immediately following the war, many survivors expressed frustration that they had not been heard. And the historical record was impoverished by this exclusion.”

Academic and author Ruth Klüger, who died in 2020.
Academic and author Ruth Klüger, who died in 2020.Getty

“More than ever, it will be the power of literature– novels, poems, memoirs– that will preserve and continue to shape the memory of the Holocaust, in the different languages and the memory of each country. Writers like Aharon Appelfeld, Ida Fink, Elie Wiesel, Charlotte Delbo, Jorge Semprún, Sarah Kofman, Imre Kertesz and others,” Horowitz notes.

“Literature is essential,” advocates Marina Sanfilippo, a professor at Spain’s National University of Distance Education. She specializes in female testimonies of the Shoah. “It has never been possible to understand the reason for the Holocaust, as Primo Levi narrated in that famous phrase in which a German guard at Auschwitz blurts out: here there is no why. It is something that only literature can answer.”

Sanfilippo maintains that she has studied the literature written by surviving women “because the canon of the Shoah is above all masculine”– Primo Levi, Paul Celan, Kertesz, Elie Wiesel, Victor Klemperer, Viktor Frankl, and so on. She cites authors and works such as Liana Millu’s Smoke over Birkenau, Ruth Klüger’s Still alive, Charlotte Delbo’s None of us will return, or Daniela Padoan’s Like a frog in winter.

Padoan’s book is a journalistic investigation that collects the testimony of three women – Liliana Segre, Goti Bauer and Giuliana Tedeschi – who survived Auschwitz-Birkenau. “The experience was very different for men and women, because in the camps, people suffered from the body and bodies are different. What did it mean to have your period in the camp? Or to stop having it, or to think that you would never be able to have children? What did it mean to be the subject of medical experiments? The survival strategies were also different,” says Sanfilippo.

The electrified barbed wire that separated men and women in an unmarked Nazi concentration camp.
The electrified barbed wire that separated men and women in an unmarked Nazi concentration camp.Hulton Deutsch (Corbis via Getty Images)

The survivors’ voices are also kept alive through the stories of their relatives. The most famous of these cases remains the comic book Maus, now a classic, in which Art Spiegelman tells the story of his father, an Auschwitz survivor, and at the same time describes the relationship – not always an easy one – between the two. The librarian and author Javier Fernández Aparicio maintained a Holocaust literature reading club in Madrid for eight years with fellow librarian Javier Quevedo Arcos, from which the book The culture of the abyss arose. They assure their readers that no book was as interesting as Maus, perhaps because of its dialogue between the past and the present.

In the house where Primo Levi died in 1987 on a wide avenue in Turin – it will never be known whether he committed suicide or fell down the stairs – no plaque remembers the writer. However, his last name still appears on the intercom, as if he could be called and his voice could emerge from the past to remind us of some of the many lessons contained in his books.

Levi deeply mistrusted charismatic leaders– those who ask us to renounce reason: “Since it is difficult to distinguish true prophets from false, it is as well to regard all prophets with suspicion. It is better to renounce revealed truths, even if they exalt us by their splendor.”

The voices of those survivors that are slowly dying out remain essential to understanding what happened… but also to warn us about what may happen.

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Hollywood: They have it all, and take it on the road, too: These are the luxury RVs of the stars | Culture

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RVs have long been considered a fairly modest means of travel, an option that combines transportation and accommodation and that allows you to enjoy a more affordable vacation – bearing in mind that the comforts that they offer have little or nothing to do with those of a five-star hotel. However, this image has evolved in recent years, and the alternative of touring the world with your house in tow is gaining more and more followers, including some movie and music stars. Some use them for tourism and others to move between cities while they promote something or as a dressing room during shootings or tours, but they all have a few things in common: their enormous dimensions, their luxurious amenities and their million-dollar price tags.

