Mar 022011
Authors: Courtney Riley

Children of the Holocaust are often portrayed as victims, but according to Daniel Magilow, these children were not as naïve as society believes they were.

“They have the agency, thoughts, feelings and opinions that they can act upon themselves,” Magilow said. “They have free will. We need to understand them as the complex creatures they are.”

He showed photographs of Jewish children smuggling goods into the Warsaw ghetto and holding guns while hiding in the forest, as well as German children who were members of Hitler’s youth, to make his point.

Magilow, an associate professor in German studies at the University of Tennessee, gave his speech, “Children and the Afterlife of the Holocaust,” Wednesday night in the Lory Student Center Theatre to about 30 people in honor of Holocaust and Genocide Awareness Week.

He used the movie “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” to argue there is an unwritten script for portraying Holocaust testimonies that most movies and books follow to portray the innocence of children.

The formula for a presentation of a child’s Holocaust testimony, he said, begins with an emotionally one-dimension child. The “Jewishness” of the child is downplayed, and he or she is made to seem like a Christian martyr. The testimony ends as a “cautionary tale” that draws generic lessons of intolerance and is “Christianized” into a New Testament model of redemption.

“Holocaust books rarely give voice to the emotional diversity of children,” he said. “The children are used to make something not believable into something that is.”

He argued that while movies, such as “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” may be fictional, call themselves fables and have good intentions, but the mode of presentation is entirely realistic.
“There’s a tension between what they’re saying they’re doing and what they are doing,” he said. “The image has been fashioned. It’s not the full picture of it.”

The tales of these children, he argued, are atypical. He said they were usually sent straight to the gas chamber when they arrived at concentration camps.

He also argued that the German and Jewish children did not always forgive each other like they do in “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.” Novels, such as “Night,” by Elie Wiesel and “The Diary of Anne Frank,” have changed through translations to make people seem like they forgive their persecutors.

“There are feelings of anger, revenge and rage that in translations get taken out,” he said. “I’m tired of hearing that Anne Frank thought all people were, deep down, good at heart. I don’t believe she was that naïve.”

Magilow compared the German boy in “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” to the Jewish boy in the concentration camp to argue the diversity of human relationships is not effectively depicted in fictional forms of Holocaust testimony.

“There is no happy ending,” he said. “There’s a qualitative difference between being a lonely, little boy versus being targeted for murder for having been born.”

Jennie Cohen, a graduate veterinary student and member of Students for Holocaust and Genocide Awareness, said Magilow had an interesting perspective, and there is truth to it.

“We know what our teachers teach us,” she said. “But it was interesting to hear his spin on it.”

Magilow said in order to give a more accurate representation of Holocaust testimonies people need to read books and articles, challenge taboos and look at the way stories are presented.

“There are unwritten rules of what we think is okay to say,” he said.

He argued we don’t hear the stories of Nazis, who say they were proud of what they did.

“What does that say about us?” he said. “It says we’re afraid to grow up.”

_Staff writer Courtney Riley can be reached at _

Speaker preview:

Hillel, United Men of Color and ASCSU are bringing to CSU Joseph Sebarenzi, a Rwandan genocide survivor who will share his story in the Lory Student Center Theatre tonight at 7 p.m.

Presentation Themes

  • Watch: “Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” directed by Mark Herman
  • Read: “Night” by Elie Wiesel
  • Read: “The Diary of Anne Frank”
 Posted by at 5:48 pm

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