Monday, May 27, 2013

Theater in Holland: A Cultural Refuge During the Holocaust - Part 2

The Jewish Theater in Amsterdam during a deportation
in Summer 1942 
Expanding on last week’s entry regarding the day-long symposium on May 6, 2013, which discussed performing arts in Holland during the Holocaust and was sponsored by the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem along with the International Institute for Jewish and Israeli Culture, the following post will shed additional insight concerning the continual use of theater in an increasingly terrible period following the deportation of Dutch Jewry and their internment in camps. Beginning in the summer of 1942, the Jewish Theater was dissolved as a cultural forum and began to be used by the Nazis as an assembly point to begin the mass deportations of Dutch Jewry, taking them by train to the concentration and transit camps: Westerbork and Vught.

Part 1:

The orchestra in the Westerbork camp followed by a line of inmates
Located in the northeastern part of the Netherlands, Westerbork, the larger of the two camps, was initially established before the Nazi occupation by the Dutch government in 1939 to detain German Jews who fled the Nazi regime and entered the country illegally. Following the occupation of the Netherlands by Nazi Germany, Westerbork became a concentration and transit camp used to gather and deport Jews to other Nazi extermination and concentration camps such as Auschwitz, Sobibor, Theresienstadt, and Bergen-Belsen. Among those concentrated in Westerbork were many of the talented Jewish performing artists living in Holland at the time who were taken to the camp temporarily before eventually being sent to one of the various Nazi camps in Europe mentioned above.

Prisoners performing a show in the camp's theater in Westerbork
On October 12, 1942 SS-Obersturmfuehrer Albert Konrad Gemmeker was put in charge of the camp, overseeing and carrying out the orders from the office of Adolf Eichmann concerning the timing, extent and destination of the mass deportations. The way in which the Nazis administered Westerbork was unusual in that it tried to give the Jews deported there a false sense of normality and a feeling that through obedience they would be decently treated. This was done for a number of reasons including providing a cover that would aid the level of ease, compliance and control in deporting the inmates to their deaths in extermination camps in the East as well as assist Nazi propaganda purposes in portraying the conditions within the camps as “humane”.  However, perhaps one of the strangest and most distinctive occurrences at Westerbork, which characterized the German deception regarding the camp’s ultimate purpose, was Gemmeker’s decision to allow many of the renowned Jewish performing artists imprisoned in the camp to put on elaborate theatrical productions. Such extensive encouragement by the Nazi camp commander in allowing Jewish prisoners to partake in cultural activities such as theater made Westerbork stand out as a rare outlet for the performing arts during the Holocaust.
The orchestra in the Westerbork camp's theater. Willy Rosen
and Erich Ziegler are seen left on the pianos
The “Camp Westerbork Theater Group” was established under the direction of Max Erlich, a famous German-Jewish actor, writer and director imprisoned at the camp, who led the company in putting on a number of original full-scale theatrical and cabaret productions in addition to a weekly performance. At its height the theater group had over 50 performers including well-known Jewish German and Dutch artists such as Willy Rosen, Erich Ziegler, Franz Engel, Kurt Geron, Esther Philipse, Jetty Cantor, Camila Spira and Johnny & Jones. For many camp inmates, the Westerbork theater was a temporary distraction and cultural refuge from the devastating reality that, at any time, one could be deported East to a far worse fate. Since there was no telling how long one would be kept at Westerbork before being put on a list for deportation (ranging from a week to over a year), to a large extent the theater was permitted as it provided an element of control over the camp’s population. By having a performance the evening before a forced deportation to an extermination camp, the Nazis used the medium of art that is theater to maintain a sense of calm among the camp’s Jewish prisoners during a period of great turmoil and tension. Nevertheless, for many at Westerbork the theater provided an artistic escape from the daily forced labor and the grim realization that one could be sent on a train to a more terrible place. While the theater did prolong the time at Westerbork for its many famous and talented performers, it only delayed those Jewish artists, such as Erlich, Rosen, Engel, Geron, Philipse and Johnny & Jones, from the same horrible fate suffered by the almost 100,000 Jews detained in the camp who were sent to their untimely deaths at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators. For most of those detained at the camp who would ultimately fall victim to Nazi cruelty, a performance at Westerbork would be their last.
Jews being deported by train from Westerbork, Netherlands to Auschwitz

