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World Congress of Jewish Studies

Transcending the Shoah: The Power of Creativity Session
Panel organized by Remember the Women Institute for the World Congress of Jewish Studies
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
August 6-10, 2017


Lecturers
Dr. Eva Fogelman, Child Development Research
Dr. Sonja Hedgepeth, Middle Tennessee State University
Dr. Guilherme Ary Plonski, University of São Paulo
Respondent, organizer and session chairperson: Dr. Rochelle G. Saidel, Founder and Director of Remember the Women Institute

Abstracts

From Mourning to Creativity in Generations of the Holocaust
Eva Fogelman, PhD, Child Development Research

The multiple losses that Holocaust survivors suffered are also mourned by the second and third generation, who mourn people they never knew. This presentation reviews the stages of mourning losses: shock, denial, confrontation, feelings, and finally a search for meaning. What compels post-Holocaust generations to mourn unknown family members? What creative channels do they employ? With this mourning comes creativity. Psychoanalyst George Pollock has taught us that creativity derives from mourning. Creative projects by Holocaust survivors and the second and third generation have recently mushroomed. The fields of literature, art, theater, film, music, and dance are saturated with expressions depicting Holocaust themes – survival in ghettoes and camps, hiding, posing as a non-Jew, being rescued. Heirs of the Holocaust tend to focus on family dynamics, seeking roots, and searching for meaning beyond persecution.

The burgeoning field of Holocaust survivor memoirs is an anomaly. Most are not professional writers, yet feel compelled to share their experiences in writing, not just giving an oral history. Each creative work is part of the mourning process and must be understood in the context of the writer, the photographer, the playwright, the dancer, the director, the filmmaker, the musician, the dancer. Some works are authentic in their portrayal of Jews and their survival of the Shoah, while others convey stereotypes. Generations of the Holocaust are sometimes caught between sharing an authentic story and one that will sell to global mass audiences. The search for meaning is an ongoing feeling when confronting the persecution of one’s family.

Defiant Imagination: Else Lasker-Schüler and the Art of Survival
Dr. Sonja Hedgepeth, Middle Tennessee State University

How might a person react when threatened by new political forces? How did writing and making art provide a way for one person to deal with escape from Hitler's Third Reich and offer a means for response to the Nazi murder of the Jews?

On April 19, 1933, almost three months after Hitler’s ascent to power, the Jewish writer and artist Else Lasker-Schüler knew that it was time for her to flee. She had been physically attacked by young Nazi thugs on her street in Berlin, because she was a Jew. Lasker-Schüer, who often lived in her world of imagination, understood that she had to physically escape from the new power that ruled in her German homeland. Her flight from Germany to Switzerland and subsequently to British Mandate Palestine spared her from the horrors of the Shoah, but plunged her into the desolation that came with exile. She was sixty-four when she left Germany and it was difficult to subsist as a refugee.

Existence in exile was extremely difficult, but Else Lasker-Schüler did not abandon her life as a writer and artist. In fact, her creative force helped her to surmount its physically challenging aspects. Though Lasker-Schüler retreated into her own artistic world to cope with loss, and as method for maintaining her identity, the result was not paralysis. Especially in Jerusalem she drew upon her surroundings to produce a novel, play, and volume of poetry in German, while making images featuring the people and land that would become Israel.

Bodenlos: Vilém Flusser-A Physical and Intellectual Itinerant
Dr. Guilherme Ary Plonski, University of São Paulo

Numerous talented young Jews who survived the Shoah by fleeing Europe had to discontinue their academic studies. Not everyone was able to resume studies in destination countries and earn degrees, overcoming economic, language, and cultural challenges. A few of them became faculty members at universities.

Vilém Flusser was one of those talented young people. Born in 1920 in Prague into a family of Jewish intellectuals, he had to interrupt his philosophy studies at Charles University shortly after the Nazi occupation. He fled to Brazil, where he worked in administrative jobs to sustain his family. Having never resumed formal studies, Flusser read books lent to him by a fellow Czech immigrant employed in a bookstore.

In 1960 he started to collaborate with the Brazilian Institute for Philosophy and to write in the cultural section of the main newspaper, becoming known to the Brazilian intellectual community. During that decade he taught at University of São Paulo’s prestigious Engineering School, having been invited by a professor involved in Philosophy of Science, and in other institutions. Because he lacked formal academic credentials, he was never accepted in the university’s Philosophy Department.

He left the university and then moved back to Europe in 1972. There he wrote and lectured on new topics, such as Philosophy of Photography and Technical Images. Flusser died in 1991 in a car accident. His books were translated into twenty languages, including Chinese and Korean. He is still a beacon in Media Philosophy, both in Europe and in Brazil.

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