The trap of travesty: The Shoah as show business

Life was not beautiful, nor amusing, nor did the victims dance, during the darkness of the Holocaust.

Tags: Holocaust
Dr. Inna Rogatchi

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I thought initially that if one had the stomach to watch the sick entertainment video from the Russian popular TV musical skating show – the link is here -  it might be unnecessary to write any comment on that disgusting film.

But hearing some of the reactions, both in Russia and outside it, I decided to express myself on the subject once again. It seems that travesty of all kinds concerning the Holocaust is getting more and more common, and alarmingly so.

Now we are shocked to watch a masquerade on the theme of the Shoah. And one can barely stand seeing all kinds of skating positions – legs spread, bottoms up, mighty whirling, acrobatics, jumps, glued smiles, all those movements, in spanking new camp prisoners’ robes, but with a nice blond Russian braid – what, braids? if you are trying so hard to make up your face so that it is that deep prisoners' grey, to show suffering, you have to perform with  your head shaven, baby, better luck next time.

And of course, yellow stars, there and there, so nicely sewn on, so visible, so sunny.

Skating, they were improvising in their own way after the widely accepted Life Is Beautiful movie – some of their defenders are emphasising. “Why can people like the movie, but do not like the dance?”

Firstly, not everyone liked the movie. Far from it. The heavily Hollywood-ized Italian film,  Life Is Beautiful, is the one of the least Italian movies, as many Italians would tell you, and is a very serious flop in many ways, as many other people would add. That film, Oscar-award or not, is profoundly tasteless, and false in many ways. 

And of course, one does speak and show the Holocaust in arts and literature. But you do it with taste and decency.

You also  choose the genres. What next, people are asking that after being shocked by the Russian skating dance exercise. – a Shoah musical? That exactly is the point.

 If there is a need to explain that you are not dancing on victims' bones, there is something very wrong with your upbringing and education. Judging by the reaction both in Russia and outside it, mostly a healthy one full of outrage, the issue has not crossed the point of no return. Most of the reactions were furious and justly so.

“Why didn’t you rehearse for couple of months by starving yourself?” – people bombed the tasteless, tactless and brainless dancers with fierce criticism. – “And what’s the grande finale? A gas chamber?” 

But there are also those trying to defend the well-known Russian ice-dancers in their outrageous performance. None other than the chairman of the Russian Holocaust Foundation Alla Gerber said that in her opinion, what is unacceptable is smirking and joking about the Holocaust. “As long as those things not present, it should be OK”,  she concluded publicly.

In a brutal country, ignorance and insensitivity could easily turn grotesque – and it is exactly what we just saw during that terrible eight-minute exercise.   
I wonder how the statement might change if the dancer had not been the wife of the Russian President’s spokesman; if the dancer were an ordinary mortal from the point of view of Ms Gerber. One is not supporting the legacy of the Shoah victims by being so pathetically servile towards the authorities.

Other defenders tried hard to find an excuse for being ecstatic over the fact that ‘after decades of  neglect, Russian official TV has decided to  single out Jewish suffering during the Holocaust’. Please. Spare me. After decades of neglect, Jewish life in Russia is thriving, and there is no need whatsoever to thank their state TV channel for being nice enough to remember Jews and the Shoah, especially in such an appalling, unbearable way.

The truth is exactly the opposite. This is the direct outcome of the decades of neglect,  that is the reason the Russian dancers allowed themselves to perform the Shoah in the first place. They just had no clue to what could be possibly wrong with their performance – and this is an alarming sign of ignorance and insensitivity. In a brutal country, ignorance and insensitivity could easily turn grotesque – and it is exactly what we just saw during that terrible eight-minute exercise.   

Let me be fair – the Russian public's critique of the awful episode was scathing and it means that the public, as usually is the case, is healthier than some of its elements. The problem here, as I can see it, is not only with the brainless and outrageous dancers, but also with all  those people on the Russia’s state TV channel who decided that it was ‘cool’ to air and broadcast this sick giggling about the Holocaust, and to award it with the highest possible rating – oh, yes, it was a contest.  Shame on them all. Many people for whom this brought on real suffering, myself and many of my friends, are thinking of suing the Russian First TV Channel now, on the grounds of insult and moral damage. That would be an appropriate thing to do.

It is also understood that official protests were sent to the Russian Embassies in several countries from a number of organizations which are protesting the show and the insult towards the Holocaust victims and members of their families.

What worries me is the new tendency to take ‘a fresh’ look at the Shoah, the idea of playing and experimenting with the memory of the most terrible crime and horror committed against humanity. Within the period of two years, this is the fourth instance when I and my colleagues had to mobilize the world to guard this memory, and to guard also our own dignity. 

Those jokes and games, those dances and jumps, that falsehood and perversion are continuing the Nazi business as they dreamt it would be continued in the event they won. They lost, but they were not punished enough. They lost, but in some powerful countries – such as the Soviet Union – decades passed before the truth about the Shoah was revealed. They lost, but in other important countries – such as Poland, and in others, like Estonia – today it is possible to joke and play and experiment artistically with the Holocaust and its victims.

Life was not Beautiful during the Darkness of the Holocaust. The concept is perverted, and the price paid during the Holocaust does not allow for those funny paradoxes. It is that simple and straightforward. And one has to have enough modesty to handle the theme when one wants to do so. Every smile during that time came from and disappeared into the pain, fear, shivers, bullets and gas. Life was completely and totally dehumanized during those years. Enough of those sick jokes.

Simon Wiesenthal told me in the mid-1990s: “By mid-1960s, I realized that Germans lost the war, but we have lost post-war period”.

Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau back in 2014 told me and my husband: “Sometimes, I really think that we learned nothing from the Holocaust. Nothing”.

Those were chilling statements by the legendary people who knew what they were talking about very well indeed, who both had painful knowledge of the Holocaust first-hand, orphaned and living with their indescribable trauma, but living decent and meaningful lives, as did many survivors of the Hell on Earth brought to the world by the Nazis and all those who did not stop them and those who were happy to help them.

I cannot stop thinking about those lines said by Simon Wiesenthal and Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau ever since I heard them. With jokes and idiotic dances about the Holocaust performed before audiences, their point is chillingly clear. And I will fight this and any other sacrilege of the Shoah every centimetre of the way, in memory of my own family members murdered in the Shoah, and every single one of the six million.

Inna Rogatchi is writer, scholar and film-maker. She is the President of The Rogatchi Foundation. Inna Rogatchi is the author of the internationally acclaimed The Lessons of Survival film on Simon Wiesenthal. Her forthcoming book is on the Legacy of the Post-Holocaust.