Photographs of Death Camp Inmates Shouldn’t Be Called “Poignant”

Sept. 22 2020

Last week, the Metropolitan Museum of Art issued a press release about a new exhibit featuring works by the widely acclaimed German artist Gerhard Richter. Lee Rosenbaum comments on the wording:

“Horrific,” “profoundly disturbing,” “jolting,” . . . but surely not “poignant.”

That mild adjective was used by the Metropolitan Museum’s communications office in its. . . for the press release announcing the display (to January 18) of Gerhard Richter‘s four paintings from his “landmark Birkenau series” of 2014, in which black-and-white photographic images of inmates who had been killed by the Nazis in the Auschwitz-Birkenau gas chamber were colorfully overlaid and obliterated, using Richter’s signature “squeegee” technique.

“Poignant” is a word that I’ve never before seen (and hope never to see again) in connection with the Holocaust. These paintings soft-pedal and aestheticize photos that were taken of gas-chamber victims while their remains were being burned and disposed of. That stark visual evidence of what might otherwise have been disbelieved and denied was surreptitiously captured on camera by the Sonderkommandos—concentration camp prisoners who were forced to “burn the hundreds of thousands of people that were gassed—some of whom they recognized as family members, friends, or acquaintances,” in the words of . . . the Museum of Jewish Heritage.

I can only hope that the next time the Birkenau series surfaces, it won’t be at an auction house or an art dealer’s gallery.

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Read more at Arts Journal

More about: Art, Holocaust, Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter