Dogma of Memory – Symposium
On Monday 23rd January, the Gala Theatre Studio, Durham, hosted ‘Dogma of Memory’. This international symposium drew attention to the importance of remembrance in today’s society within the context of the Holocaust, and was led by international speakers and academics.
One of the main purposes of the event was to consider how remembrance needn’t or even shouldn’t be restricted to a Remembrance Day, but rather, remembrance of catastrophic events in human history should be acknowledged without confinement to one day and one event.
Another key issue included the way in which the abhorrent suffering of those who were gaoled within the concentration camps should, and can, be represented and expressed. The first speaker, Associate Professor Jacob Podber, a second-generation survivor of the Holocaust, presented a very profound film on the oral history survivor testimony of his father entitled “Vishneva, Belarus Soviet Union Poland”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ms_Km15SS1I
This oral history film was incredibly powerful, utilising silent images expressing the visual anguish, emotion and body language of his father, whilst overlaying these images with typed memories of the pain experienced by both father and son. This was a very personal short-film: a collaboration of both Podber and his fathers’ testimony of the Holocaust, deconstructed by the interviewee’s son. According to Podber, his “work purposefully violates some documentary methodological conventions by directing attention more towards the interviewer’s interpretation than the interviewee’s spoken words”.
The second speaker, Associate Professor Jane Arnfield, spoke of the Theatre Production of ‘The Tin Ring’ http://www.thetinring.com/, the major inspiration for the ‘Dogma of Memory’ Symposium. The story of Zdenka Fantlová is told, one of just a handful of Holocaust survivors still alive today, and how her first love, Arno, presented her with a Tin Ring, before they were separated, symbolising both hope and love: encouraging her to persevere during the atrocities of the Holocaust. The production has been performed both nationally and internationally, including at Terezín Magdeburg Barracks, Czech Republic. Arnfield spoke of bringing ‘The Tin Ring’ to educational and social establishments, along with discussion led activities for final year primary as well as secondary school children, under the umbrella of ‘Suitcase of Survival’ (SOS) http://www.thetinring.com/suitcase-of-survival/suitcase-of-survival.
SOS seeks to draw attention to topics including crises and whether people can recover from crises, and to build human resilience in the face of catastrophic and demoralising events.
The third speaker, Creative Director, Conductor, and founder of the Defiant Requiem Foundation https://www.defiantrequiem.org/ , Murry Sidlin, spoke of the use of words and language in attempting to describe the events and period of the Holocaust. Sidlin spoke of how there are only three words to describe the period of 1933-1945 (although language fails us in the light of the mass crimes against humanity): ‘Holocaust’, ‘Shoah’ and ‘Genocide’. https://fcit.usf.edu/HOLOCAUST/resource/glossary.htm .Sidlin described the subsequent ten years as being ‘Chaos’.
Despite this depiction of the events of 1933-1945, Sidlin spoke of his amazement and fascination of Jewish prisoners in the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp (Terezín), who performed Verdi’s Requiem Mass sixteen times, under the leadership of Jewish conductor and pianist Rafael Schächter. Performing this work would have taken unimaginable courage and nerve, a statement of both defiance and resistance. Sidlin has been so inspired by such resilience that through his profession as a conductor and director he has produced Defiant Requiem, a concert drama that brings together the story of Schächter, his choir, a full performance of Verdi’s Requiem Mass, and video testimonies of surviving members of the choir.
The final speaker was Northumbria University’s Richard Kotter, Senior Lecturer in Political and Economic Geography. In his address, Kotter discussed the following issues: the institutionalisation of the Holocaust Memorial Day, societal remembrance (referring to Porrajmos, a Romani term referring to the Holocaust, as well as the Nazi crimes against, for instance, the Polish people collectively), how politics shape memories, and drew attention to the ways in which to deliver Holocaust, civic, and inter-cultural education, with some inherent challenges to this.
The notion of the Holocaust Memorial Day was described as fairly fresh and young in the UK, connected with both a unique WWII military and Kindertransport dimension to it, and remembered and commemorated differently by different social groups. Kotter raised our awareness to the involvement of international, national, and community politics in Holocaust remembrance, and how rituals and events are programmed across society. These factors influence how memories and perceptions of a certain issue are constructed in remembrance, shaping how a memory of an event or process, such as the Holocaust, will be passed on to future generations. The international story of a German politician, former Chancellor Willy Brandt, was discussed as an example of how contested memories can get politicised and differently interpreted (at times to the point of deliberately misread).