At the beginning of July, all the details of Dolly Parton’s mansion on wheels were released. More than an RV, this one is a bus. Dubbed Suite 1986, it is 45 feet long and Dolly has traveled more than 300,000 miles and visited more than 60 American cities in it. It houses all kinds of luxuries and personal belongings of the country music star — a display case for her wigs, a wide bed with pink velvet sheets, or a Parisian-inspired dressing table, among other things — and it is available to rent from $10,000, with a two night minimum stay. The Dollybus is part of the hotel complexes offered under the Dollywood label, the universe created in her image and likeness, which also includes a theme park inspired by Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida, numerous hotels and spas and a water park.

Another celebrity who likes to have a traveling home is Jennifer Lopez. The Bronx Diva owns a 1,200-square-feet trailer that is valued at $2 million and, like Parton’s, is also available to rent, for between $400 and $850 a night, when the singer is not using it. Its name is Baby Girl and, judging by the pictures, it has it all: in two spacious floors you can find amenities like a huge leather sofa, furniture made from materials like granite or marble, and all kinds of image and audio technologies, including everything from large TVs to state-of-the-art audio setups. An exclusive design by Anderson Mobile Estates, an American company specializing in this type of high-end vehicle, completely customizable to the customer’s taste.

The same company built Will Smith’s RV, known as The Heat, which the actor purchased in 2000 to use while filming. It is 55 feet long, has two floors and it is valued at 2.5 million dollars. It includes a projection room with a 100-inch screen and

capacity for thirty people, an ample lounge, a bathroom with sauna, first-rate materials like granite and leather, and technological devices everywhere.

Leonardo DiCaprio’s RV does not fall far behind: it is 52 feet long, with four modules that can be extended to further expand the space. Of course, it includes all the necessary amenities, with eccentric details like two fireplaces and a large recycled glass shower valued at more than $40,000.

Justin Bieber’s RV also has its fair share of eccentricities. In 2020, the Canadian singer purchased for $2.5 million a bus turned luxurious mansion that he takes on his tours and that he himself showed off in the American edition of GQ Magazine. Equipped to the last detail, it offers wonders such as underfloor heating, ceilings with LED lights, a steam shower, and an infrared sauna.

Other celebrities, after years of traveling with their house in tow, have decided to part with theirs. That is the case of Tom Hanks. The legendary actor auctioned off his RV last year: the trailer that was his home during the shooting of movies like Forrest Gump or Apollo 13 was sold for $235,200, an almost trivial figure when compared to those of his colleagues.

Among so much luxury on wheels, Chris Hemsworth’s RV is also surprising for its modest dimensions. It was made by the Australian company Lotus Trooper, and it is equipped for all kinds of terrain. Despite its limited size, it includes things like Italian leather sofas and a designer kitchen; with this vehicle, the actor who brings Thor to life in the Marvel Cinematic Universe likes to enjoy family getaways, as he himself has shown on his social media.

Whether it is to go on road trips or as a place to rest between concerts or shootings, it is clear that the biggest music and movie stars cannot resist the opportunity to take all the comforts of home anywhere they go, preferably in rolling eccentricities that reinvent a concept popularized in the 1960s by the hippie movement – and look more fit for a Transformers movie than for an actual highway.

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Writer Salman Rushdie attacked while giving a speech in New York | USA

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Indian-born writer Salman Rushdie was attacked on Friday while giving a lecture in Chautauqua County, a town of about 140,000 inhabitants in western New York state. The first images of the event that have been shared on social networks show Rushdie on the floor, being attended by attendees and emergency services.

New York state police announced in a press release that the writer suffered an apparent stab wound to the neck, and was transported by helicopter to an area hospital. His condition is not yet known. An Associated Press reporter witnessed a man storm the stage at the Chautauqua Institution and begin punching or stabbing Rushdie as he was being introduced. The 75-year-old author was pushed or fell to the floor, and the man was restrained. The assailant has been arrested.

Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses has been banned in Iran since 1988, as many Muslims consider it blasphemous. A year later, on February 14, 1989, Iran’s late leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death. The theocratic Iranian regime also offered a reward of more than $3 million for anyone who killed the writer, who holds dual British and US citizenship.

