Tag Archives: holocaust

Interview with Jerry Springer

11 Apr

A recent journalism career highlight, on a mundane Monday afternoon:

My mobile phone rings:

“Hi, Is this Rebecca? This is Jerry Springer.”

“Oh hi, Jerry, great to speak,” I answer casually, heart thumping madly inside.

Delighted to present my interview with the legendary Springer in the latest edition of Jewish Renaissance. He was an absolutely fab interviewee, with tons of interesting stories to tell. Shame I had such a strict word limit, so had to be very selective with my write-up.

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radical art or tasteless art?

25 Jan

Here’s a little review I wrote recently about a new photography exhibit “Composed: Identity, Politics, Sex” at The Jewish Museum New York, published in The Forward. The images in  the exhibition, described by a fellow visitor at the museum as being “of questionable taste”, are certainly provocative, challenging viewers’ ideas about The Holocaust, Israel and gender roles.

Below is the first part of the review; (feel free to click here to be directed to the full review on The Forward website).

January 25, 2012, 7:00am

Challenging Aesthetics at The Jewish Museum

By Rebecca S

Rona Yefman, ‘Martha Bouke and Andy’s Flowers, Visit at the Museum.’ Courtesy of the artist and Derek Eller Gallery, New York.

Subverted representations of the Holocaust, the Israeli army, and gender roles characterize a new photography exhibit at The Jewish Museum in New York.

“Composed: Identity, Politics, Sex,” showing until June 30, incorporates works by seven artists from Israel, the United States and elsewhere, and challenges viewers’ perceptions by confronting pillars of Jewish identity.

The first work we see in the exhibit, “Martha Bouke and Andy’s Flowers, Visit at the Museum” (2011), by Israeli artist Rona Yefman, sets the scene with its transgressive tone. Here, Yefman portrays Martha Bouke, the female persona adopted by an 80-year-old male Holocaust survivor, posing in front of an iconic Andy Warhol painting. The striking, sexualized figure of the masked, bewigged Bouke, dressed in a pretty dress, bright red tights and matching red lipstick, radically plays with viewers’ expectations of an octogenarian great-grandfather and Holocaust survivor.

In “Stelen (Columns)” (2007-2011), American artist Marc Adelman depicts an uneasy and provocative juxtaposition. During time spent in Berlin, the artist noticed that on one gay dating website, many men posed for their profile pictures at the city’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The photos in Adelman’s installation are a collection of these profile pictures. The structure’s huge concrete slabs or columns are echoed in the grid-formation of Adelman’s photos.

No one’s home: Maya Zack – Living Room

9 Aug

Here’s a visual arts review I’ve just written for The Forward, which will also be published in print in the Forward’s weekly newspaper this Thursday (11th August):

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Ghosts in the Living Room

Maya Zack’s Latest Art — The End of Jewish Life in Prewar Berlin

Empty and Eery: There are no people in artist Maya Zack’s high-tech recreation of the living room of a Jewish family’s apartment in prewar Germany.

Courtesy of the Alon Segev Gallery  – Empty and Eery: There are no people in artist Maya Zack’s high-tech recreation of the living room of a Jewish family’s apartment in prewar Germany.

By Rebecca S

Published August 08, 2011, issue of August 19, 2011.

There’s a dizzying feeling as you step into “Living Room,” Israeli artist Maya Zack’s art installation at New York’s Jewish Museum — not least because of the colored 3-D glasses you’re invited to put on at the entrance.

“Living Room,” which opened at the museum July 31, is an audiovisual installation composed of four large-scale, computer-generated images showing a Jewish family’s apartment in 1930s Berlin. It is Zack’s reconstruction of the home of Manfred Nomburg, a German-born Jew who fled Nazi Germany for Israel in 1938, leaving behind his parents and a younger brother.

The meticulous reproduction is based on Nomburg’s memories of his family home, including its appliances, decorations and furniture. Zack, a Tel Aviv-based artist and filmmaker, interviewed Nomburg for the project. The interviews — read in English by an unknown actor — provide an audio backdrop for the exhibit.

Along with his descriptions of the apartment, Nomberg provides an understated account of what happened to his family. We learn that his parents were deported in 1941 (he never saw them again), while his brother was taken to safety in England on the Kindertransport.

Zack’s re-creation of the objects and artifacts of Nomberg’s home in their most minute details — potted plants in the corner of the living room, a dishcloth folded over a chair back, vases, cups, plates, standing lamps, all the clutter of daily life — puts the focus on the Shoah at its most personal level. This is not the macro-narrative of the 6 million, the concentration camps and the deportations; this is the story of the banal domesticity of ordinary Jews living ordinary lives in prewar Berlin.

Yet, all is not as precise and solid as it seems. As we look closer into the four anaglyphs, through the colored filter of the 3-D glasses, we see surreal gaps and ghostlike empty spaces in the scenes of domestic life. There are blank pictures on the walls, a piano floating on broken legs, a briefcase sitting midair on an invisible surface. These represent the gaps in Nomburg’s memories. At points in his monologue, he admits there are details he has forgotten.

