Four years after the end of the Second World War Theodor Adorno made his controversial claim that writing poetry after Auschwitz would be an act of barbarism. A pregnant denial came from Paul Celan with his “Escape of death”, the poetic memorial to the Holocaust perhaps the most incisive and terrifying of German opera after Nazism. Subsequently the philosopher relativized his sentence, but the debate on what is appropriate and lawful in remembering the Holocaust has in fact continued to cover over seven decades, without a rational and shared synthesis having been found: “Uncertainty is still great: what can we talk about, and what not?” wonder Barbara Staudinger and Hannes Sulzenbacher, curators of the exhibition “100 misunderstandings about and among the Jews”, which at the Jewish Museum in Vienna raises questions designed to be open to debate: “Misunderstandings find fertile ground in the uncertainties of interpersonal communication”.
So it is better to open the doors to the visual arts, capable of distilling powerful messages that may be polemical, perhaps controversial, but proactive, free from intellectualisms and yet capable of inducing reflections: “Over time, Jews have been gradually identified on the basis of religious faith, character, blood ties, tradition, fate or genetics and have been pitted against we of non-Jews.
For this exhibition we have identified a series of misunderstandings that we have brought together in seven chapters, through which widespread misunderstandings are sometimes commented on and sometimes parodied. Let us think, for example, of a certain romantic aura around Judaism, or of the idea that every Jew is connected to the Shoah, or again of a certain voyeurism towards Jews, or a tendency towards stereotypes”, the curators continue: “We also address for the first time some philo-Semitic prejudices and clichés, which contrary to anti-Semitism, have so far been rarely taken into consideration”.
Here then is the Hanukkah candelabrum recreated by Cary Leibowitz and Rhonda Lieberman with a Chanel clutch and nine lipsticks, illustrating misunderstanding 14, which makes young glam and trendy New Yorkers think, cultured and a little snobbish: “Being Jewish is cool”. Misunderstanding 29, “The Holocaust can only be remembered with awe”, is questioned by the family of the artist Jane Korman, who dances in front of the gates of Auschwitz to the tune of Gloria Gaynor’s “I will survive”: a shame or an understandable though ephemeral mockery of those who managed to survive the torments of the concentration camp? Even in the 80s, after all, when MAUS appeared, the comic with which Art Spiegelman recalled his father’s deportation and imprisonment, they had risen criticisms. In the meantime, however, that way of dealing with the theme of the Shoah, awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1992, is accepted and appreciated as a possibility of transmitting to the new generations what the extermination perpetrated by the Nazis was.
The set for training doctors, photographed by Tobias de St. Julien, recalls misunderstanding 78: “Only Jews are circumcised”, refuted however by the fact that a third of the world‘s male population is circumcised, while on misunderstanding 90, according to which “all Jews eat kosher”, Anna Adam’s stuffed pig with the sign “With you I am safe. Or not?”. Deliberately a little alarming is a large wheel entitled “Potential politically incorrect misunderstandings”, created by Andi Arnovitz and Hannah Gellman as a vicious circle of religious, social and political prejudices, and insults ordered in concentric circles, to exemplify the question that concludes the journey expository: “Are the 100 misunderstandings only about Jews?”