Just an Ordinary Peasant is based on my uncle’s experience as an inmate at Treblinka extermination camp in 1944. His memoir recounts that while being forced to carry corpses from the gas chambers to an open-air pyre, he was handed a sack which held little children who were still alive. The guard commanded the sack be thrown into the fire. The woman I play in Just an Ordinary Peasant is a hybrid character created from the memoirs of my uncle, my parents and my own research. She sings and dances and also throws a sack of babies into the fire. This piece explores my own biases as well as questions the culpability of ‘ordinary people’ who were accomplices to the atrocities carried out during the Third Reich.
My motive in making 'Dancing Auschwitz' was to create a new response and a fresh interpretation of the past and its historical trauma.
I felt that people, especially the younger generation, were becoming desensitised and numb to the story of the Holocaust and the images that represented it. I felt a need to create artwork that woke up and reminded people of the important lessons the Holocaust and all genocide teaches us – namely, an awareness of our own prejudices, stereotyping and intolerance.
I hoped this awareness would influence others.
The dance represents the past, present and future generations. Not only did I want to express a celebration of life, but I also wanted to evoke the feeling of absence, loss and mourning.
In January, I posted the three 'Dancing Auschwitz' videos on YouTube. The first clip I Will Survive, featuring Gloria Gaynor’s song I Will Survive, went viral in just over a week. The clip shows three generations of my family dancing at concentration camps and sites throughout Europe, including Auschwitz extermination camp in Poland, Dachau in Germany, and Theresienstadt in the Czech Republic.
My father, Adolek, an 89-year-old Holocaust survivor, was the main protagonist. Without him we could not have done this project, and we could not have danced. At one point dad is shown making a peace sign while wearing a T-shirt with the word ‘survivor’ printed on it.
When questioned about the clip, my father responds: ‘The dancing was very important because we are alive. We survived. We were dancing to the song of survival. We also prayed for the dead at the camps before we danced.’
The reaction to the video after it was uploaded to Youtube was overwhelming and varied. Initially Neo Nazis responded with endless ‘hate’ messages. Then there were many that thought the video trivialised the victims’ suffering at the hands of the Nazis.
Overall, there has been a flood of both positive as well as negative responses. A raw picture of the world's attitude towards Jews and the Holocaust has emerged.
(See below for list of links to responses)
DokumentART festival, Berlin
DokumentART film Festival, Neubrandenberg
Me & Yasmin
‘The State We’re In’ is broadcast worldwide via short-wave and satellite but is also re-broadcast by many national stations such CBC in Canada, ABC in Australia, SABC in South Africa and numerous NPR stations in the US including WNYC and WAMU.
I have a feeling you might be getting rather a lot of e-mails at the moment! I’m not phoning direct because perhaps you’ve taken your phone off the hook.
Anyway, I’m of course writing to see whether you’d be interested in being interviewed about the ‘I Will Survive’ video.
I’m the producer of a weekly radio programme called ‘The State We’re In’ that is broadcast around the world. It’s predominantly a ‘human rights’ programme with each edition having a theme. It’s a programme of strong personal stories and we allow lots of air time for each story (unusually). So, perhaps you’ve already done a few interviews but I think this would be a little different.)
My name is Florian stern and I am working for a German woman’s magazine called DONNA. We are doing a double page artikle about “women that moved us” this year and we would also like to introduce you and your art work “I will survive”.
I would love to do a quick interview with you via phone about the reactions to the dancing video with your father, Adolek Kohn, to I Will Survive. You probably get a lot of these kinds of requests these days, but it doesn’t have to take more then 15-20 minutes.
Please let me know how or when to reach you. And where you are, so we can take the time difference into account. I am based in Copenhagen, Denmark.