MEMORIALIZATION & THE HOLOCAUST

Robert Sovinski Visit
April 3, 2001
Field Trip to Chicago
April 5, 2001
James Young Visit
April 9 and 10, 2001
Class Discussion
April 12, 2001

For two weeks (April 3-12), our class concentrated on the issue of Holocaust memorialization, and participated in a number of special events: a visit by Prof. Robert Sovinski, a visit by Prof. James E. Young, a Theory and Cultural Studies Graduate-Student Colloquium on "The Holocaust and Critical Theory," and a field trip to Chicago.

Professor Robert Sovinski, a professor in Purdue's Landscape Architecture Department and winner of numerous teaching awards, got us primed for our Chicago trip by discussing the transhistorical and transcultural significance of some basic elements in landscape architecture, including trees, rocks, earth, air, sun, fire, water, gates, walls, circles, crosses, squares, up, down, the four corners of the compass, etc.. He also presented a slide lecture documenting memorials in Warsaw, Poland, one dedicated to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and others to the Holocaust in general. After Prof. Sovinski's visit, we proceeded to implement our new knowledge by interpreting two Holocaust memorials in Chicago: the Avenue of the Righteous in Evanston and the Zell Holocaust Memorial in downtown Chicago. We were accompanied by Emily Allen, a professor in the English Department and my partner. Our trip began with two "in-flight movies," the X-Files episode, "Triangle," in which Fox Mulder is transported to 1939, and the experimental short film, La Jetée, by Chris Marker, who was editor and assistant director of Alain Resnais' Night and Fog, which we examined earlier in the semester. (Those of you who were still awake saw how influenced this sci fi film is by the themes and structure of the earlier film; note that La Jetée is the source for Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys.)

After some tight spots in residential Evanston and a slight detour, we finally arrived at the Evanston Civic Center, where we had lunch in the open air. Following our repast and a lecture on the bus, we walked through the outdoor memorial discussing such issues as the relationship to the surrounding residential neighbourhood and the choice of Righteous. We also discussed the two stones at each entrance, a larger stone that makes no mention of the Holocaust ("This avenue has been created by religious educational and civic institutions as a permanent record of the heroic deeds of the Righteous and that it may be a continuing inpiration to those who walk its paths") and a smaller stone that marks the spot as related to the Holocaust specifically ("We will always remember the Righteous among the nations who endangered their lives to save Jewish victims of the Holocaust [1933-1945]. Their praiseworthy deeds saved the honor of humanity").

We then got back on the bus to examine the Zell Holocaust Memorial at the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in downtown Chicago. There we were guided through the exhibit by Susan Schaalman and Rabbi Schaalman. (Unfortunately, I only have a picture of the Rabbi.) Of interest, is the fact that Mrs. Schaalman made a point of introducing the class to Jewish culture before even broaching the topic of the Holocaust. We also had a look at the learning exhibit, which included three monoliths dedicated to victims of the Holocaust related to people living in the Chicago area. We then looked at the memorial itself, which included a number of fascinating features:

1) an interactive entrance that invites visitors to place small stones upon a gravestone that remembers the victims of the Holocaust.

2) an exhibit with shoes from Auschwitz.

3) an exhibit with a photograph of a businessman in Nazi Germany that opens to reveal a pile of dead bodies.

Throughout our visit, Rabbi and Mrs. Schaalman not only explained aspects of the Holocaust and Jewish culture, but also told us stories of when they were growing up in Nazi Germany, including the torture and hardship faced by their immediate family members.

After the Zell Holocaust Memorial, the class proceeded down the block for supper at the Corner Bakery, after which we boarded our bus again and headed home. (Click here for a larger image of our class.) Our in-flight entertainment this time was Ridley Scott's Bladerunner, an important influence on postmodern cyber-punk science fiction and an oblique exploration of such class-related issues as identity, memory, the simulacrum, the master race, and slave labor.

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