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Yad Vashem Receives Top Ranking from TripAdvisor

Yad Vashem has recently been the recipient of TripAdvisor's 2013 Excellence Award. TripAdvisor, which is the foremost travel website driven by reviews and comments of tourists and travelers, gives the award to the top-performing 10% of all businesses worldwide on TripAdvisor. It is given to businesses that consistently earn high ratings from TripAdvisor travelers.

Here are some of the things our visitors are saying about us:

“Speaks for itself"

Reviewed 26 February 2013

If you have not been there in the past few years, since they re-did it, it is a MUST. The new design is much more interesting and evocative than the old one.

“A place not to be missed”

Reviewed 24 August 2012

Knowing history (OK, I am a bit of history freak) and having visited actual places of former concentration camps (quite a few) I still wouldn't miss it - very well designed, very touching, very accurate. You should take audio-guide and allow time to really let it sink into you.

“moving.... makes u wonder what a man can do......”

Reviewed 20 May 2013

Situated on Mt Herzl in the new Jerusalem, is this museum, which is unlike any regular collection of items but a collection of feelings and emotions. Please take a minimum of 3 hrs for this magnificent piece of haunting history.

“Powerful and moving”

Reviewed 20 May 2013

The audio and visual displays are powerful, moving and very well done. The architects did an excellent job with the gardens and buildings to build a spiritual space. It is a must see for all adults. Allow enough time. There is much to see and hear.

“Impressive and never forgetting”

Reviewed 12 May 2013

I think the title of this review says everything that this museum needs. It made a big impression on me. I will never forget, but that is what this museum also wants to say: to give a name to all the Jewish victims of WWII, that we will never forget.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Celebrating the End of World War II

World War II veterans take their seats at the Memorial to the Jewish
Soldiers and Partisans at Yad Vashem
On Thursday, May 9, 2013 a ceremony marking the 68th anniversary of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany in World War II (VE Day) took place at the Memorial to the Jewish Soldiers and Partisans at Yad Vashem in the presence of Jewish World War II veterans and ex-servicemen, their families, Israeli government officials and foreign diplomatic representatives of the Allied countries. The event was organized with the participation of the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption and a number of partisan and veteran groups with speakers including the Minister of Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver, Dr. Bella Gutterman the Director of the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem and Avraham Greenzeid, Chairman of the Veterans Union of World War II Fighters Against Nazism. Unlike the understandable solemn nature of virtually all of the other ceremonies and events which are hosted by Yad Vashem throughout the year (with the exception of those honoring the Righteous Among the Nations), this was mostly a joyous and celebratory occasion with commemorative speeches and upbeat musical performances. 
Veterans from the Former Soviet Union speak before the ceremony
The Israeli Police Orchestra plays a number of patriotic songs from the
Allies during World War II
Conducted by Inspector Eitan Sobol, the Israeli Police Orchestra played many of the well-known patriotic songs from that era including several from the Soviet Union, Great Britain, the United States as well as a few sung by Jewish fighters from the Yishuv and Jewish partisans in Europe. Many of those in attendance, especially the veterans and those who lived through that difficult period, joined their voices in a nostalgic melody, singing a familiar song or two that still seemed to reflect the light of hope and unyielding desire to better the world by those who had the courage to raise their arms in defiance amidst a powerful and growing darkness. Many of these same veterans, especially those from the Former Soviet Union, proudly donned old uniforms, medals or berets serving as a visual reminder of the sacrifice by over 1.5 million Jews who left their families to serve and fight in the Allied forces during World War II and who bravely resisted and defeated the injustice and tyranny which Nazi Germany brought to the world during one of the most evil episodes in human history.  
The evening concludes with a wreath-laying ceremony honoring the
Jewish fighters who fell in battle during World War II
All photos courtesy of Hannah Kaye. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Preserving the memory of the 6 million victims, a name at a time

