Documents – Memory – Historiography. The Second Theresienstadt Film

Dokumente – Erinnerungen – Geschichtsschreibung. Der zweite Theresienstadt- film, seine Dokumentationen und seine Rekonstruktionen aus der Perspektive der Überlebenden

At the focus of this project stands the 1944 propaganda film “Theresienstadt: Ein Dokumentarfilm aus dem jüdischen Siedlungsgebiet”. This infamous Nazi propaganda film was influential in creating the historical image of Theresienstadt as a comparatively “comfortable” camp. However, as the historian Karel Margry claims, although it contains some authentic information about it, “the film’s blatant dishonesty turns on what it did not show: the hunger, the misery, the overcrowding, the slave work… the high death rate and, most of all, the transports leaving to the East”. 

An essential part of this project is to give voice to the remaining survivors of Theresienstadt and incorporate their memories and interpretations of the film into this study.

One of the main subjects to be assessed in this study is the existence of diverse social, political, national and religious groups in the Ghetto, indicated both by what is present in and by what is missing from the film. Sources such as interviews, written testimonies, diaries and archival documents offer an opportunity to fill this gap in the social history of Theresienstadt. While the Jewish society of Theresienstadt has been the subject of extensive inquiry, the tensions between the representation of “the” Jewish community in the film and the actual experiences in the ghetto shed new light on both: the ways National Socialist authorities perceived (or imagined) the ghetto as well as the ways Jewish detainees perceived and imagined their social life. The gaps between the actual and the imagined provide us with a new course of inquiry that discloses an understudied set of Jewish experiences under Nazi oppression.

This joint project of German and Israeli teams of scholars provides a unique opportunity for an innovative and comprehensive study of Theresienstadt, using an in-depth analysis of the filmed footage from the camp. The interdisciplinary framework forged by sociologists, media experts, and historians facilitates a novel consideration of the social history of this camp. Examined from various perspectives, the project offers a critical synthesis of various sources, including visual sources, oral and written testimonies, interviews, archival sources, published and unpublished diaries and secondary sources. 

 

In Cooperation with:

Richard Koebner Minerva Center for German History, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem 

Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut Essen

Universität Koblenz-Landau

TU Dresden

TU Chemnitz

 

Team:

Prof. Benjamin Pollock - Director

Dr Sara Yanovsky – Research Fellow

Dr Teresa Walch – Research Fellow

Shaked Meromi – Research Assistant

 

Events:

Conference in Prague, May 2019

Multidisciplinary Perspectives on the Theresienstadt Film: Between Present Memories and Historical Questions

 

Conference in Essen, November 2019

Filmfragmente und Zeitzeugenberichte: Mythos, Historiographie und Soziologie des Ghettos und Durchgangslagers Theresienstadt