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Sunday, April 10, 2011

First Annual International Conference on the Auschwitz Reports and Hungary in 1944

I had the privilege and pleasure of attending the First Annual International Conference on the Auschwitz Reports and Hungary in 1944 this past week at CUNY's Graduate Center. Brilliant speakers from around the world united to provide their views on the events around the spring-summer of 1944. At this time in Hungary, deportations of the country's Jewish community were taking place and international pressure was growing by the minute the world over to end Hitler's Final Solution. The specifics on the reports being issued and the information that certain leaders had and when they had it during that time, are often at the root of debates on the topic. Although the historical record will seem to point at certain directions, people will always, of course, rehash and re-investigate with a slew of ever-evolving interpretations.

One speaker who I am eager to share with you guys is Professor Robert Jan van Pelt from the University of Waterloo, whose lecture was... all over the place. But, in the most brilliant and sincere way, with an equal blend of charisma and knowledge. Prof. van Pelt's expertise on Auschwitz actually began in the area of architecture, with the reasoning that "great architecture" is one that leaves a significant shadow after its construction. Its impact.

In any case, he offered the most multi-disciplinary lecture, exploring everything from greatness and myth to conquest to storytelling and denial. One of his more interesting tangents was on storytelling. He cited an example from The Odyssey, where Odysseus hears his acts sung to him at a palatial dinner fifteen years after his heroic acts in Troy, and how only when he is sung this history to does he begin to weep. The question van Pelt asked here is, "Why did he cry when he heard the story?" It is the meaning of what happens when an event disappears that concerns him here, the hazy distance from the event and the memory. Only by being blind to people can you see, and begin to understand, the meaning of the story.

In 1946, the information that had been revealed transcended the possibility to tell a story (in other words, or in my simplifying things, I took this to mean- not enough time had passed). Only by incarnating a person in the events surrounding the Holocaust, not by creating a story, could you effectively explore these events, an approach Claude Lanzmann apparently acknowledged when making Shoah in 1986. Van Pelt went on to claim the novel, through our relationship with a character and their experiences becoming real to you, has almost killed the ability to tell a story. Whether I agree with this statement fully is another thing, but he is on to something when he developed this further to say that stories have heroes, and that your heroes cannot come to close to you.

I could go on, but that is a quick taste of what I found to be one of the more engaging lectures in the series.

Ciao miao (that is a cat purr)...

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I'm an LA transplant now living in Brooklyn. I develop film projects by day, write at night, and have a dangerous predilection for vintage Robinson Golluber scarves- this blog serves as a tiny window to everything else I do when I'm not satisfying those first three passions. I'm trying to blog more and tweet less @annabelleqv. What about you?

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