Zack’s work says as much about what is absent as it does about what is seen. As the viewer’s gaze changes perspective, the images shift like a hologram or a mirage, producing the same subjective, unreliable effect as memory itself. Depth and perspective are distorted, confounding any attempts at visual harmony.

The biggest absence in the exhibit is that no one is home; all the people have left this place. There is some evidence of a rushed exit, too: A drink is spilled on the dining room table, food is half-eaten, an abandoned newspaper is thrown down on the kitchen floor. Nomburg’s parents, along with other Jews murdered in the Shoah, are unseen ghosts, their lives suddenly cut short.

“Maya Zack: Living Room” runs at The Jewish Museum New York until October 30.

Rebecca S is a British freelance journalist based in New York City.

Muslims who helped Jews during the Holocaust

25 Jan

Just had a review of a very moving photography exhibition published in The Forward – focusing on the untold tale of Albanian Muslims who saved Jews fleeing from the Nazis.

Here’s the first part of the review: (Alternatively, click here to read the full review in The Forward )

Muslims Who Saved Jews During the Holocaust

By Rebecca S

Of all the stories of Righteous Gentiles who saved Jews during the Shoah, there’s one story that rarely gets told: the Muslims who risked their lives to save Jews.

Norman H. Gershman’s photographic exhibition “Besa,” currently showing at the Soho Photo Gallery, redresses this imbalance, focusing exclusively on the unsung Albanian Muslim heroes who hid their Jewish neighbours from the Nazis, as well as thousands of other Jews fleeing across Europe, often at great risk to their lives.

The portraits, which have been published in a book with the same title, were painstakingly taken by Gershman over a seven-year period, in which he tracked down these ordinary Albanian and Kosovar Muslims whose families closely observed the principle of “Besa” to save Jewish lives.


Theatre review published in The Forward

20 Dec

Just had a theatre review published in The Jewish Daily Forward. I was very moved when I saw this play “Way to Heaven” by Juan Mayorga, and I highly recommend it.

Here’s a copy of my review, or click here to see the original on The Forward:

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December 20, 2010, 1:40pm

Theresienstadt Drama Keeps the Evil Underneath

By Rebecca S

“What did you expect? Walking skeletons in striped pajamas and yellow stars?” says the Nazi Commandant to his Red Cross visitors in dramatist Juan Mayorga’s haunting play “Way to Heaven” (“Himmelweg”), now playing at the Repertorio Espanol-Gramercy Arts Theater through January 27.

Well, yes, that was exactly what I expected, knowing that the play’s central theme is Theresienstadt, the notorious Nazi transit camp in Czechoslovakia.

In fact, it is the absence of Jewish “skeletons”, barbed wire, guard dogs and death — all the usual motifs of Nazi barbarity — that makes “Way to Heaven” so compelling.

Based on the sadistic propaganda charade the Nazis meticulously constructed in Theresienstadt in 1944 to show Red Cross inspectors a “model” village where Jewish detainees lived under pleasant conditions, “Way to Heaven” plays on the gap between the surreal version of reality they — and we, the viewers — are permitted to see, and the dark reality of the Nazi death machine turning relentlessly in the background.

Using a pared-down stage set, Mayorga’s unusual take on Nazi cruelty is both psychological and visual torture — for the Jewish characters forced to act in this hideous deception to save their skins, and for the audience forced to watch as they act out, again and again, the made-up scenes from their mock lives.

Scenes repeat themselves endlessly — a sparring couple having a lovers’ tiff on a picnic blanket; two young boys playing with a spinning top; a little girl playing with her doll and singing a haunting Hebrew song. Not forgetting of course, the tragicomic figure of Gershom Gottfried (interpreted by Mark Farr), forced to play the village’s “mayor” and coordinate the whole farce, under the tutelage of master puppeteer, the Nazi Commandant.

The unnamed Commandant (played brilliantly by Francisco Reyes) is no two-dimensional, evil caricature, but witty, fast-talking, cultured and Aristotle-quoting, rising magnificently to the challenge of choreographing the whole sick charade. A commanding figure dressed in pristine Nazi uniform and cap, the Commandant dominates the stage physically, reflecting the power he holds over his Jewish actors, who are always just one small slip-up away from extermination.

At times playing out his role to the haunting background sound of a waltz, at times thrust into dazzling light, at times cast satanically in an eerie darkness, the Commandant cuts an ironic, strangely seductive figure. His hypnotic voice lulls the audience as he feverishly cajoles a reluctant Gershom, waxes lyrical about French philosophy, and repeats time and again his own lines as he welcomes unseen visitors into his strange universe.

Yet death is still ever-present, hovering unseen in the play. We hear the sound of the train whistle coming in and out of the camp, transporting detainees to other extermination camps. And when the Commandant orders Gershom to cut the number of Jews and he tries to offer his resignation, we know that he is sacrificing himself to the gas chambers.

“Way to Heaven” is ultimately all about what is lurking beneath the surface — the unsaid, the unspoken, the gaps in the story. And it is precisely for this reason that it succeeds.

Read more: http://blogs.forward.com/the-arty-semite/134079/#ixzz18gQC42G7

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