The attacks on the World Trade Center as well as the Pentagon in September 2001, dubbed 9/11, were a major news event. As is the case with traumatic events, people often remember exactly what they were doing when they heard the news. With 9/11, however, visual images have been engraved in people’s minds as well: a plane flying into the towers and people subsequently – out of sheer desperation – jumping out of windows. Michael Moore’s documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, offers an alternative media perspective signifying 9/11: that of a president overwhelmed by the news and incapable of an immediate reaction.
For the past decades, sitcoms have been omnipresent in our everyday lives. On TV, in magazines, or on the Internet – it’s hard to escape the stars and storylines of How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory, or Two and a Half Men. But when did this phenomenon begin? That’s easy: On November 18, 1947, Mary Kay and Johnny, the first sitcom ever broadcast on American TV, premiered on DuMont Television Network. Mary Kay and Johnny was a domestic situation comedy following the real life of newlywed couple Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns. By the time they started the show they had been married for about one year. The plot focused on the couple building their life together in the Big Apple with Johnny working at a bank and Mary Kay living the life of a typical housewife in their Greenwich Village apartment. So what exactly made this show extraordinary?
There is a wonderful spot west of the city of Frankfurt in Germany. It’s in an area well known for its excellent white wine, its charming hilly landscape, and its welcoming people. It’s called The Rheingau. Once you make your way up a hill from Rüdesheim, maybe comfortably using the cable car, a fantastic view over the river Rhine opens up. From there, the Niederwald landscape park, you can see for miles to the West, overlooking the tranquil Rhine valley and even have the illusion that you actually see France.
When I was there not long ago my daughter asked me about the statue named Germania that is hovering over the platform where people are gathering for the view. The 34-foot figure is called Germania. In her right hand the lady holds the emperor’s recovered crown; in her other she displays the Imperial Sword. I explained that the monument’s message was not a peaceful one. Only a few years before the inauguration of the statue in 1883, Prussia had just fought another war with France, uniting the German princes for the first time into a single nation state. The Germania was nothing else but a warning to the French: Stay where you are, don’t even think about coming here. This is ours.
When I first invited film director Ethan Bensinger to come to Leuphana University Lüneburg, I knew that 2015 would be a special year for Holocaust commemoration. It marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of concentration camps all over Europe, among them Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. In light of the human rights violations around the globe and the all-too-familiar topic of genocide, Ethan Bensinger’s one-hour documentary, REFUGE: Stories of the Selfhelp Home (2012), is as timely as ever. This important documentary weaves together expert commentary, archive material, and the memories of six residents of the Selfhelp Home in Chicago, which was founded to give shelter and a loving environment to those fleeing persecution. These last generations of eyewitnesses to the atrocities of the Holocaust recall the experience of Central European Jews before, during, and after “The Final Solution.” They tell of events (The Night of Broken Glass, Kindertransport), places of terror and genocide (Theresienstadt and Auschwitz concentration camps), spaces of refuge (Shanghai ghetto, Selfhelp Home) as well as share personal insights about loving families, survival, tearful reunions, and healing.
In the first installment of this two-part interview, Ethan Bensinger speaks candidly about his heritage, the relationship of the Holocaust to his hybrid identity as well as his motivation for making a documentary about the Selfhelp Home.
By all rights, I should be a national holiday in the United States.
I am not as politically incorrect as Columbus Day which Native Americans are not really crazy about (who can blame them?);
I’m not as solemn as Veterans Day, which is more a day of remembrance for those who served in the wars than a day of celebration;
I’m not as general as Presidents’ Day that was originally supposed to only commemorate George Washington’s birthday but now has become the generic holiday for all U.S. presidents;
and I’m certainly not as cruel to the unsuspecting turkey as Thanksgiving Day is (although the tons of food that are consumed on my special day are certainly not vegetarian either).
Despite all of these discouraging facts, I feel hopeful since the people who like and endorse me will soon be in the majority – at least in California. And we all know what happens once it has happened in California, right?
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