Symposium on the 75th Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
Monday, April 16, 7 p.m.
Bercowetz Research Library
Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies
Samantha Baskind, Cleveland State University
The Warsaw Ghetto in American Art and Culture
Avinoam Patt, University of Hartford
The Jewish Heroes of Warsaw: The Afterlife of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
On the eve of Passover, April 19, 1943, Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto staged a now legendary revolt against their Nazi oppressors. Since that day, the deprivation and despair of life in the ghetto and the dramatic uprising of its inhabitants have captured the American cultural imagination. The Warsaw Ghetto in American Art and Culturelooks at how this place and its story have been remembered in fine art, film, television, radio, theater, fiction, poetry, and comics.
Samantha Baskind is a professor at Cleveland State University. Her book The Warsaw Ghetto in American Art and Culture is vibrantly illustrated and vividly shows the importance of the ghetto as a site of memory and creative struggle and reveals how this seminal event and locale served as a staging ground for the forging of Jewish American identity. She explores seventy years’ worth of artistic representations of the ghetto and revolt to understand why they became and remain touchstones in the American mind. Her study includes iconic works such as Leon Uris’s best-selling novel Mila 18, Roman Polanski’s Academy Award-winning film The Pianist, and Rod Serling’s teleplay In the Presence of Mine Enemies, as well as accounts in the American Jewish Yearbook and the New York Times, the art of Samuel Bak and Arthur Szyk, and the poetry of Yala Korwin and Charles Reznikoff. In probing these works, Baskind pursues key questions of Jewish identity: What links artistic representations of the ghetto to the Jewish diaspora? How is art politicized or depoliticized? Why have Americans made such a strong cultural claim on the uprising?
Avinoam Patt is the Director of the Museum of Jewish Civilization and Philip D. Feltman Professor, Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies, University of Hartford. His newest book project, The Jewish Heroes of Warsaw: The Afterlife of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, examines the place of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the surviving ghetto fighters in the collective Jewish memory of the Holocaust. Why did the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising become the focal point of commemorative activities for Jewish communities around the world both during and after the war? How was the Warsaw ghetto uprising understood and appropriated by Jewish communities all over the world during the war and in its aftermath? The book studies the relationship between wartime debates over resistance and Jewish behavior, and the role surviving “ghetto fighters” played in recording their “three lines in history.”
This talk will examine the rapid search for heroes and the concomitant processes of politicization and mythologization of the uprising in the first year after the “battle of Warsaw’s Jews.” The collective memory of the uprising was shaped almost immediately in its aftermath, well before the historical and fictional accounts of the uprising were written, and long before the date for Yom HaShoah was solidified on the Jewish calendar, a decade after the revolt. By the first anniversary of the revolt, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was seized upon by Jewish communities around the world as evidence that Jews were able to join the struggle against fascism and utilized as a prism for memorializing the destruction of European Jewry as the heroes and martyrs of the ghetto. By 1945, when the identities of the Zionist heroes of the revolt became well-known, the uprising had been transformed into part of the struggle for the creation of the Jewish state.