An 89-year-old survivor of Hitler's death camp danced on the ashes of Auschwitz in a video that went viral last week on the Internet. But the footage raised a question that raced across the World Wide Web along with the footage: Does anyone have the right to shoot a dance video – even a homemade version – at the Auschwitz Nazi death camp?
Adolek Kohn brought his daughter and grandchildren to visit Auschwitz, Dachau, and the Lodz ghetto in Poland – sites that could easily have been the place of his death. Kohn's daughter, Australian artist Jane Korman proceeded to film a defiant video of the family dancing to the disco classic, “I Will Survive,” with her 89-year-old father wearing a T-shirt bearing the black-lettered word “SURVIVOR” typed simply across his chest.
The video, which by Wednesday had attracted half a million hits on the self-promoting YouTube video web site, was removed the next day due to copyright issues. However, other versions were already making the rounds elsewhere on the Internet, including the Facebook and Twitter social networking web sites.
Some found it in bad taste, but others understood the issue to be more complicated than that.
Jewish comedians have been wrestling with how to deal with the issue of the Holocaust for decades. One attempt, a 2008 Israeli documentary called “Pizza in Auschwitz,” shows 78-year-old Holocaust survivor Daniel Chanoch lying on a bunk in his old barracks at the Nazi death concentration camp, eating the takeout slice. “This is the first time I've ever eaten pizza on this bunk,” he wisecracks in the film.
Chanoch later acknowledged that some people were very disturbed by the scene, but argued that all ways of struggling with the massive trauma of the Nazi genocide are equally valid. “Every person is allowed to react individually,” he said. “One person cries, one person laughs. It's a way of dealing with it.”
Holocaust survivor Raul Teitelbaum, 79, explained to the Associated Press that “if the humor is meant to cheapen, then it's bad. But if the humor is simply a human reaction to tragedy, it's all right. It's complicated to do it, but a successful humorist can pull it off.”
Professor Wolfgang Wippermann at Freie University in Berlin added that joking about the Holocaust is a way for Jews to work through their past. “What Israelis or Jews do is something different from what Germans, or others who supported them, do,” he said.
“For Israel, there is also the perspective that they were once victims, but they no longer want to be--which means they are drawing the lessons from history: 'We won't let that happen to us again.'”