Kotter made a plea to the audience to appreciate how the key notions of Human Rights have developed and are developing further in international, including ‘customary’, Human Rights law in treaties and conventions (world-wide and at regional international level), as well as national laws. What was once adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948 and declared as The Universal Declaration of Human Rights still has universal currency which can and should be defended but needs to be further codified in international and domestic law and practice in an indivisible but meaningful way in every context and generation without sacrificing basic and core rights for all or some groups of people or individuals.
Una Henry of Oxford University contextualised the above speaker’s contributions, and chaired an engaging discussion with the audience.
This Symposium facilitated a reflection on the validity and nature of the individual and collective memory of events and processes we remember and whether the detailed memories, especially the ‘hard ones’, are historically fully accurate in detail. The speakers and discussants agreed that with careful scholarly and artistic work we can get, excavate, and transmit the essence and fundamental meanings of the painful, but also at times inspiring, recollections of the past, and so make a contribution against not just the threat of contemporary Holocaust denial but also to face dark trends threatening humanity by humans now and in the future.
Whether we realise it or not, the way we remember things is crucial to our future. As George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.
Peter Blanch, Hannah Gowling, Angelina Gudzio, Peter McGowran.
MSc Disaster Management and Sustainable Development.
The Tin Ring Performance:
Adapted from the book by Mike Alfreds and Jane Arnfield
Written by Zdenka Fantlová
Performed by Jane Arnfield
Directed by Mike Alfreds
Produced by The Forge & Human Remain
On Monday 23rd January, the Gala Theatre Studio, Durham hosted ‘The Tin Ring’: a theatrical adaptation of the incredible true story of Zdenka Fantlová, a survivor of the Holocaust, still alive today.
Performed as a monologue by Northumbria University’s Associate Professor Jane Arnfield, this was a very powerful, thought provoking, evocative and at times quite graphic verbatim account of the life experiences of Zdenka Fantlová and her internment at a number of concentration camps during the Nazi occupation, just because of her Jewish faith.
Arno, Zdenka’s fiancé, had presented her with a Tin Ring as a symbol of their engagement before they were separated by the war. This beautifully simple ring would turn out to be a symbol of inspiration and love, a source of motivation for Zdenka to persevere until the war was over, in the hope of being reunited with Arno and her family.
Jane Arnfield's performance of The Tin Ring was real, a true representation and respectful. The intricacy and precision of Arnfield's performance gave the piece it's captivating nature drawing the audience in: becoming emotionally attached to the main character and to Jane herself as the story teller.
The Tin Ring production draws on the central themes of family, faith, hope and love, with strength and perseverance the outcome. Powerful reoccurring imagery of the moment when Zdenka’s father is taken away from their family home by the Gestapo, never to be seen again and leaving them with the words “calmness is strength”, is made reference to throughout the production. Zdenka draws strength from these words throughout her time in concentration camps.
The simplicity of this performance allowed the story to speak for itself. Arnfield's representation of Zdenka Fantlová was quite simply beautiful and captivating. To hold an audience for a long period of time, with one actor, the words, and a chair, is not easy, but Arnfield made it seem so.
The best part about The Tin Ring was knowing that it was a true testimony: words that came from Zdenka herself, told to Arnfield directly. In the programme Arnfield writes “The essence of this performance is to allow the one voice to acknowledge the silent, speak for the speechless and never forget.”
Performance is a powerful tool when used to remember those involved in, and affected by, the world’s great wars. During the post-show discussion, the matter of telling these stories and keeping people's stories alive came to the forefront. It was discussed that it is the responsibility of the children of survivors to keep their accounts and stories going. But is it not everyone’s responsibility? Performance is a strong medium and a platform for speaking on all kinds of topics. We must keep remembering and making theatre to do so.
Zdenka's story is one of a very normal girl who grew up in a very ordinary family. Her testimony highlights how real and devastating the Second World War was: how the most ordinary people, going about their everyday lives were affected. These are the stories that need to be told. So that it doesn't happen again.
With constant cuts happening within the arts sector, we need to ensure that memorial performances and work surrounding politics and war, are constantly supported both morally and financially.
Reality and truth is the most powerful form of theatre and the most effective form of protest and remembrance.
Peter Blanch (MSc Disaster Management and Sustainable Development)
Hattie Eason (MA Theatre and Performance)
Edited by Hannah Gowling (MSc Disaster Management and Sustainable Development)
After travelling to London, the Northumbria University Disaster and Development Society (DDS) delegation arrived at Kings College (Strand Campus) on Monday the 9th of January 2017 for the 2-day inaugural UK Alliance for Disaster Research (UKADR) annual conference 1. The theme of the conference was ‘What are the areas of data, knowledge and capacity that research funders should prioritize to maintain UK’s international science leadership and responsibility under the Sendai Framework2?’.