Author Salman Rushdie in 2010.
Author Salman Rushdie in 2010.David Levenson (Getty Images)

Iran’s government had long since distanced itself from Khomeini’s decree, but anti-Rushdie sentiment has persisted. In 2012, a semi-official Iranian religious foundation raised the reward for Rushdie’s death from $2.8 million to $3.3 million.

Rushdie, an English-language writer and perennial contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature, downplayed that threat then and said there was “no evidence” that people were interested in the reward. That year, Rushdie published a memoir, Joseph Anton, about the fatwa.

The 75-year-old author achieved international fame with the novel Midnight’s Children, which was published in 1980 and won him the Booker Prize, the UK’s most prestigious literary prize, the following year. The book sparked controversy in India for allegedly derogatory remarks towards the then prime minister of the country, Indira Gandhi.

With an overflowing imagination, his style has been compared to the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez and Carlos Fuentes, among others. He himself has recognized on numerous occasions his important links with Latin American literature. His latest book Quixote (2020) adapts Cervantes’ classic to the situation that the United States under the Donald Trump administration.

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How Issey Miyake’s clothing became the uniform of the creative class | Culture

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Steve Jobs, at an Apple event in San Francisco, in January 2010. The founder of the technology company used to wear turtleneck sweaters designed by Issey Miyake in public.
Steve Jobs, at an Apple event in San Francisco, in January 2010. The founder of the technology company used to wear turtleneck sweaters designed by Issey Miyake in public.Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)

There are designers who have clients, and designers who have devotees. Japanese designer Issey Miyake, who died on August 9 at the age of 84, was the latter. Moreover, his clientele is easy to locate. “Why are his clothes preferred by so many prominent figures in the arts?” art critic Herbert Muschamp wondered in his 1998 review of Miyake’s exhibition at the Fondation Cartier in Paris. He had every reason to ask.

For over two decades now, the soundtrack of openings, vernissages, roundtables and other events in the art world has consisted as much of clinking champagne glasses as the airy and technical rustling of Miyake’s pleated garments for women (since 1993, when he launched his Pleats Please line) and men (from 2013, when he created his Homme Plissé brand, adapting his bestselling clothes for men to wear). Gallerists, curators, architects, photographers, writers, journalists: few can resist the charms of pieces by the designer who best understood that the future of fashion went through the future of its fabrics. It’s fashion without logos, but instantly recognizable, just like Martin Margiela’s, another art circuit classic.

One doesn’t have to go to the red carpet to find Miyake’s garments, just observe everyday cosmopolitan cultural life. Over the decades, architect Zaha Hadid; designers Jonathan Anderson and Samuel Ross; fashion critics Tim Blanks, Suzy Menkes and Angelo Flaccavento; gallery owner Barry Friedman; artists Joana Vasconcelos and Graciela Iturbide, politician Carmen Alborch; and music icons Grace Jones and Joni Mitchell have all been seen wearing Miyake. Steve Jobs was also loyal to Miyake since he commissioned a turtleneck sweater and the

Japanese designer responded with a hundred similar sweaters. In the years that followed, the Apple founder wore nothing else, according to his biographer, Walter Isaacson.

The idea of a uniform is a tantalizing hypothesis for explaining how quickly Miyake’s brand—which remains an independent company to this day—spread among certain groups. But there is an explanation—perfectly compatible with the previous one—that appeals to an earthlier reason: practicality. That was American architect and interior designer Rafael de Cárdenas’s assertion to Town & Country last April, after telling the magazine that he had discovered Miyake during his years as a designer at Calvin Klein. He said that the first time he wore Miyake, “my partner asked me if I was wearing my mom’s clothes. She’s big into the elegant sack thing. But it’s a good way to look smart when you’re actually wearing sweatpants.”