Aron Heller's article in the Washington Post brings the spotlight on Yad Vashem's Shoah Victims' Names Recovery Project

REHOVOT, Israel — With a hand on her chest, 82-year-old Rivka Fringeru battled back tears as she reeled off a list of names she has rarely voiced in the past 70 years: her father, Moshe, then her mother, Hava, and finally her two older brothers, Michael and Yisrael.

All perished in the Holocaust after the Harabju family from Dorohoi, Romania, was rounded up in 1944 and sent to ghettos and camps. Only Rivka and her brother Marco survived, and like many others, they spent the rest of their lives trying to move on and forget.

Now, Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial and museum, is asking them to remember

Read the rest here.

Theater in Holland: A Cultural Refuge During the Holocaust - Part 1

A play at the Hollandsche Schouwburg - A "Jewish Only"
theater in Amsterdam
On Monday, May 6, 2013 the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem along with the International Institute for Jewish and Israeli Culture held a day-long symposium discussing performing arts in Holland during the Holocaust. The informative lectures and panels focused primarily on the many leading Jewish directors, actors, singers, composers, dancers and musicians who played such a prominent role in Dutch theater and the performing arts before and even during the period of the Holocaust. With most of Dutch Jewry by that time well integrated in the cultural society of the Netherlands, the theater was an artistic medium in which many Jews came to participate, excel and build their careers. Leading performing artists at the time, such as Henriette and Louis Davids, Sylvain Poons, Jetty Cantor, the singing duo Johnny & Jones and many other prominent Dutch Jews starred center stage in Amsterdam in a wide assortment of productions in theater, symphony and cabaret.
In addition to the large amount of local talent, Amsterdam also became a temporary safe place of refuge for many well-known German-Jewish artists in the 1930s who wished only to continue their artistic profession after having been forbidden in doing so by discriminatory, antisemitic policies enforced by the Germans following the rise of the Nazis in 1933. Scores of Jewish performers living in Germany and Austria at the time began to look elsewhere to continue their artistic profession with many eventually arriving at the already bright cultural scene in Holland. This included many renowned Jewish performing artists such as Max Ehrlich, Willy Rosen and Franz Engel who all made their way to Amsterdam after having their professions and livelihoods stripped from them by the Nazi regime. However, this temporary asylum was short lived as the German occupation of the Netherlands in May 1940 brought with it similar antisemitic laws which also came to affect and oppress the Jews living there.
Outside the Hollandsche Schouwburg (Dutch Theater) later
renamed the Joodsche Schouwburg (Jewish Theater)
Amsterdam as a cultural refuge for Jewish artists abruptly came to an end in 1941 as the Nazis issued a decree that forbade Jews from attending public gatherings and establishments used for public recreation, relaxation and education. The Nazis permitted one theater to remain open, the Hollandsche Schouwburg (Dutch Theater) later renamed the Joodsche Schouwburg (Jewish Theater), allowing Jewish artists in Amsterdam to perform there, but only as long as it was solely in front of all-Jewish audiences. One of the visiting guest lecturers at the symposium, Esther Göbel of the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam, noted that the talent on stage during these performances was so great, as a result of the concentration of so many renowned Jewish-European performers in one single artistic venue, that there were a few reported cases in which non-Jews would temporarily put on a yellow Star of David, just in order to be able to attend a show of such collective theatrical genius. While the theater provided a cultural outlet for Amsterdam’s Jews to escape a progressively more frightening reality and preserve a small sense of normalcy during an increasingly troubling time, the Nazis and their collaborators would also eventually suppress this small channel of artistic expression as they began (and eventually succeeded) to imprison and later exterminate the overwhelming majority of the Jews living in the Netherlands.