Approximately 100 researchers, research funders, government and other policy makers/ practitioners from the UK and overseas attended, hoping the conference would provide a space for the attendees to influence thinking on UK policy and research funding. The DDS presented a poster on their work on ‘The Youth Voice’ in the study of Disasters & Development, which was on show for the conference duration for people to observe between sessions.
The Vice-President of the society, Peter McGowran, also contributed to a session on ‘Mobilising Young Scientist’s Contribution to Disaster Risk Reduction, chaired by Virginia Murray (Consultant in Global Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR)/Public Health England). Peter was a panel member alongside 2 UK based PhD students who act as representatives for the UN Major Group for Children and Youth -Young Scientists Platform on DRR. During this session, Peter also gave a short talk to about the work of the DDS and why ‘The Youth Voice’ should be heard in the field of Disasters and Development/ DRR.
The delegation was made up of 3 DDS committee members Peter McGowran (Vice-President), Hannah Gowling (Secretary), Peter Blanch (Events Co-ordinator) and 2 society members Angelina Gudzio and Jennifer James. All 5 delegates are students on the Disaster Management and Sustainable Development MSc course at Northumbria University. Attending the conference provided a great opportunity to witness how theories, concepts and methodological approaches studied in modules such as Disaster Risk Reduction and Response and Approaches to Project Management are being put into practice at the cutting edge of Disaster Research and Practice, whilst facing criticism in an academic environment.
The DDS would like to acknowledge the support of Prof. Andrew Collins in helping the society to attend and contribute to the conference, along with Virginia Murray (Young Scientist Session Chair) and Lydia Cumiskey and Robert Sakic Trogrlic (UNMCGY), for building the DDS’s contribution into the Mobilising Young Scientist’s Contribution to DRR session.
The DDS would like to thank: Northumbria’s Students Union and delegates for financially contributing towards the trip and Northumbria’s Department of Geography for the production of our poster.
Northumbria DDS will be hosting a number of social and informative events over the coming months, including: film and quiz nights, attending and hosting public lectures and seminars and hosting “What’s all the buzz about?” – a fundraising event for the DDS, Northumbria’s Relief Convoy and the Mama Buci charity, with music from Northumbria’s Gig Society.
For more information about the DDS, events and ways to get involved, get in touch and visit our:
Facebook: NSUDisasterandDevelopment Instagram & Twitter: @nudisastersoc
Website at - http://nudisastersociety.weebly.com/
1 - http://www.ukadr.org/conference.html 2 - http://www.unisdr.org/we/coordinate/sendai-framework
Human Rights in crisis: what’s happened to Eleanor Roosevelt’s dream?
On December 10th 1948 the UN General Assembly formally adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Commission of Human Rights, a group consisting of Eleanor Roosevelt as Chair of the Commission, Pen-Chun Chang, and Charles Malik began drafting the International Bill of Human Rights. They brought to life the thirty fundamental liberties which form the basis for an open, democratic society (Mary Ann Glendon, 2001, A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).
Almost seven decades later, the UN Watch director –Hillel Neuer asks: “what has become of this noble dream?” Torture, persecution, violence against women, arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances, media censorship and oppression, intimidation and murdering of journalists and trade union leaders as well as ethnic and indigenous people, unfair trails and unlawful convictions, human trafficking and modern slavery, and child labour are only few of many human rights violations that still poison the world today.
I had a chance to participate in the 9th Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy which took place on the 21st February this year. The summit was organized by the UN Watch with coalition of 25 other NGOs to serve as a platform for famous and courageous champions of human rights, dissidents and victims of violations to share their stories and expose the tyranny of the regimes in certain countries. http://www.genevasummit.org/
Hillel Neuer, the executive director of the UN Watch, in his opening speech, outlined that the summit’s aim was to urge the UN Human Rights Council to address the urgent human rights situations and to protect and promote human rights around the world. He also questioned the effectiveness of the UN Human Rights Council and the memberships of certain countries such as Cuba, Venezuela, China or Saudi-Arabia. He stressed that today, when the world is crying for justice and truth, we desperately need a Human Rights Council that will act.
It is not a secret that amongst 47 member countries that are re-elected for a duration onto the UN Human Rights Council there are some where the human rights are repeatedly violated. China, an authoritarian state where fundamental rights including freedom of expression, association, assembly, and religion are continuously violated, is in fact a member of Human Rights Council. Similarly Cuba, Venezuela or Saudi Arabia also have their memberships. We could ask: how is this possible? As Hillel Neuer explains it, it’s all down to political will. For example, in October last year during elections to the Human Rights Council, Russia lost its membership – though Saudi Arabia got re-elected onto it.
