Holocaust survivor's Auschwitz dance video stirs debate

Holocaust survivor Adolek Kohn looks out the window of a freight car like those used to transport people to the Auschwitz.

Associated Press

Holocaust survivor Adolek Kohn looks out the window of a freight car like those used to transport people to the Auschwitz.

JERUSALEM — He's a Holocaust survivor dancing with his family on what easily could have been his own grave.

A video clip of Adolek Kohn awkwardly shuffling and shimmying with his daughter and grandchildren to the sound of I Will Survive at Auschwitz and other sites where millions died during the Holocaust has become an Internet sensation.

It's also sparking debate over whether the images show disrespect for those who died — or are an exuberant celebration of life.

The fight — raging on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere — poses uncomfortable questions about how to approach one of history's greatest tragedies: What's the "proper" way to commemorate it? Can a survivor pay homage in a way that might be unthinkable for others?

The 4 1/2-minute video opens with Kohn, 89, his daughter Jane Korman and three grandchildren dancing near the railroad tracks leading to Auschwitz.

The group then moves to other Holocaust locations across Poland and Germany, including the notorious Arbeit Macht Frei (Work sets you free) sign at Auschwitz's entrance, Poland's Lodz ghetto and the Dachau concentration camp.

In one eerie shot, with his family behind him, Kohn presses his face to the small opening in a cattle car of the type that transported so many to their deaths. In another, he raises his arms and leads the troupe in a conga line to the pulsating disco beat of the Gloria Gaynor song.

Michael Wolffsohn, a German Jewish historian at the Bundeswehr Munich, called the video "tasteless." But Piotr Kadlcik, head of Poland's Jewish community, said reactions were mixed among Warsaw's Jews. He didn't find it offensive, he said, because it was made by a Holocaust survivor.

Kohn, shown at one point wearing a white T-shirt emblazoned with the word "Survivor" and flashing a V-for-victory sign, said he didn't think the video was offensive.

"I didn't mind dancing because I arrived with my five grandchildren and my daughter in Auschwitz. If somebody had asked me then that I would come 62 years later with my grandchildren to Auschwitz, I would send him to a madhouse."

Holocaust survivor's Auschwitz dance video stirs debate 07/15/10 [Last modified: Thursday, July 15, 2010 10:14pm]

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