Fashion journalist Tim Blanks, dressed in Miyake during the symposium organized by Business of Fashion in November 2019.
Fashion journalist Tim Blanks, dressed in Miyake during the symposium organized by Business of Fashion in November 2019.Samir Hussein (Samir Hussein/Getty Images for T)

Comfort may well be one of the reasons for Miyake’s success. In the late 1980s, he began experimenting with a new way of pleating fabrics. That impulse to innovate wasn’t new. Since the beginning of his career, Miyake had been exploring the dialogue between technology and the old artisanal techniques of knitting and weaving. But he was more ambitious: instead of pleating the fabric prior to making the garment, he rolled and twisted the finished clothes, putting them into a machine that left the pleats indelibly marked by applying heat to the polyester. The pleating was irregular—it differed from garment to garment—as well as indestructible. As users say, the clothing can be put in the washing machine or haphazardly in a suitcase without fear of ruining the pleating. The result is pants, shirts, sweaters, jackets and dresses that weigh very little and use the shoulders as a hanger—the same logic that Cristóbal Balenciaga developed for

separating clothes from the body by following the example of Japanese clothing—to project their volume outward.

At the same time, the silhouette the clothing generates is wide and light like the paper lamps of Isamu Noguchi, one of Miyake’s favorite designers. In an era dominated by sleek, elongated silhouettes, that horizontality could be unflattering, as art curator Antwaun Sargent emphasized in the same Town & Country article. He recalled that he’d associated Miyake with female collectors of a certain age. Then, he decided to buy a pair of pants after seeing Solange Knowles wear them; he has been loyal to the brand ever since. So has historian Roger Cook, who was interviewed for a feature on Miyake customers in The Financial Times when he was in his eighties. “The publicity for Plissé is primarily aimed at the youth or sport end of the market, but I feel it can be successfully and stylishly worn by seniors like myself,” he explained of his favorite baggy pants. “The enormous amount of bodily gratification I obtain from my Miyake wonderfully compensates for the depredations of old age.”

Miyake’s connection with the creative class has even found its way into marketing textbooks. In an article about “expertise marketing,” French professor—and Republican member of France’s National Assembly—Patrick Hetzel imagined Miyake’s prototypical client: her name is Josyane. She is a communications executive who works in the Parisian golden triangle and lives in the Marais; she views luxury fashion designers with skepticism and favors brands with sophisticated tastes, such as Miyake. “Josyane is proud of her ten years of loyalty to the firm, which makes her part of a small tribe of people whose originality has served to create new styles,” Hetzel writes

Fashion critic Angelo Flaccavento, wearing an Issey Miyake Homme Plissé coat and pants during Paris Fashion Week in September 2018.
Fashion critic Angelo Flaccavento, wearing an Issey Miyake Homme Plissé coat and pants during Paris Fashion Week in September 2018.Matthew Sperzel (Getty Images)

Although the example may be a cliché—after all, that’s what sociological textbook categorizations do—the Frenchman’s observation underscores another argument in Miyake’s favor: the artistic and conceptual pedigree he gained from decades of collaborating with the world of culture. Miyake is the designer of pleated clothing and the name behind two of the world’s most famous fragrances (L’Eau d’Issey and L’Eau d’Issey Pour Homme, which set the trend of aquatic fragrances in the 1990s). But he’s also a creator who has worked with William Forsythe, Yayoi Kusama and Cai Guo-Qiang; his collections have been featured in memorable photographs by Lord Snowdon, Irving Penn and Nick Knight; and since 1997, when he decided to step back from commercial designs to focus on experimental projects, his work has been featured in exhibits at the world’s most prestigious art centers. In some cases, both worlds have coexisted, as in the A-POC (A Piece of Clothing) project. The last commercial brand with which he was actively involved, the collection consisted of tubular fabrics that, thanks to computer technology, allowed each user to cut out their desired garment without worrying about fraying it.

Ultimately, Miyake’s work can be as intellectual or direct as one wants. Some of his biggest fans would say the latter. As fashion critic Tim Blanks told The Financial Times, “Don’t think about it [Miyake’s Homme Plissé]. Just put it on. Then we’ll talk.

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