The Arty Semite

In the Navy Now

By Jenna Weissman Joselit

  • Print
  • Share Share

Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree

Flickr/Paul Belson

Since coming to Washington, D.C., 18 months ago, I’ve had lots of rewarding experiences, but none quite as memorable as my recent excursion to the U.S. Naval Sea Systems Command at the D.C. Navy Yard, where I delivered a speech in commemoration of the Holocaust to a varied and engaged audience of military personnel and civilians.

I came to the Navy Yard wearing two hats. One was that of an historian, whose charge was to suggest something of the ways in which history complicates and enriches the world we currently inhabit. Toward that end, my talk, “Past Imperfect,” explored how the past relentlessly and inexorably intrudes on the present, especially when it comes to the continuous stream of new revelations — archival, cinematic and material — about the Shoah.

In that connection, we screened and then discussed Yael Hersonski’s recently released documentary, “A Film Unfinished,” whose provenance is both fascinating and chilling. At the end of the war, 60 minutes of raw film was discovered in an East German archive. Labelled simply “Das Ghetto,” it trained its sights on daily life within the Warsaw Ghetto only three short months before its liquidation. For years, historians took this vividly detailed film to be an accurate ethnographic record of ghetto life but, as it turns out, many of its scenes had been simulated and staged by the Nazis.

Complicating our understanding of what constitutes reality, let alone history, Hersonski’s affecting film not only draws heavily on “Das Ghetto,” but also includes interviews with five of its former inhabitants as well as testimony provided in the wake of the war by one of the film’s cameramen. This tangle of fact, fiction and personal memory mesmerizes and disturbs in equal measure. A must-see.

The other hat I wore was that of a daughter of a World War II veteran who, as a young and innocent sailor of 18, served on the flagship, the USS Augusta, during the Normandy invasion. My father was extremely proud of his service and, as he grew older, made a point of wearing a cap on which the words “USS Augusta” were prominently imprinted. He would have gotten a real kick out of learning that I had been asked to speak to a latter-day generation of the navy.

From where I sit, it’s not often that the personal and the professional come together quite like this, which made my presentation at the Navy Yard particularly meaningful to me. Citizen, scholar, daughter — for once the different strands of my life were neatly braided together like insignia on a uniform.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: USS Augusta, Warsaw Ghetto, U.S. Naval Sea Systems Command, Navy, Jenna Weissman Joselit, From Under the Fig Tree, Holocaust, Film, Das Ghetto, A Film Unfinished, Yael Hersonski

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.