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The Holocaust as a pilgrimage

Israeli youths who are inconvenienced with the Holocaust recognition society demands of them give us hope.


How should we relate to the Holocaust? The natural answer, of course, is: as one of the greatest tragedies in human history. This is exactly the way to get away. But at the same time, this horrific chapter can be viewed from a variety of angles, such as legitimizing Israel's Zionist politics in the Middle East. Several have pointed out how Israel, a state created in 1948 on Palestinian territory, uses genocide as a legitimation strategy for its policy towards the Palestinians. Their settler policies and the continuous rejection of Palestinian desire to retain their lands do not seem to end. That the UN and most countries criticize Israel does not seem to be leading – especially with the right-wing Netanyahu government that is now in power.

Norman Finkelstein pointed out in the book The Holocaust industry (Spartacus, 2004) how Israel makes itself immune to criticism of abuses against Palestine by making the Holocaust a mythical genocide that surpasses every other genocide in history. Historian Shlomo Sand has written the books The Invention of the Jewish People (Verso, 2009) and The Invention of the Land of Israel (Verso, 2014). He argues that the Zionist ideology on which the Israeli state is based is not rooted in facts, but a number of nationalist myths. Like Finkelstein, Sand has also argued that the ability of Israeli Jews to tell about their peculiar sacrificial status is what underpins nationalist myths.

The state arranges. The documentary #Uploading_Holocaust (2016) does not provide a solution to either of these conflicts, but presents a viewpoint we have never seen before. Every year, thousands of Israeli schoolchildren make a "pilgrimage" to Poland to see the places where the horrific mass exterminations took place. On these expeditions, they are encouraged to document what they see and experience: writing, taking pictures, but first and foremost filming themselves and the others along the way. The film consists solely of such clips from the last 35 years – all, or at least most, with youngsters behind the camera. The same journey is made again and again with new participants, as we can see in this collage of travelogues. The same bus trips, the same horrified facial expressions, the same tears when someone locates the place where a grandmother or grandfather is buried – or as is often the case in concentration camps, the place where they ended their days of exhaustion or gassing with Zyklon B.

Israel uses genocide as a legitimation strategy.

The interesting thing about the film is that it has no overall message, but only shows us the many young people who experience the scene of the Holocaust year after year. There is no authoritative narrative voice that conveys their views or turns the clips in any strong ideological direction. The result has become a very complex experience, because of course it gives the impression that youth are experiencing the place where the predecessors ended their lives. It is also strong when survivors tell what happened in the concentration camps. Cohesion is moving, the sense of a common destiny is strong and poignant.

Uncomfortable with the role. At the same time, there are several other aspects of the journey that receive as much space as the program-related experience of tragedy and genocide. After all, these are young people. Some are more concerned with the opposite sex than mass graves, others are chomping and running from room to room to play or research what kind of hotel room their girlfriends have been given. Also, we hit several that not experience what they "should": A young man feels nothing when standing in front of gas stoves and barracks that were once filled to the brim with exhausted prisoners. A girl tells her smartphone how hard it is to feel it de felt. "It was so awful what happened to them, I really don't want to know about it. And when I do, I do it against my will, ”she says while a barbed wire fence stretches to the sky behind her like a stiffened ghost from the past.

Some youth are more concerned with the opposite sex than mass graves.

There are several young people who struggle with feeling that they are not feeling anything or that they do not know what is right; what they have been told to feel. One girl explains to some of her friends that she is uncomfortable with being among the "Jews who are going to Poland to know what it really was". There are more and more people who clearly do not feel comfortable in this role – and it is at this point that the film really gets thought-provoking.

Hope, after all. It all culminates in a bizarre scene where the youths perform a mixture of a memorial and a defense of the Israeli state. On the one hand, it is declared that "the terrible thing shall not be forgotten", while the next moment there are strong statements that "we must defend the country against those who will destroy us". The youth dress up with the Israeli flag and sing along with the survivors and guides, but no, it is not easy to live up to the role. In a clipping from 1988 to 1994, and then one year after the other, it is still the same text that is read. It gets stiff, staged. The narrative created around the suffering of the Holocaust seems like a drama that young people should play with – but it doesn't quite fit the young bodies, the fresh heads.

What's up? The film does not conclude, but it does open an ambivalent field. What is this film's peculiar perspective is that we as viewers witness how the young Jews feel uncomfortable with the journey of recognition that has been set up for them. The there is a hope that both Israel's abuses against the Palestinians may end og anti-Semitism is counteracted – at the same time. Maybe some of the young people find Shlomo Sand or Finkelstein and think further?

Kjetil Røed
Kjetil Røed
Freelance writer.

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