Commercialization of the Holocaust

Holocaust on the block

A new exhibit of artifacts is part of a growing debate over what some say is the commercialization of the tragedy

Vancouver — […]

This exhibition [Fragments, at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre] is occurring at a particularly febrile time in the history of the Holocaust, and not just because of the presence of Joerg Haider’s Freedom Party in the new Austrian government, the libel trial in Britain of Holocaust denier David Irving, or the debate over the merits of the films Life is Beautiful, Mr. Death and Train of Life. The Holocaust — an event which some have deemed to be all but inexpressible in its horror — has been undergoing a kind of commercialization, particularly in the last 15 years. Recently, for example, a postcard written by Anne Frank before the Second World War and her death in a Nazi camp was sold at an auction for hundreds of thousands of dollars to a museum in Los Angeles.

Fifty-five years after the liberation of the death camps, the relative scarcity of these Holocaust objets and the creation of Holocaust memorial centres in cities like Washington, Berlin and Jerusalem have created tremendous pressure for authentication. The Vancouver education centre, for instance, includes a counterfeit Star of David armband in its current exhibition. Roberta Kremer, director of the VHEC, says the armband, found in an antique store in Bellingham, Wash., with other seeming Holocaust “memorabilia,” has been artificially aged, probably with shoe polish. Moreover, authentic Holocaust artifacts are rare and those not in institutions are usually in the possession of survivors or their families.


Elliot Dlin, a director of The Valley of the Communities, one of the sites at Yad Vashem, who is currently writing a doctoral dissertation at the University of British Columbia, admitted that the quest to acquire Holocaust objets is “on the edge of bad taste…”


Besides the notebook of Rebecca Teitelbaum, there’s one written by Shia Moser who taught Yiddish in a Polish orphanage in Peterswaldau after the war. “The children had experienced so much tragedy,” he explained. “I thought that their memories should be preserved.” He talked to the children after his classes and recorded what they told him about their families and all that had happened to them.

In December, 1999, Jack Kuper, a Toronto filmmaker, came to the VHEC to research a documentary. There, he found a photograph of the Polish war orphans from Peterswaldau and recognized the place. Then he asked how they had come by the picture. He was told that Shia Moser, who had taught at the orphanage had donated it. Staff at the VHEC were also able to tell him that Moser was alive and living in Vancouver and, though 93-years-old, in good health. Kuper remembered his teacher vividly but had never known what happened to him. A meeting was quickly arranged. It was highly emotional. Moser was astonished by the turn of events. He had never known what happened to any of his orphans either.


Special to The Globe and Mail
February 22, 2000