As Hillel Neuer said, the UN does matter and the Human Rights Council also matters, however in order for it to be effective, we need the leaders of democratic forces, to speak out in favour of basic human rights criteria, the same criteria that the UN has for its membership. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QbkGY1paqaM
The Geneva Summit was strongly focused around problems with the return of authoritarianism. Zhanna Nemstowa a Russian journalist, activist and the daughter of murdered politician, Boris Nemstow, took the floor to expose some of the undemocratic moves of Russian government. She confidently stated that Russia is not a democracy. It is an authoritarian country where there is no division of power, no free media or no political competition and the society is living in a constant scare.
We could also hear the desperate cry of Anastasia Zotova, a wife of jailed Russian dissident Ildar Dadin and a human rights activist. She talked about the brutality and unfairness of the Russian government and described the current system as the system of torture, repression and violence.
Can Dündar, exiled former editor of Turkey’s Cumhuriyet, who spent 3 years in prison was talking about the situation in Turkey. He said that authoritarianism has never left his country. Now they’ve got a civil-authoritarian regime, a police state where the courageous people who dared to say ‘NO’ to dictatorship are now in prisons.
One of the most touching speeches was the one delivered by 25 years old Antonietta Ledezma, the daughter of a Mayor of Caracas – the capital city of Venezuela, Antonio Ledezma who in 2015 was abruptly and arbitrarily arrested. He was unfairly charged of conspiracy and criminal association and now is facing 26 years in prison. A brave man, Antonio Ledezma sacrificed his freedom for his democratic beliefs. His courageous daughter opened her speech with the Nelson Mandela’s quote which she heard from her father when she visited him in the prison: “The courage is not the absence of the fear but the triumph over it. The brave man is not the one who is not afraid but the one who conquers that fear”. She gave her powerful statement of human rights violations acting not only as desperate daughter who wants her loving father back home but also as a representative of a country that is now facing major political issues and the worst humanitarian crisis in its history.
Shirin, a brave woman who is a freed Yazidi sex slave of the Islamic State and the author of “I Remain a Daughter of the Light” shared her story of being kidnapped and turned into a sex slave. She was humiliated and her rights were violated. Today she is the one who fights to free other enslaved girls and women. Shirin received the 2017 Women’s Rights Award for her bravery and determination in fighting against tyranny.
The prize of 2017 Courage Award was given to Mohamen Nasheed, former president of Maldives, the country’s leading human rights activist and former political prisoner. He was also described as the “Mandela of the Maldives”.
Mohamed Nasheed spent a good half of his life in prison. He lost his youth to chains, incarceration, punishments, to torture and to abuse. He started his adult life as a journalist, writing for a magazine in the Maldives which did not receive governmental sympathy and eventually the whole editorial team got arrested. He was held in solitary confinement being constantly beaten, humiliated and brutalized. He stated that in dictatorship, torture is not simply for information it is about capitulation. It’s about the crushing of humanity, trying to force mental breakdown and erosion of personality. Mohamed Nasheed is the model of great strength, courage and bravery. Every time he was released from prison he would speak up again and again. He didn’t allow fear of the prison bars to stop him doing what is right.
The summit hosted one of the best human rights lawyers, Jared Genser who fights for the rights of the most oppressed. He stressed the importance of the human rights and advocacy for it. He pointed out that nowadays political prisoners are the heroes. They not only stand up against brutal regimes but also create the ripple effect in society and this is what the dictators fear the most. They fear they own people and the information. He urged that human rights are fundamental and no one at any point should be denied them.
It isn’t hard to see that now we are facing a serious human rights crisis. Every day thousands of people die of starvation yet it is their right to have the access to food and shelter. Every day the number of political prisoners is increasing yet we have the universal right to the freedom of speech. Even though we have the right to education, millions of people cannot read. How can we even talk about freedom if millions of people are subject to modern slavery? Human rights have been weakened and are endangered but there is still hope. Hope in those whose spirits aspire for truth and justice, in those who choose not to be silent and speak up on behalf of those who cannot be heard; those who are relentless in their pursuit of human rights and who don't fear to look for the truth regardless the consequences.
These were the voice of human rights, the cries – listen to them.
The whole conference can be found on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TuXB_cYjLhU
Angelina Gudzio, March 2017
MSc Disaster Management and Sustainable Development