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Post Holocaust Cultures

Dr Joseph Toltz

Two team members from Performing the Jewish Archive (Dr Simo Muir and Dr Joseph Toltz) joined a special seminar session at the annual Association of Jewish Studies conference, held in San Diego from 18-20 December. Organised by Professor David Shneer (University of Colorado, Boulder), this “conference within a conference” was structured so that presenters would submit papers a month early, read each others’ work, and give a 5 minute summary before a robust discussion around the table. 

Top row (L-R): Anna Shternshis, Naya Lekht, Marat Grinberg, Joseph Toltz, Simo Muir Bottom row (L-R): Viktoria Khiterer, Nadya Bair, Gabriel Finder, Rachel Deblinger, Carol Zemel. Absent: David Shneer, Polly Zavadivker

The topic of the seminar was “Post Holocaust Cultures: The Many Ways of Bearing Witness”.  The brief was to explore cultural responses to the Holocaust and its relation to testimony. Two participants were sadly absent during the conference (David Shneer and Polly Zavadivker); the panels were chaired by Gabriel Finder (University of Virginia) and Anna Shternshis (University of Toronto). In the first session, Rachel Deblinger (University of California, Santa Cruz) gave a fascinating presentation on post-Holocaust survivor narratives on American Radio. Anna Shternshis gave an equally engaging paper on the way in which Soviet Russian and Yiddish folk music testified directly during the catastrophic years of 1941-1945.  PJA researcher Joseph Toltz presented on two early material accounts of Holocaust song making – a 1945 songbook printed in Bucharest, and the 1946 expedition by David Boder to the DP camps of Europe.  The second session began with Marat Grinberg (Reed College) demonstrating the hidden witness bearing of Jewish science fiction writers in Soviet Russia, while Victoria Khiterer (Millersville University) presented on the remarkable flourishing of Jewish culture in Kiev during a brief burst from 1944 – 1948. The panel concluded with Naya Lekht (UCLA) and a fascinating approach to measuring Holocaust subject material in Soviet literature.

The final session opened with PtJA researcher Simo Muir’s presentation on his discoveries and revival of the post-Holocaust Finnish Holocaust tableau, Muter Rokhl un ire kinder (Mother Rachel and Her Children).  Carol Zemel (York University) provided the seminar with the first presentation on the visual arts, a fascinating survey of survivor works in the immediate decade.  The concluding paper by Nadya Bair (Ryerson Image Centre) conveyed the moving legacy of David “Chaim” Seymour, a founder of the prestigious Magnum photographic cooperative.  Chaim captured memorable portraits and photographic essays dealing with refugee children in Austria, Hungary, Poland and Germany.

All panelists agreed: this was one of the most intellectually rewarding and meaningful experiences we had encountered at a large conference.


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