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!
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • 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.