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Filming Anxious Memories and the Fate of the Jews

Tue, December 19, 10:15 to 11:45am, Marriott Marquis Washington, DC, Chinatown Room

Session Submission Type: Panel Session

Abstract

This panel considers pre- and post-war documentary and feature films from Poland, the Soviet Union, and the US in the light of enduring uncertainties about Jewish character, culture, and society. We argue that many cinematic representations of persecuted and displaced Jews offer critiques of Soviet, Polish, and American anxieties and responses to the war in Europe. In the documentary and fictional films we discuss, Jewish and non-Jewish characters represent questions about the role of cinema in constructing ambivalent sympathy and antipathy for a seemingly stateless European Jewry.
Alexis Pogorelskin compares the MGM film The Mortal Storm (1940) and the Soviet production Professor Mamlock (1938) to argue that, on the eve of war, the films’ moral energy and visual impact persuaded American and Soviet audiences to relinquish their ambivalence about Jewish persecution and accept the representation [and clarity] of heroic action. Carol Zemel’s paper considers 1947 Yiddish documentaries by Polish-Jewish director Natan Gross’ Mir leben-geglibene [We, the Living Remnant], and Der Yiddisher Yishuv in Nider-Silezia [The Jewish Settlement in Lower Silesia] to demonstrate a Soviet-influenced documentary style that promoted economic productivity and ideological promise rather than cultural or religious difference. Through locations in urban Lodz and rural Silesia, Zemel argues, Gross asserts the ideological terms of Jewish renewal in post-Shoah Poland. Phyllis Lassner’s paper focuses on three recent Polish films, Aftermath (2012), Ida (2013), and Demon (2015), to show their intervention in debates about national forms of Holocaust commemoration. Lassner argues that the use of German Expressionist art and film conveys a troubled quest for Polish Holocaust memory without Jews where Jewish and Polish non-Jewish protagonists embody both the burial and exhumation of an unresolved national tragedy. From the varied perspectives of prewar Hollywood and Soviet film, postwar Yiddish documentaries, and contemporary Polish films, this panel addresses the significant issues of competing versions of national self-images, memories, and the fates of the Jews.

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